When Samuel L. Jackson pops up midway through Quentin Tarantino’s latest, Django Unchained, as house slave Stephen, you might be forgiven for doing a serious double take. Is it really him? That hairline! Those jowls! Those eyebrows! But it is, and that’s the power of make-up artists for you. While Jackson is just about identifiable, Hollywood history is littered with examples of actors who’ve disappeared under so much make-up that their billing at first seems a mystery. Here’s our pick of the unrecognizables. Who did we miss? Tell us in the comments below.
John Hurt in The Elephant Man (David Lynch, 1980)
The British actor’s portrayal of the severely disabled real-life figure John Merrick remains one of the most moving screen performances. Hurt’s make-up was made from preserved casts of Merrick’s body, and was so good that the Academy created the Best Make-up Oscar to celebrate it.
Lenny Henry in True Identity (Charles Lane, 1991)
The very identifiably black British comedian Lenny Henry (currently best known for appearing in advertisements for budget hotels) made his Hollywood debut with this bizarre, long-forgotten tale of an African-American man who must “white up” to disguise himself from the mafia.
Nick Stahl in Sin City (Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez, 2005)
One might argue that Stahl – not being a huge star anyway – was hardly that recognizable in the first place. But the star of In The Bedroom and Bully would have been spotted by his biggest fans only (Mum? Dad?) playing the wretched villain That Yellow Bastard.
Dustin Hoffman in Little Big Man (Arthur Penn, 1976)
The brilliant Hoffman played elderly Jack Crabb, looking back on his life in Penn’s eccentric, witty Western. His make-up was created by Dick Smith from foam, and included false eyelids that could blink along with the actor’s. Sadly, none of the blinks could be seen in the finished film, leaving the make-up man furious.
50 Cent in All Things Fall Apart (Mario van Peebles, 2011)
You can find him in the club. The club of actors who’ve lost bucketloads of weight to appear in challenging film roles, that is. Sadly, Fiddy’s sterling work in this college football drama never quite attracted the attention of fellow method madmen Michael Fassbender (Hunger) or Christian Bale (The Machinist).
Glenn Close in Hook (Steven Spielberg, 1991)
We could (and perhaps should) have plumped for Close’s gender bending turn in passion project Albert Nobbs, but there will always be a special place in our hearts for her turn as bearded coward Gutless. This cameo probably stands as the reason why we spent a significant portion of our youth believing Glenn Close was a man.
Kelsey Grammer in X-Men: The Last Stand (Brett Ratner, 2006)
To be honest, Grammer is so indelibly linked to his role as pompous radio psychiatrist Dr. Frasier Crane from Cheers and Frasier that it’s a struggle to think of him playing any other character, let alone a blue-faced lunatic with a flowing bouffant. But here he is, Dr. Hank McCoy – at least he’s still a doctor, eh?
Nicole Kidman in The Hours (Steven Daldry, 2002)
All about the distorting prosthetic nose, this one. To play the novelist Virginia Woolf, the Australian actress spent hours and hours (boom boom) in make-up. Allegedly, scores of preview audiences sat through the entire movie without realizing it was her.
Gary Oldman in Hannibal (Ridley Scott, 2001)
There’s a nagging sense that Gary Oldman hasn’t quite had the career he should have had as a leading man, and part of that is because he’s spent a large portion of the last few decades playing increasingly bizarre (though often admittedly fun) shock cameos. His comedy gangsta Drexl Spivey in True Romance was unrecognizable enough, but he went a step further for ravaged victim Mason Verger in Hannibal.
Hugh Grant in Cloud Atlas (Andy and Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer, 2012)
Written by Ashley Clark.