Hair — do you ever stop to wonder why we value it so much? It’s literally just keratin and dead skin cells hanging off our head. Yet it somehow possesses the power to make us weep, to feel both ugly and beautiful, and to hand over countless dollars for the sake of its upkeep.
Which is why when a Hollywood actress shaves her head in the name of art, it’s a pretty big deal. In the past, haircuts have been known to literally make or break a starlet’s career – just ask silent film star Mary Pickford, whose livelihood went down the drain almost immediately after chopping off her signature curly locks. And then there’s Jennifer Aniston, an actress who went from minor TV star to the big leagues thanks in part to a cut that will forever be known as “the Rachel.”
For better or worse, here are 11 actresses who braved baldness for a role. We’ll let you decide if it was worth it or not…
11. Tilda Swinton – Doctor Strange
Oscar-winning actress Tilda Swinton’s newly bald head was recently revealed in the first trailer for the upcoming adaption of Marvel’s Sorcerer Supreme, Doctor Strange. Playing “the Ancient One,” a superpowered spiritual being who mentors the titular character in the mystic arts, Swinton decided to keep her shaved scalp a secret until the trailer’s big reveal. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, the 55-year-old said she opted to keep her new ‘do under wraps because “It would be such fun if people don’t know anything.”
In the graphic novels, the Ancient One is actually bald, but he’s also a man. Swinton’s choice to shave her head was to aid her in performing the role in an androgynous manner, and the actress was partly responsible for the character’s distinctive look. “It’s something that I was so happy to develop with Marvel,” she said. “They were so welcoming and we cooked it all up together.”
Unlike many of the entries on this list, there wasn’t a shred of controversy surrounding the actresses’ decision to lob off her locks, but that probably has a lot to do with the whitewashing controversy (one of many in 2016, unfortunately) surrounding the film.
10. Demi Moore – G.I. Jane
Demi Moore is another traditionally long-haired actress who shaved her head for what in theory, should have been a career-making role.
Moore opted for the chop to star in Ridley Scott’s 1997 action film G.I. Jane, playing Jordan O’Neill, a woman battling against the odds as well as gender expectations to complete the tough U.S Navy Seals training program. In the script, the character shaves her head to prove she’s got what it takes to become a Navy Seal, and Moore’s willingness to forego her hair for the part shows equal levels of dedication.
Still, the decision wasn’t enough to make up for her bad acting, and we bet she came to regret signing on for the part when the bad reviews came rolling in. She even won the 1997 Razzie Award for Worst Actress for her work, and her career never quite rebounded to its previous heights.
9. Karen Gillan – Guardians of the Galaxy
Karen Gillan is best-known as Dr Who’s red-headed sidekick Amy Pond, but in 2014, the Scottish actress shaved off her fiery mane to play Marvel villain Nebula in Guardians of the Galaxy. The actress revealed her shocking new look by taking off her wig during a panel discussion at Comic-Con, as well as sharing a video of herself taking the plunge into buzz-cut-ville. Bravely, Gillan shaved her head before she’d even auditioned for the role, in the hopes of upping her chances.
Talking to us at the time about her decision, she said: “I was told even before I auditioned that the actress who got this would have to shave her head, and I didn’t think I was gonna get it. So I was like, ‘Absolutely, I will shave my head! Sure.’ Then three screen tests later, it was ‘Oh God, this might actually happen.’”
Imagine how she’d felt if the part had gone to someone else!
While the 28 year old is set to return to the role for the 2017 sequel, it’s still not entirely clear whether or not she had to shave her head again (though the actress’ Instagram account would seem to indicate that she’s managed to dodge a trip to the barbershop this time around).
8. Robin Tunney – Empire Records
For the ’90s coming-of-age flick Empire Records, a young Robin Tunney shaved off her long locks to play misfit cashier Deb – a role that would turn-out to be her big screen breakthrough.
A film centering around the employees of an independent record store, Debra (also referred to as Debs) was the punk with an attitude problem who worked the tills. However, under her hostile exterior, Deb is suffering with a range of emotional issues, including the urge to self-harm, and the character shaves off her hair after a failed suicide attempt.
Despite featuring big names such as Renee Zellweger and Liv Tyler, the film wasn’t a critical or commercial success. However, Robin’s portrayal did land her the role of Sarah in cult horror classic The Craft – a role she was offered on the condition she wore a wig.
7. Cate Blanchett – Heaven
In 2002, Australian actress Cate Blanchett shaved her head for the sadly overlooked romantic thriller Heaven. Set in Turin, Italy, Blanchett stars as an English teacher who takes on the leader of an Italian drug cartel after her husband and several of her students die from drug overdoses. Blanchett starred opposite Ted 2 actor Giovanni Ribisi, who also shaved his head for his role as cop-turned-fugitive Filippo Carabineri.
Blanchett was praised by critics for her strong performance, and the film received positive reviews. Plus, Blanchett said she found removing her mane for the part incredibly satisfying. In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, she said: “Shaving off my hair is so liberating. I had to do it once for a film role, but I’ve done it periodically too.”
6. Halle Berry – Nappily Ever After
In 2010, Halle Berry starred in Nappily Ever After, a film about a woman losing her hair, a role which obviously required her going bald if she wanted to achieve any shred of authenticity.
As part of the story, Berry’s character comes home drunk one night and decides to take matters into her own hands, shaving off her remaining locks before nature can take its course.
While it was admirable for Berry to follow in her character’s footsteps and embrace the razor, Nappily Ever After seems to have vanished off the face of the Earth, so much so that we couldn’t even find a single image of her with her fresh cut. (She must have an amazing PR team.) Still, as she often sports a shortly-cropped ‘do, it’s not hard to imagine what she looked like in the film. Berry has said in interviews that she was moved by the experience, so going bald wasn’t a total waste.
5. Sigourney Weaver – Alien 3
Her decision to reprise the role of iconic sci-fi heroine Ellen Ripley was not the only surprise Sigourney Weaver bought to Alien 3. In David Fincher’s widely-decisive third installment, Ripley goes bare-headed to fight yet another dreaded Xenomorph while stranded as the only female on a prison planet.
Apparently the first thing out of Fincher’s mouth after taking the helm was “Shave Ripley’s head,” but Weaver embraced the change, admitting that she felt “lighter” after the buzz, believing that it helped to bring out the more vulnerable side of her character.
In an interview with Starburst Magazine in 1992, Weaver said of the cast’s shaved noggins: “I think it makes everybody’s face really jump out. Maybe you do have to pay more attention to the faces of the people, but I think it brings out the faces and the vulnerability of these actors very much.”
The movie grossed $25 million at the box office on its opening weekend, the highest ever for a film starring a woman as the lead at the time, showing you don’t need hair to kick some alien ass. It remains to be seen whether or not she’ll lose the locks again in Neill Blomkamp’s on-again-off-again Alien 5.
4. Ellen Page – Mouth to Mouth
Canadian actress Ellen Page got a buzz cut for her turn as Perry in little-known British film Mouth to Mouth, her first lead role. Playing a troubled teen living on the streets who joins a gang of runaways, Page’s hair actually gets shorter as the story wears on, with her becoming a complete cue-ball by film’s end.
Shortly after going for the chop, Page landed what would become her break out role in Hard Candy. Director David Slade saw past her hair cut when he cast her as 14-year-old vigilante Hayley Stark, and Page went on to win best actress for the part at the 2006 Austin Film Critics Association Awards.
3. Charlize Theron – Mad Max: Fury Road
South African actress Charlize Theron shaved off her golden locks and threw on a mechanical arm loaded with weapons to play Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road. A strong willed heroine and moralistic leader, Furiosa’s desire is to rescue The Five Wives — her former boss Immortan Joe’s female sex slaves – with the assistance of Tom Hardy’s Max Rockatansky.
Like Sigourney Weaver and Cate Blanchett before her, Theron found the experience of removing her hair for a role a freeing one, telling Ryan Seacrest on the 2015 Oscars’ red carpet: “I highly recommend it. I think every woman should do it.”
Will she go for the cueball look again in the potential Mad Max sequels? We’ll have to wait to find out.
2. Persis Khambatta – Star Trek: The Motion Picture
Perhaps the original bald movie heroine, Indian actress and model Persis Khambatta owned the clean-shaven look like a boss in the 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
In a time when a bald woman was still a pretty shocking sight — especially by choice – Khambatta’s unique look actually turned out to be a huge part of the movie’s advertising campaign. In fact, it was filmed for promotional purposes!
Star Trek was Khambatta’s big budget debut, after already establishing a career as a successful model – including being a former Miss India – and starring in a few British films. She was nominated for a Saturn Award for the role, but unfortunately her career never really took off, and she passed away in 1998 at the young age of 49. It’s a shame she never got to see the legacy of beautiful baldness she left behind!
1. Natalie Portman – V for Vendetta
In the 2006, for the Wachowski-produced thriller V for Vendetta, Natalie Portman cut off her brunette locks to play Evey Hammond, a young British woman who becomes embroiled in the mission of masked vigilantes. While imprisoned for her part in the revolutionary schemes of V (played by Hugo Weaving), she is interrogated, tortured and forced to shave her head, and the scene in the critically-acclaimed movie has been cited as one of the most heartwrenching haircuts you’ll ever see on the big screen.
In addition to shaving her head, Portman also undertook voice coaching with dialectologist Barbara Berkery to perfect a British accent for the role. She also studied films such as The Weather Underground, and read the biography of Megacham Begin — former leader of the Zionist militant group — to prepare for the part. Sounds like true dedication to us!
Did we forget your favorite cueballed leading lady? Let us know in the comments.