by ASH

Movies have this magical ability to transport its audiences into otherworldly places. In some cases, movies transform actors and actresses into unrecognisable characters, thanks to the magic of makeup. In the Darkest Hour, Gary Oldman morphed into Winston Churchill, thanks to four hours daily in the makeup chair and undergoing extensive makeup. And that is after an arduous six months of makeup testing.

Darkest Hour

Makeup maestro Kazuhiro Tsuji explains, “Likeness makeup is almost impossible to pull off because everybody looks different.” He added, “If the two people have proportions that are close, it’s easier. But these two are totally different. So I had to figure out the best balance to make him look like Churchill, but not [like he’s] wearing a mask.”

To be convincing to a T, Oldman spent a year studying Churchill before stepping into his shoes. The result is a performance so realistic that Oldman won the Best Actor award at the recent Academy Awards.

Oldman isn’t the first actor to win an award playing another person, with the help of heavy prosthetics and makeup. Charlize Theron was unrecognisable in Monster, where she played serial killer Aileen Wuornos and won an award for Best Actress at the Oscars.

Similarly, Nicole Kidman won her gold statuette for her role as Virginia Woolf in The Hours.

The beauty of makeup in movies is how they help actors transform into characters physically so far removed from themselves in order to portray their roles. Here’s a look at other actors whom you won’t be able to recognise after the magic of makeup.


Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs)

Albert Nobbs

As the gender bender Albert Nobbs in the movie of the same name, Close is a struggling woman in late 19th-century Ireland. Unable to find a job because she is the “inferior” gender, Nobbs cross-dresses as a man so that she can work as a butler in Dublin’s most elegant hotel.

Close has always been a convincing actress, be it a spiteful babysitter (Fatal Attraction), a crazy dog fur lover (101 Dalmatians) or a prim and proper Stepford Wife (Stepford Wives). In Albert Nobbs, even though you know she’s a woman dressed as a man, you can’t help but identify with her as a man. Superb makeup aside, her swagger, her gait and her mannerisms as manly as the next man. Close all but disappeared in Albert Nobbs.

Did you know: This isn't the first time that Glenn Close cross-dresses in a movie. In Hook (1991), she has a small cameo as a bearded pirate.


Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)

Dallas Buyers Club

If you were a teenager growing up in the 1990s, you might have seen a handsome Jared Leto playing the Claire Danes’ crush in the TV series My So-Called Life. Leto was one of the teenage heartthrobs in that decade, so to see him a stick-thin, drug-addicted, HIV-positive transgender in Dallas Buyers Club is a bit of a shocker. To prep for his role, Leto went on an all-liquid diet to lose weight fast and lost as much as almost 5kg in just 5 days.

He lost a total of 13 kg to play his character Rayon, and won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

Did you know: The film's budget was so low that the makeup budget was USD250. This was highly commendable, especially when the film won The Best Makeup and Hairstyling award at the Oscars.


Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Looper)


For a lot of us, we’re likely to remember Gordon-Levitt as that kid from Third Rock from the Sun. It didn’t help that while he aged, Gordon-Levitt couldn’t get rid of his baby face. And being naturally small-framed, it’s easy to forget that he’s grown from his time as an alien sent to earth to experience and report life on earth back to their home planet. So imagine our pleasant surprise to see Gordon-Levitt not only became a man in Looper, but a man’s man at that.

Playing a younger version of Bruce Willis’ character Joe, Gordon-Levitt really did look the part. And it helped that he had Willis’s most subtle facial expressions down flat. With Looper, audiences finally see Gordon-Levitt as an adult, and no longer a man-child.

Did you know:  Gordon-Levitt was made up by the same makeup maven who did Gary Oldman’s transformation into Winston Churchill - Kazuhiro Tsuji


Anthony Hopkins (Hitchcock)

Alfred Hitchcock is a famous name this means finding someone brave enough to take him on in a biopic isn’t easy. And we know Sir Anthony Hopkins is one to make difficult effortless.

As Hitchcock, Hopkins captured every inch of Hitchcock, from his physical traits, his eccentric way of speaking and his quirky mannerisms. He mastered the way Hitchcock walked with his portly frame and worked that double chin well. It’s almost as though we’re looking at the real Hitchcock.

Did you know: Sir Anthony Hopkins actually met Sir Alfred Hitchcock when he was younger. Hopkins was introduced to Hitchcock in a restaurant by his agent.

Halle Berry (Cloud Atlas)

Cloud Atlas is a wonderful novel with plenty of layers but it made for a heck of an abstract movie. A story about how past lives actions affect not only the past, but the present and future, Cloud Atlas shows us how everything and everyone is connected. This means we are following certain characters for a few lives. In the movie, Halle Berry plays a grand total of six characters, and each one is from a different era and even race. This makes for some pretty wild makeup transformation that at times, had us guessing if some characters were her or not. Not only did she come a white woman, she also became an elderly Asian man! How weird is that?

Did you know: Berry's German-Jewish character, Jocasta Ayrs, was actually the most time-consuming transforamation. To get the Caucasian skin color right was particularly challenging, and it took eight hours of makeup to find the right skin tone.