Taking on a role is never an easy task and putting yourself in the shoes of a character is often accompanied by a more or less significant physical transformation for the actors. Jessica Chastain, currently starring in the series In the eyes of Tammy Faye experienced it. To embody this American evangelist, fallen star of a television show, she completely transformed herself, between make-up, prostheses and wigs. But she’s not the only one: Actors like Jared Leto, who gained 31 pounds for the movie Chapter 27 (2007), or Brad Pitt, rejuvenated and aged in The strange story of Benjamin Button (2009), know that committing to a role often involves sacrifices, ranging from simple weight loss to the most extreme transformation, the special effects not always being enough. Drastic diet, monumental weight gain or even endless make-up sessions, Number has selected seven of the most incredible physical transformations in cinema.
Christian Bale in The Machinist (2005): dangerous weight loss
Mixed success when it came out, The Machinist of Brad Anderson, however marked the spirits. British-American actor Christian Bale’s emaciated body, protruding ribs and dark circles remain etched in our memories. It is one of the most important physical transformations that an actor has made for a film. five years later American Psycho, Christian Bale, who was more used to playing muscular, tanned young men, slips into the skin of Trevor Reznik, a factory worker who loses all sense of reality after several years of insomnia. For his role in this psychological thriller, the 48-year-old actor put his life in danger. To be closer to his character, he lost up to 28 kg in three months: he followed a special diet based on apples, tuna and cigarettes. The film crews and the doctors had to force him to change his diet, so as not to have real health problems. Going so far as not to sleep for 48 hours before the days of filming, Christian Bale has proven that he is an actor who is extremely involved in his roles, not hesitating to completely transform himself, as in 2019 in Vice, film for which he took 20 kg to interpret the vice-president of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney.
the Machinist (2005), by Brad Anderson, available on Canal+.
Javier Bardem as a quadriplegic in Mar Adentro (2004)
The husband of Penélope Cruz did not hesitate, too, to make himself ugly for a role. The handsome Spanish boy has completely transformed into Mar Adentro, a drama based on a true story. He plays Ràmon Sampedro, a man who became a quadriplegic after an accident in his youth. Extremely unhappy, the hero dreams of escape and freedom, which only death could bring him. Javier Bardem is used to physical transformations: he does not hesitate to change faces in his various roles, especially for his character of Raoul Silva in james bond or in No Country for Old Men of the Coen brothers. However, things are different in Mar Adentro. In addition to his physical transformation – he was completely bald and five hours of makeup were needed every morning – it is a real metamorphosis that the actor has made. To prepare for this role, he remained immobilized for three months in a lying posture in order to approach as closely as possible the reality of a quadriplegic man. An intensive and difficult preparation for the actor who was awarded the Goya prize for Best Actor in 2004.
Mar Adentro (2004), by Alejandro Amenábar, available on Canal VOD.
Charlize Theron as a serial killer in Monster (2003)
At 46, the actress from South Africa, Charlize Theron has nothing to envy to the greatest. In 2004, she received the Oscar for best actress for the role of Aileen Wuornos in the film by Patty Jenkins, Monster. Inspired by a True Story, Monster chronicles the downfall of one of America’s most notorious serial killers. Admired for her exceptional game and screaming truth, Charlize Theron was particularly amazed by her memorable physical transformation. Getting into the skin of this character was not an easy task. The radically transformed, even neglected silhouette of the actress suggests a significant weight gain: 10 to 15 kilos more were needed to get as close as possible to the character. In 2018, Charlize Theron confided on the Ellen DeGeneres talk show: “I had a packet of crisps in the bedroom, one in my car, one in the bathroom, one on the couch…they were everywhere.” Far from her Hollywood star look, Charlize Theron had to retouch her face. The actress shaved off her eyebrows and wore stained fake teeth throughout filming to create that sloppy effect so characteristic of Aileen Wuornos. It is with great reinforcements of foundation propelled with aerosol for a more natural effect and facial prostheses that the actress slipped into the skin of the character. Here, make-up does not have the function of embellishing, but rather alters beauty. On the hair side, they have been bleached and dried, so as not to use a wig.
Monster (2003), by Patty Jenkins, available on Apple TV+ or Prime video
John Travolta in “Hairspray” Copyright New Line Cinema
John Travolta as mother hen in the remake of hairspray (2007)
2007. The Broadway musical remake hairspray sees the light of day, almost twenty years after the first opus of 1988. Following little Tracy who has only one thing in mind, wanting to dance despite her overweight, the film also focuses on Tracy’s atypical mother, Edna Turnblad, who seems to overshadow the main character. Not played by a woman but by John Travolta, far from the look of the bad boy of Danny Zuko in grease, the anxious, buxom mother captivates the viewer. Taking on the role of a housewife with several extra pounds did not scare the actor. He even explains that the directors let him play in his own way despite his total transformation. The make-up, which lasted five hours every morning, was a crucial moment to get as close as possible to the desired feminine features. But it is especially at the level of the body that the change operates. No voluntary weight gain, it is a suit with generous shapes of 10 kilos directly molded on the body of John Travolta which has shaped the luscious silhouette of Edna Turnblad. This physical transformation making the actor unrecognizable has not ceased to amuse the critics and the public.
hairspray (2007), by Adam Shankman, available on Netflix
Matthew McConaughey sick with AIDS in The Dallas Buyers Club (2013)
Accustomed to romantic comedies in which he deploys his panoply of handsome : hair in the wind, impeccable smile and Hollywood tan, as in comedy How to get dumped in 10 lessons alongside Kate Hudson, Matthew McConaughey has yet been able to reinvent himself in less expected roles. After the success of Mud: On the banks of the Mississippi (2012), the American actor played strong and moving roles. In The Dallas Buyers Club, an American drama by Jean-Marc Vallée inspired by a true story, he plays Ron Woodroof, a Texas cowboy, macho and homophobic who discovers that he is HIV-positive. While death awaits him, he will discover all the complexity of this disease, which he believed until then reserved for homosexuals as well as the impotence of medicine in the face of this scourge. Alongside Jared Leto, also transformed for his role as Rayon, a young HIV-positive transgender, Matthew McConaughey delivers a moving performance in a role that seems tailor-made. The actor has indeed undergone intensive preparation: a weight loss of about fifteen kilos which follows the progressive weight loss of his sick character. The actors’ efforts were rewarded as they won two Oscars and two Golden Globes.
The Dallas Buyers Club 2013, by Jean-Marc Vallée, available on Prime Video
Ralph Fiennes as the terrifying dark mage in Harry Potter
Without the character of Voldemort, the Harry Potter saga would not be the same. Unveiled in the volumes of JK Rowling, the most famous black magician of cinema is interpreted by the British actor Ralph Fiennes, in the four parts of the saga: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005), Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007), Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009), Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2010-2011). World famous, Voldemort, the sworn enemy of the young bespectacled hero, is one of the most astonishing transformations for a role. Contrary to what the look of the character might suggest, the time of the transformation was not titanic. Given the age of the main actors (Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint), who were still students, shooting times had to be limited and make-up time fast. A livid complexion spread over his entire body, false teeth, false nails, false veins visible on the skull as well as black kohl under the eyes, this is the recipe for Voldemort’s physique. The disappearance of his nose was not physical but digital, thanks to special effects, for lack of time. In just two hours, Ralph Fiennes became the most feared character in cinema.
The films are available on Apple TV+ and MyCanal
Colin Farrell in “The Batman” Copyright 2018 Twentieth Century Fox
Colin Farrell in The Batman (2022): An Unrecognizable Penguin
AT the poster of Batman by Matt Reeves, alongside Robert Pattinson, Colin Farrell plays the big villain of the film, the famous Penguin. Completely unrecognizable, the Irish actor did not hesitate to make himself ugly for this role: his very special appearance is the work of two make-up artists specializing in cinema, Michael Marino and Naomi Donne. Director Matt Reeves wanted to give the Penguin character a certain vulnerability that shines through in this particular make-up: the physique of the ancestral villain of Batman is close to that of the character of John Cazale in The Godfather, between terrible wickedness and sensitivity. The make-up artists were therefore inspired by the look of the mobster to create the Penguin: they fashioned a mold on the face of Colin Farrell which they proposed to the director. They subsequently managed to transform the actor only through makeup. He had to see himself as little as possible and everything had to be natural: there was no question of him being a grotesque and comic character, like the villains in the Batman films sometimes are. Every morning, the costume required three hours of preparation and Colin Farrell had to compose a very subtle character despite his absolutely breathtaking metamorphosis.
The Batman (2022), in theaters now
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The 7 most incredible physical transformations in cinema, from Christian Bale to Charlize Theron