10 Movie Performances In Prosthetics That Audiences Believed
From Oscar-winning roles to fan-favorite performances, it can be easy to forget who these actors are underneath all the amazing prosthetics.
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It’s easy to remember the worst prosthetics in Hollywood because they are often ridiculed for years after a movie’s release. For example, long after Prometheus left theaters, Guy Pearce’s Peter Weyland is still remembered poorly by some critics because of the prosthetics that try to make Pearce look 60 years older than he really is.
That said, with prosthetics becoming more realistic every year, some actors have utilized this tool to create performances so immersive they’re unrecognizable. From sci-fi flicks to biopics, these performances utilized prosthetics so well that the audience often forgot they were there.
Glenn Close In Albert Nobbs (2011)
Glenn Close first played Albert Nobbs without prosthetics in a 1982 Off-Broadway adaptation of the novella, “The Singular Life of Albert Nobbs.” After the run ended, Close decided she wanted to turn the novella into a movie and that for a film adaptation, prosthetics would be necessary.
Close, alongside Janet McTeer, plays both characters of Albert Nobbs and Hubert Page. When Nobbs falls for a younger woman (Mia Wasikowska), a plot of love and deceit ensues. Nominated for Best Actress (Close), Best Supporting Actress (McTeer), and Best Makeup at the Oscars, Albert Nobbs is considered one of the best movies where a character challenges the gender roles of their time, as mentioned by Out Front Magazine.
Tom Cruise In Tropic Thunder (2008)
Known primarily for his action movie roles, Tom Cruise disguises himself in Tropic Thunder as Les Grossman, an ill-tempered, foul-mouthed studio executive. Initially uncredited for his performance, it wasn’t until the end credits that most audience members realized Cruise was in the movie.
Wearing a bald cap, a wig, a fat suit, and fat hands, Cruise used his prosthetics to reinvent himself in a comedic setting. Audiences loved it, especially the post-credits scene featuring Cruise’s suggestive dancing. Come awards season, Cruise even netted a surprise Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
Steve Carell In Foxcatcher (2014)
In his first leading dramatic role, Steve Carell plays philanthropist John E. du Pont, heir to the du Pont fortune, who happens to be a wrestling enthusiast. On his estate, du Pont builds a private wrestling facility and convinces Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum), an Olympic wrestling champion, to train there.
To change himself for Foxcatcher, Carell sported a fake nose, forehead, lower lip, and wore dark contact lenses. This combination of prosthetics and an unexpected role allowed Carell to surprise audiences with his troubled character. Ultimately, Carell’s efforts landed him his first Oscar nomination for Best Actor.
Tilda Swinton In Snowpiercer (2013)
In Snowpiercer, Tilda Swinton created the monstrosity that is Minister Mason. Tasked with carrying out the will of Wilford (Ed Harris), Mason uses authoritarian tactics to psychologically manipulate, torture, and kill the lower-class citizens aboard the train.
In addition to sporting fake teeth, an altered nose, a wig, and big glasses, she speaks into an old-timey microphone during her speeches to the back train car inhabitants with a Yorkshire accent that erases any remaining traces of Swinton altogether.
Charlize Theron In Monster (2003)
In Patty Jenkins’ feature debut, Monster, Charlize Theron plays Aileen Wournos, a sex worker turned serial killer who murders seven of her male clients. While the murderous tirade started as self-defense against a client, Wournos slowly becomes convinced every client is out to get her.
Known for her natural beauty, Theron underwent a physical metamorphosis for the role. She wore prosthetic teeth, shaved her eyebrows, and even gained 30 pounds. Theron received universal praise for her performance, going on to sweep the awards circuit and eventually win Best Actress at the Oscars.
Gary Oldman In Darkest Hour (2017)
When playing real-life figures, it is important for actors to look the part in order to be believable. That said, Gary Oldman admitted that he looked nothing like Winston Churchill before makeup. However, thanks to the work of sculptor Kazuhiro Tsuji, Oldman was able to disappear into the role for Darkest Hour, what was to become one of his best movies since Harry Potter.
To become England’s wartime statesman, Oldman donned a variety of prosthetics. He wore a custom wig made of adult and baby hair, had every identifiable face mark painted on, and sat for four hours daily to get the prosthetics applied, according to Vanity Fair. The end result was so persuading that Oldman had trouble convincing people he didn’t gain weight for the part. Oldman won Best Actor at the Oscars, and Tsuji won Best Makeup and Hairstyling.
Nicole Kidman In The Hours (2002)
The Hours follows three generations of women, all in separate time periods, who are interconnected by the book “Mrs. Dolloway” by Virginia Woolf. The character in the earliest time period of the movie is Woolf herself, portrayed by Nicole Kidman in convincing prosthetics.
In order to reshape one of the most recognizable faces in Hollywood, Kidman wore an assortment of prosthetics, in particular a nose. Looking nothing like herself anymore, Kidman found the nose liberated her to make more vulnerable choices on film, according to The Telegraph. As a result, some audience members sat through the whole movie without knowing it was her, and Kidman went on to win Best Actress at the Oscars.
Tilda Swinton In The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
A true chameleon, Tilda Swinton blends seamlessly into the cast of The Grand Budapest Hotel as Madame D in one of her best movies, a wealthy widow in her 80s. With an ensemble of already quirky characters, viewers could just as well think Swinton’s Madame D. was played by an octogenarian actress (should they not stay for the credits).
To play a character 30 years her senior, Swinton wore a rubber-plastic prosthetic combination that was made based on a cast of her face. Having previously won an Oscar for The Iron Lady, this movie marked make-up artist Mark Coulier’s second win at the Academy Awards.
Marlon Brando In The Godfather (1972)
For many, Marlon Brando’s Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather is considered one of the best performances of all time, if not the best. With several iconic lines and an unforgettable bulldog-like appearance, Brando’s acting comes across as so natural that it’s almost jarring to learn about the extent of his prosthetics.
Brando’s hair was doused with oil grease, and he wore a custom mouthpiece to create Corleone’s signature jowl, as mentioned by Readers Digest. These prosthetic choices came from Brando directly, who had similarly used shoe polish to make his hair black and stuffed tissues in his mouth to widen his jaw during the audition process. For his efforts, Marlon Brando won his second Oscar, and The Godfather won Best Picture at the Academy Awards.
John Hurt In The Elephant Man (1980)
Legendary horror makeup artist Christopher Tucker’s crowning achievement was transforming John Hurt into John Merrick, a kind man feared by society for his physical differences. Abused by a sadistic ringmaster, it isn’t until a kind doctor (Anthony Hopkins) befriends Merrick that his public perception begins to change.
To achieve the necessary effect, Tucker used 15 layers of prosthetics, which took seven to eight hours to put on, according to Dangerous Minds. Designed directly from casts of Merrick’s body, Tucker wanted to avoid comparisons to cheap horror flicks and create something akin to how the real Merrick looked. Nominated for eight Oscars, The Elephant Man inspired the Academy Awards to introduce the Best Make-up category the following year.