Although tattoos are gaining acceptance in mainstream culture, it’s still rare to see actors with more than a discreet design somewhere easy to cover up. No prizes for guessing why, of course. Actors have to be versatile, and it’s hard to play a wide range of roles with full sleeves – unless the role calls for them, that is. And even when a part requires heavy tattoos, most of the time the script dictates what those tattoos are – like Jaimie Alexander’s current project, Blindspot, or Wentworth Miller in Prison Break. Despite these series’ tattoos playing an integral part in the story, they require a (largely) ink-free actor so that the detailed designs can be drawn on in makeup.
That said, there are a few brave souls who have been able to carve out a career for themselves and decorate their bodies at the same time. Some of these actors started adding art once they were already successful, banking on being so well known that they would be hired regardless. Others managed to build careers with pre-existing tattoos, although the majority of those are usually typecast as the “tough guy”. There are even a few films where the cast got tattoos together to remember the experience – Lord of the Rings, Suicide Squad, etc. Whatever the story, we applaud them all for decided not to let their work dictate their appearance too much – and proving that tattoos are no longer a total roadblock to a career on screen.
Here are the 15 Most Heavily Tattooed Actors in Hollywood
15 Zoe Saldana
Saldana may look like a blank canvas, but in 2014, the Guardians of the Galaxy actress told David Letterman that she has “almost ten hidden tattoos,” even going so far as to say that she is “running out of private places to put them!”
The actress has certainly been keeping these under wraps, but a few smaller tattoos have been flashed to the public at times. She has at least two stars (one on her wrist, and one on her ankle), as well as Arabic lettering on her foot and on her ribcage. We’ve also caught glimpses of what looks like more stars on her other side and some initials at her hip. However, while Gamora has been open about having tattoos (and even encouraging friends and family to get some, too), she hasn’t been as forthcoming about what they all mean, as some other stars.
14 Christina Ricci
Former child-star Ricci has a collection of small and simple tattoos, most of which remain hidden on the red carpet. Her most visible tattoo is the simple lion on her right shoulder – representing Aslan from C. S. Lewis’ children’s book, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. She also has a bouquet of sweet peas on her lower back, a pair of praying hands on her hip (which used to be a bat), a sparrow on her breast, a mermaid on her ankle, her late dog’s name on her thigh (Jack), a fairy on her inner wrist and the words “Move or Bleed” along her ribs.
A few of these can be seen in her films, but the majority are only seen when the star is snapped on the beach in a bikini.
13 Ryan Gosling
Ryan Gosling doesn’t have many tattoos (although his character in The Place Beyond The Pines certainly did!), but he gets a spot on this list because of his absolutely casual attitude toward them. He bought a tattoo “kit” (never do this!) and added several of his tattoos himself, including the two most visible ones on him. He’s also famously said that “a tattoo should never be meaningful, because at some point you are going to hate it, and it might as well make you laugh.”
That would explain the faded black bar on his wrist and the strange cactus-looking scribble on his forearm – both were self-inked, and done for no particular reason. He also has a tattoo of a woman and skeleton on his inner forearm, and a Giving-Tree-Inspired piece on his bicep. We definitely get the feeling that with this attitude toward his tattoos, Gosling would have a lot more were it not for his boy-next-door image.
12 Megan Fox
Megan Fox has quite a collection of tattoos, and is clearly a fan of script work… and clichés! Her first ever tattoo was the Chinese symbol for “strength”, and she’s also added an ankle tattoo of a moon and star, and a tribal variant on the ying/yang symbol. She’s also got several script tattoos, including quotes from Shakespeare (“we will all laugh at gilded butterflies”), her estranged husband’s name, and a rib piece reading “there once was a little girl who never knew love until a boy broke her HEART.”
Most famously, she had a portrait of Marilyn Monroe done on her inner forearm, but decided to have it removed, saying that she didn’t want to invite any “negative energy” into her life. The star believed that Marilyn suffered from “personality disorders,” and thus was a “negative character” that she no longer wanted tattooed on her body.
11 Jared Leto
He may not have anywhere near the number of tattoos that he’ll be sporting in the upcoming Suicide Squad movie, but Jared Leto is no stranger to the needle. For the most part, he sticks to very clean, simple designs – which are also easy to cover up, if needs be. He has two triangles on his arms (the Alchemy symbol for air), as well as two arrows outlined on his calves. He sports the Orbis Epsilon on his back, a reference to his band: Thirty Seconds To Mars. His band also inspired two more tattoos. On his wrist – the first symbol of the glyphs that make up the band’s name, and on his left arm – the Echelon X symbol. Finally, the actor has a single line of script on his collarbone which reads “Provehito in Altum,” Latin for “Launch forth into the deep.”
None of these bits of ink are remotely as controversial as those his take on the Joker will be sporting this summer, of course. "Damaged?" Really?
10 Jason Momoa
James Wan’s Aquaman may be covered in tribal tattoos, but ironically enough, the costume will end up covering actor Jason Momoa’s real tattoos in the upcoming film! He has at least two visible tattoos – one on each forearm. His more prominent piece is on his left arm – a tribal armband that covers him from near the wrist to his elbow. The series of triangles represent shark’s teeth, meaning that when he is in the water (he is an avid surfer), any shark will recognize him as one of their own and leave him be. A reference to his Hawaiian heritage, the tattoo is his best known, and has appeared on screen in several roles.
He also has "Bride of Gypsies" on his forearm and a small skull visible on his hand in some photos. His latest tattoo was posted to Instagram only a few weeks ago – reading “etre toujours ivre,” it’s part of a French poem and translates to “to be always drunk”.
9 Dominic Purcell
Star of Prison Break and Legends of Tomorrow, Dominic Purcell is best known for his portrayals of tough guys. He isn’t too heavily tattooed, but does sport large pieces on both upper arms, as well as a few smaller pieces, many of which have a connection to his children.
Purcell has four kids, Joseph, Lily-Rose, Augustus and Audrey, and has their birth dates tattooed on his forearm, as well as a wrist tattoo reading “Family is life.” His upper arms are covered with sprawling map-style tattoos, with a large compass on his left arm. He also has a series of other nautical/pirate tattoos on his arms, including an anchor and a ship’s wheel. He has a few more pieces on his arms, including several lines of script, but hasn’t publicly discussed exactly what these latest additions say.
8 Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson
Athlete-turned-actor Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson has only two tattoos, but they are neither small nor subtle! His first tattoo was a bull’s head on his right arm, which is connected to his astrological sign (Taurus) as well as his wrestling nickname. His second (much larger and more detailed) tattoo covers his upper right arm, part of his chest and part of his back. He added this piece in 2003, when he and his cousin Tanoa’I traveled to Hawaii to have their family histories tattooed on them by legendary Tahitian artist Po’oino Yrondi.
A Samoan tradition, each element of the tattoo relates to something in Johnson’s life, including representations of himself and his family, his ancestry, and his spirit protector. The intricate work took sixty hours to complete, broken into three twenty hour sessions – an intense process that no doubt made it even more meaningful to him.
7 Joseph Gilgun
Starring in This is England, Misfits and Lockout (among other projects), Gilgun usually has his artwork on full display on screen. It would be hard to hide them, with work on his hands, both arms, and a few others dotted around his body.
Some of these are purely decorative, like the swirls on his right arm, but many others have a story behind them. Gilgun has "LOL" tattooed on his hand for the name of his character’s true love in This Is England, as well as two of his co-stars’ names tattooed above each ass cheek. He also got tattooed for his other major role in Misfits, with the numbers 2-6 across his chest (the call numbers of his Season 3 co-stars). He also has "Mum" and "Dad" on his left arm (d'awwww) along with the phrase “be as you wish to seem.”
6 Justin Theroux
Posing in a suit next to wife Jennifer Aniston on the red carpet, Justin Theroux looks like the clean-cut all-American boy. However, he’s got a surprising amount of ink hidden underneath.
The actor has complete faith in artist Scott Campbell, letting him tattoo his entire back with minimal design input, and even doing a little work on Campbell himself! As well as his huge backpiece, he has quite a collection on his legs and feet. A grim reaper sits on his left shin, an ‘X’ on his inner ankle, and a butterfly on his left calf. On his right leg, he has “The rich will set you free” on his knee, “Odio et Amo” on his ankle, and a pair of swallows on his feet. His arms feature a pair of scissors, a target, an insect and a dragon, alongside a portrait of a Native American woman on his side.
5 Tom Hardy
Tom Hardy isn’t shy about showing off his ink – in 2014, the actor graced the cover of Esquire magazine with his shirt off and his tattoos on full display! Many have also made appearances in his films, although often elements of them are covered up (such as in Warrior, where his tribal tattoo is visible, but the leprechaun that is in the center was covered). He reportedly got his first piece at the tender age of 15 – a leprechaun on his arm for his mother’s Irish heritage. (Like many mothers, she was less than thrilled at this permanent sign of devotion!) Since then, he has added (among others) tribal work around the leprechaun, a Union Jack, a wolf, a sacred heart, a raven, a set of comedy/tragedy masks, a scorpion, a cross, several lines of script, the London skyline, and a quill.
He’s also got several tattoos for the important people in his life – or at least, for people who were important to him at the time! He has “Till I Die SW” on his stomach and a dragon on his arm (for ex-wife Sarah Ward), the marine corps number of his friend’s father on his chest, a Madonna and Child portrait and a star for his then-girlfriend Rachael Speed, his agent’s name (Lindy King) on his arm as a thank-you for getting him into Hollywood, a portrait on his back, and the name "Charlotte" across his shoulder.
It would appear Mr. Hardy's views on tattooing do not mirror Mr. Gosling's.
4 Angelina Jolie
Known as one of the most heavily tattooed women in Hollywood, Angelina Jolie’s tattoos began in her wild-child days, and continued with more spiritual and family-oriented artwork in recent years. She’s even removed and covered up several of her earlier (and less meaningful) tattoos, including one of ex-husband Billy Bob Thornton’s name.
Now, she sports some smaller script on her arms, and one larger piece on her shoulder with the coordinates of the birthplaces of her children and husband Brad Pitt. With her limbs still largely bare, she often appears tattoo-free in films, but has heavy tattooing on her torso, with a cross on her hip and most of her back covered with a Bengal tiger, Sanskrit writing and yantra blessing tattoos. She’s sure to get more in future, but having been vocal about how “stupid” it was to get Billy Bob tattooed on her arm, we can assume Brad’s name will never be one of them!
3 Danny Trejo
Another actor famous for his tattoos, Trejo (nicknamed “The Illustrated Man”) is usually typecast as a villain due to his extensive artwork. A former convict, many of Trejo’s tattoos are prison ink, and his chest piece took over two years to complete (in prison) because he kept getting transferred. That same chest tattoo (of a woman wearing a sombrero) has appeared in over 130 movies and been voted one of the most recognizable tattoos in the world.
He also has two names on his chest, Debbie and Danielle (his wife and daughter), and another family-inspired tattoo on his back of his children playing on Venice Beach (done by Mark Mahoney). He also has a hummingbird, a peacock, a cross and roses on his arms (among others), and a large portrait of Jesus on his back (above the one of his children).
2 Johnny Depp
One of the most versatile actors in Hollywood is also one of the most tattooed – Depp has artwork across both arms, both legs, his back and his hands and fingers. The star is also continually adding to his collection, which may make it difficult for the actor to keep his ink hidden on screen as he has done thus far (most of the time, anyway). Depp has several tattoos with connections to Native American culture – which has brought him under fire in the past. These include the image of a chief on his bicep, a ‘Z’ on his hand, a Native American lightning-snake design on his forearm, and a Comanche shield on his shin. Many of these are connected to his adoption by a member of the Comanche tribe, although his claimed ancestry has never been confirmed, and his portrayal of Native American characters has often been less-than-sensitive.
The actor also famously got “Winona Forever” for then-girlfriend Winona Ryder, but later edited it when they broke up (it now reads “Wino Forever”). In addition, he has a collection of smaller designs: portraits of his parents when they were young, several small hand tattoos, the names of his children, the sparrow tattoo that his Pirates of the Caribbean character wore, various skulls, Theban lettering, script work, and a crow on his hand for Damien Echols as a strong supporter of the West Memphis Three.
1 Robert La Sardo
LaSardo isn’t just heavily tattooed for an actor – he’s heavily tattooed, period! The Italian-American actor and producer has nearly his entire body covered, including his hands and throat. This has proven something of an obstacle in his work, even after studying at the Stella Adler Conservatory in New York. His tattoos have led to him being routinely typecast, usually playing a villain, often a Hispanic gangster — despite not actually being Hispanic (he's Italian).
His first ever tattoo was on his chest, an old-school boxer with red gloves (which is no longer visible). He also tattooed a succession of monsters on himself as a way to overcome his fears of monsters and the monster within. Now, he has tribal work, skulls, crosses, and portraits adorning his body, as well as lettering and symbols.
Did we forget any of your favorite heavily tattooed Hollywood stars? Let us know in the comments!