17 Actors Who Transformed Radically for Upcoming Roles

In Hollywood, living vicariously through the roles you inhabit is commonplace, but the turmoil actors puts themselves through can often take a toll on both the mind and the body. In an interview earlier this year, actor Tom Hardy spoke of the strain preparation can have on the body. Speaking of his role as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, for which he packed on thirty pounds of muscle and mass, Hardy said his body has begun to show signs of wear, making it increasingly more difficult to change his figure for new parts.

As actors age, so do their bodies, but because of the cliche of the struggling artist, many of them are forced to endure dramatic transformations. Whether it’s an intense workout regimen, an unhealthy diet to pack on the pounds or a crazy amount of time spent in the makeup department, hours of work go into encapsulating the characters of the screen. Among the people of everyday life, these extreme measurements could be misconstrued as insanity, but in a profession where playing make-believe is part of the job description, it’s a necessary evil required to achieve the desired effect.

Taking a look at the upcoming slate of films and television events in the coming year, there’s plenty of reasons to be excited about the diversity of roles. From inspirational biopics to sweeping fantasy adaptations, these are the 17 Actors Who Transformed Radically for Upcoming Roles. Can you recognize all the stars behind the characters?

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Kevin Spacey in All the Money in the World
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17 Kevin Spacey as J. Paul Getty - All the Money in the World

Kevin Spacey in All the Money in the World

Although the recent news of Kevin Spacey’s long career of harassment has led to the actor being appropriately recast as the American industrialist J. Paul Getty in Ridley Scott’s All the Money in the World, to not include him on our list would be an insult to the fine work accomplished by the makeup department. Taking five hours each day to complete the transformation of the actor into the 81 year old, Spacey appeared to be a completely different person in the first trailer for the film, complete with a white-haired, wrinkle-faced look.

With Christopher Plummer now set to take over the part of the former richest living American, we’ll have to wait to see how the final film portrayal will turn out. As a controversial figure who notoriously negotiated the kidnapping of his 16 year old grandson, it will take a talented performer to effectively achieve the feel of the frugal businessman. Luckily, Plummer has the resume to pull off such a feat.

16 Alexander Skarsgard as Anton Zaleski - The Hummingbird Project

Alexander Skarsgard Bald for The Hummingbird Project

Not to be outdone by his younger brother Bill, who recently wowed everyone with his terrifying performance as Pennywise in Stephen King’s It, Alexander Skarsgard has chosen to go to extreme lengths in his next role in order to shock audiences with his appearance. Unlike his brother however, Skarsgard’s shocking new look won’t come from a startling amount of time spent on makeup. Instead, the actor has decided to shave off his blond hair to play a bald tech nerd hoping to make millions.

Directed by Kim Nguyen, The Hummingbird Project is a comedy that follows two cousins involved in High Frequency Trading who dream of building a fiber-optic cable between New Jersey and Kansas, only things don’t go according to plan. Described as the brains of the operation, Skarsgard will ditch his bad boy good looks for the new hairdo.

The appearance has already sparked a social media outcry from the dapper actor’s fan base, but the transition will be well worth it if the movie pays off the way he hopes.

15 Margot Robbie as Tonya Harding - I, Tonya

The Australian-born Margot Robbie has been making waves since breaking out opposite Leonardo DiCaprio in Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, but her first truly transformative role came two years ago when she ditched the glamour for a baseball bat and facepaint as Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad. Now that she’s proven how fearless she is when it comes to taking on challenging parts, she’s immersing herself into the controversial life of the 1991 U.S. Champion figure skater Tonya Harding in I, Tonya.

Making headlines in 1994 after conspiring to have fellow competitor Nancy Kerrigan attacked following a practice in Detroit, Harding was banned for life from the U.S. Figure Skating Association and gained celebrity status for her rebellious nature. Robbie’s performance as the disgraced athlete has already been recognized by critics and fans alike. As a self-described redneck from Oregon, Harding was far from the prototypical skater. She was a misfit, a fact which Robbie admits she didn’t try to sugarcoat in her portrayal of the character.

14 Josh Brolin as Cable- Deadpool 2

Josh Brolin as Cable in Deadpool 2

In 2018, Josh Brolin will star in his third superhero movie role as Cable in the much anticipated release of Deadpool 2, but to become the cybernetic warrior from the future, the 49 year old actor had to take on a serious workout regimen. Although Brolin’s transition into a toned machine began with his cosmic transformation into the purple tyrant Thanos for the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War films, the part of Cable brought on some new challenges. With more exposure on screen, the actor had to make sure he could match up next to Ryan Reynolds’ Merc with a Mouth.

According to videos shared on Brolin’s Instagram page, his workout included some serious bicep and abdominal-focused moves. Fitted with a techno-organic right eye and metal arm, his ripped physique and fierce look are a dead ringer for Cable in the comics.

Time will tell if his performance will remain as faithful as his appearance, but for now, Brolin's commitment to the part appears to have paid off in full.

13 Lady Gaga as Ally - A Star Is Born

Lady Gaga in A Star Is Born

With her strong aversion to cutesy pop star outfits, Lady Gaga has become an inspirational figure in the fashion industry. From high-end sunglasses to giant platform heels, she’s made a name for herself thanks to her fearless ability to stand out. With her whacked out performance in American Horror Story: Hotel, Gaga's since managed to break out in the acting field, but her true talent will be tested when she jumps in front of the camera for the remake of A Star Is Born.

Following the up-and-coming songstress Ally as she is discovered by country music star Jackson Maine, the film will depict the tumultuous love affair between the couple as Jackson’s declining career is quickly eclipsed by Ally’s newfound stardom. For her new part, Lady Gaga went back to her roots. Sporting less makeup than usual, she appears with a straight, brown-haired look while singing next to Bradley Cooper's country rock persona.

Fans will get a glimpse of Gaga’s range when the film hits in May 2018.

12 James Franco as Tommy Wiseau - The Disaster Artist

James Franco as Tommy Wiseau in The Disaster Artist

A jack of many trades, James Franco’s career has defied the standard Hollywood definition of an actor. Playing everything from a drug-dealing pothead in Pineapple Express to a dreadlock-wearing Riff Raff wannabe in Spring Breakers, his range makes him a rarity among performers. In his latest role, Franco decided to take on a drastic new look to show what life is like in the movie-making industry.

As a defining character of bad B movies, the mysterious cult icon Tommy Wiseau has gained recognition thanks to his feature The Room. From his unplacable Eastern European accent to his age, which he continually hides from the media, Wiseau is one of the most improbable stars to have a movie made about him.

To prepare for the part, Franco admitted to staying completely in character while directing the picture. According to his brother Dave Franco, the role-playing had to be explained to many visiting guests by the rest of the cast, which unsurprisingly got on many people’s nerves before production wrapped.

11 Tilda Swinton as an Old Man - Suspiria

Tilda Swinton in Suspiria

Avoiding typical leading lady roles, Tilda Swinton has become a chameleon of the screen, taking on outlandish parts that only the greatest shapeshifters could pull off. From a gender neutral dystopian politician in Snowpiercer to the bald, mystical Ancient One in Doctor Strange, Swinton’s ability to tap into a character is unmatched. Now with her role in Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria remake coming next year, she’s looking to add another face to her list of achievements.

Though details are still being kept under wraps for the horror remake, photographers managed to catch a glimpse of Swinton on the set dressed as an elderly man with thick-rimmed spectacles. The biggest mystery of Swinton’s disguise is how it will fit into her character. Despite being dressed as a man, she was actually cast as Madame Blanc, the evil proprietress of a ballet academy where much of the movie takes place. As of yet, it is unknown how the appearance will feature in the film, but it’s certainly a unique departure that is certain to turn some heads.

10 Joel Edgerton as Nick Jakoby - Bright

Joel Edgerton in Bright

Netflix is quickly beginning to edge out the movie theater by offering its subscribers a unique in-home theatrical experience with some of cinema’s most intriguing films and television shows. Next up is David Ayer's Bright.

Set in a where world hard-nosed police dramas and mystical fantasy stories are one and the same, Bright follows officer Daryl Ward (played by Will Smith) as he’s paired with an Orc to protect the public from a weapon of mass destruction. 

Headlining the film alongside Smith is Joel Edgerton in an uncharacteristically make-up heavy role as Nick Jakoby, the aforementioned Orc who gets wrapped up in the mayhem. Also making an appearance in an equally unidentifiable role is Noomi Rapace, an evil elf who is responsible for the creation of the artifact Ward and Jakoby encounter in the film.

9 Reese Witherspoon and more - A Wrinkle in Time

Reese Witherspoon in A Wrinkle in Time

Whisked away across the universe in a fantastical adventure that folds the fabric of space and time, Disney’s upcoming live action adaptation of Madeleine L-Engle’s young adult novel A Wrinkle in Time is already impressing viewers with its wonderfully strange cast of characters.

Featuring Reese Witherspoon, Oprah Winfrey, and Mindy Kaling as celestial beings capable of extraordinary things, the movie will follow a young girl named Meg as she travels to foreign worlds with the help of an artifact known as the Tesseract in order to find her long lost father.

Across Meg’s interplanetary journey, director Ava DuVernay looked to shake up her cast by breaking the traditional literary archetype of the three wise women. A red-haired Reese, a shadowy-looking Mindy, and a bejeweled Oprah bring the pages of the epic to life in an eclectic and diverse bit of casting genius.

8 Edgar Ramirez as Gianni Versace - The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story

Edgar Ramirez as Gianni Versace

In season one of American Crime Story, producer Ryan Murphy took on the incredibly difficult task of casting the right actors to recreate the trial of the century against O.J. Simpson. Now into the second season of the true crime series, the show is set to capture another dramatic moment of the '90s when it covers the assassination of fashion extraordinaire Gianni Versace.

Addictively blending the world of high fashion with the violent depictions of Versace’s murder at the hands of gunman Andrew Cunanan, Edgar Ramirez looks fully immersed in the luxurious lifestyle of the character, appearing on set with Versace’s signature wavy white hair slicked back over his head.

According to Murphy, the series will fully feature the relationship between Versace and his partner of fifteen years Antonio D’Amico. The show will also address the topic of homophobia which inevitably led to the fashion icon’s death by Cunanan.

7 Al Pacino as Joe Paterno in Untitled HBO Biopic

Al Pacino as Joe Paterno

Ask any cinephile and they'll like say Al Pacino is one of the finest performers to ever grace the silver screen, but he’ll challenge his likability as an actor when he tackles the role of controversial Penn State head coach Joe Paterno in the untitled HBO biopic.

After becoming the winningest coach in college football history, Paterno’s integrity was put into question when the misdeeds of his defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, who was indicted on 52 accounts of child molestation in 2011, were revealed.

First look images of Pacino in the role have already won many people over. Appearing in thick rimmed glasses, the grey-haired Pacino is decked out in Paterno’s signature outfit. Teaming up with director Barry Levinson, who the actor recently connected with in the dramas You Don’t Know Jack and The Humbling, the film will depict the character as he’s forced to deal with the consequences of his inaction.

6 Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody

Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury

We’re still a year away from Freddie Mercury’s biopic Bohemian Rhapsody, but already people are getting hyped to see if Mr. Robot star Rami Malek will be able to pin down the music legend’s flamboyant style and four-octave voice. For Malek, the role could be a breakout performance in the movie world and it’s a task he’s not taking lightly. Speaking about the surprising look that came the role, Malek described his first experience in costume as an affirming moment that proved he was capable of pulling off the part.

Chronicling Mercury’s life, from the formation of Queen in 1970 until the band’s performance at Live Aid in 1985, six years before the prolific singer died of AIDS, Malek’s uncanny resemblance to the performer already has many people talking about potential award buzz.

From the first look image released online, he’s certainly managed to pull off the mustachioed appearance and classic stance of the performer.

5 Doug Jones as Amphibian Man in The Shape of Water

Doug Jones in The Shape of Water

Prior to becoming one of the greatest actors you’ve never heard of, Doug Jones studied mime and contortion, two art forms which have helped him to become a professional when it comes to creating distinct body languages and hand gestures for many of the screen’s most captivating creatures. Often buried under heavy prosthetics, Jones' uniquely slender frame has made him an optimal choice for roles like the Faun in Pan’s Labyrinth or Saru in the new series Star Trek: Discovery.

Teaming up with Del Toro for yet another collaboration, the actor is front and center in the new film The Shape of Water, although he’ll likely go unrecognized once again. As the Amphibian Man, it took four crew members with K-Y Jelly to fit Jones into his latex suit. With webbed-fingered gloves and scuba diving techniques to simulate the look of floating, Jones had to be on top of his game to transform into one of his most astonishing characters to date.

4 David Harbour as Hellboy - Hellboy

David Harbour as Hellboy

When news of a Hellboy reboot spread online, the internet was sent into a tizzy debating who would don the Right Hand of Doom as Anung un Rama. Anyone stepping into the shoes of the beastly Ron Perlman would undeniably be tasked with looking the part. Director Neil Marshall turned to Stranger Things alum David Harbour to save humanity from the things that go bump in the night.

In order to go from the flabby sheriff of Hawkins to the jacked monster of Mike Mignola’s comics, Harbour enlisted the help of celebrity trainer Don Saladino. To achieve the physique of the occult-battling hero, the actor did some seriously exhausting deadlifts piled on top of other muscle-defining workouts such as suitcase carries, bench presses, and kettlebell squats.

3 Taylor Kitsch as David Koresh - Waco

Taylor Kitsch as David Koresh in Waco

To date, Taylor Kitsch’s career highlight was as the hot football player Tim Riggins in Friday Night Lights, but despite catching the eyes of many viewers, he has yet to hit his mark in a major way at the movies. Although failed roles in blockbusters such as John Carter and X-Men Origins: Wolverine have left much to be desired, Kitsch is hoping to win over audiences with his role as cult leader David Koresh in the miniseries Waco.

Depicting the 51 day siege of the Mount Carmel Center ranch, the series will show Koresh's stand-off with the FBI after the ATF failed to seize guns from the property. To prepare for the role, Kitsch lost 30 pounds and listened to hours of conversations between Koresh and FBI negotiator Gary Noesner.

With his long hair and glasses, he certainly looks the part and from the sound of it, it seems he prepared himself for the kind of toll such a role can have on the conscience.

2 Jonah Hill - Maniac

Jonah Hill in Maniac

Since hitting it big with his role in the foul-mouthed teenage comedy Superbad, Jonah Hill has differentiated himself from the typical comedian with a dirty sense of humor. With two Oscar nominations under his belt, he’s shown that he’s a risk-taker who can stand with the best of them in compelling dramas while also going back to his old ways to get a laugh or two.

Throughout his career, Hill has appeared noticeably slimmer, getting into shape for movies such as 21 Jump Street, but we've also seen him at his biggest, packing on pounds for his role in War Dogs.

For the Cary Fukunaga series Maniac, set to debut on Netflix sometime next year, Hill has changed his look up yet again. Spotted on set, Hill has been seen wearing an assortment of outfits, including a tattooed, Post Malone look. According to everyone involved, the show will focus on Hill’s character, who spends his days inside a psychiatric ward dreaming of various fantasy lives.

1 Christian Bale as Dick Cheney - Backseat

Christian Bale as Dick Cheney in Backseat

When it comes to dramatic bodily transformations, Christian Bale has rightly been crowned the king of kings. In a career which has seen Bale reduced to nothing but skin and bones in The Machinist, buffed up as a muscle-packed Dark Knight in Christopher Nolan’s Batman films, and out of shape as a 228 pound con man in American Hustle, his weight has yo-yoed back and forth throughout the years. With an Oscar to show off all his hard work, he’s rightly earned his spot as one of the more credible actors of our time.

Spotted on the set of his new film Backseat, a balding Bale was seen sporting a hefty new look as the former Vice President of the United States Dick Cheney. The controversial figure’s story, which is set to hit theaters sometime in 2018, will depict the politician from his younger years all the way to the White House. Also joining him is actress Amy Adams, whose appearance as Cheney’s wife Lynne is certain to gain recognition of its own.


Which transformation surprised you the most? Let us know in the comments!

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