"An actress known to be good-looking who plays a role which calls for her to indulge in a makeup that makes her look homely usually gets flattering notices from the reviewers, even if her performance isn't worth a nickel[.]"An actor or actress known for their physical beauty being altered by makeup and prosthetics to play an unattractive or even ugly character, usually as Oscar Bait. This doesn't cover really deformed or monstrous characters like Freddy Krueger or Quasimodo; that would be The Grotesque. Note: This is different from Hollywood Homely, where, an actor or actress will be "plained down" with unflattering clothing or hairstyle, glasses, a better-looking sibling, crippling shyness hiding their looks or so on, but the result is only (maybe) average-looking by non-Hollywood standards. A Hollywood Homely character can quite easily be changed in-story to the actor's normal appearance for a Beautiful All Along reveal. This trope, instead, is when the actor uses makeup or prosthetics to change the look of their face to match the expectations and image of the character. This trope usually happens in biopics and serious dramas, and covers attractive actors playing below average-looking characters (or real people), and there is a definite effort to not only play down but deliberately counteract the actor's usual good looks. Since most Hollywood actors tend to be very attractive, it's an interesting challenge for them to portray a Gonk. If they're playing outright monsters who are usually portrayed as ugly, this may result in a Gorgeous Gorgon. See also Dyeing for Your Art, which generally covers actors who change their appearance for their roles. Contrast with Adaptational Attractiveness.
— George Jean Nathan
open/close all folders
- In-universe, unusually justified example: In Passionella by Jules Feiffer, Passionella, having achieved success as a movie star, decides to make a more realistic movie where she plays a non-beautiful, unglamorous, chimney sweep. All of her scenes in the movie are shot during the day, where all her previous glamorous roles could only be filmed at night, because she only transforms into a beautiful, glamorous movie star in the evening. She wins the Best Actress Oscar, of course.
- One of the earliest examples of the trope came from Kathleen Byron in Black Narcissus. Her character Sister Ruth begins the film as a devout nun, but slowly suffers Sanity Slippage and eventually turns into a Yandere. In the last act of the film, make-up is used to put her in the Uncanny Valley - giving the impression she's wearing a corpselike mask.
- Bette Davis pulled this off quite a few times in her illustrious career:
- The first notable one was Of Human Bondage. Her character Mildred ends up on the streets and eventually dies of tuberculosis. Bette designed the make-up Mildred would wear for her death scene, wanting her to accurately look like someone who had died of an illness and not "a deb who had missed her afternoon nap."
- She wanted to do this for Now, Voyager, padding her costumes out to make Charlotte look even heavier in her 'before' appearance. The studio rejected this look for being "too grotesque" and she's Hollywood Homely in the finished film.
- Marked Woman after her character has been attacked by the Mafia. The original bandaging was rather small, so she went to a doctor and had the face bandaged more realistically.
- In What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? she decided that Jane Hudson would never wash her face and only put a new layer of make-up on every day. She patterned the look off numerous homeless ladies seen on Hollywood boulevard. When Bette's daughter saw her in the make-up for the first time, she remarked "mother, this time you've gone too far." Elsewhere averted with her co-star Joan Crawford, who struggled to look unattractive. She wanted to have full hair and make-up, despite playing a wheelchair bound woman who hadn't left her room in years. This did however give the impression that Blanche had aged better than Jane, giving her sister another reason to resent her.
- Charlize Theron as Aileen Wuornos in Monster. The actress gained between 25 and 30 pounds, shaved her eyebrows, and wore prosthetic teeth. As such, she looked completely unrecognizable in character and got the Best Actress Oscar in a walk. She wasn't afraid to get dirty in North Country, and then once again shaved her head and wore dark circles of grease for her role as Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road.
- Salma Hayek as Frida Kahlo in Frida. To play Kahlo, Hayek either used make-up or grew out her own mustache and unibrow.
- Nicole Kidman wore a prosthetic nose to play Virginia Woolf in The Hours.
- Emma Thompson in Nanny McPhee. In an interview with Disney Adventures, she jokingly lamented that it took less time for them to make her look ugly than to make her look pretty.
- Tom Cruise wears a baldcap and a fatsuit in Tropic Thunder.
- Being John Malkovich:
- Brad Pitt at his homeliest (with the exception of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, where he was aged up considerably) was in 12 Monkeys — didn't use prosthetics, but gave the character a lazy eye and unflattering hairstyle.
- Gwyneth Paltrow, the actress who played her mother, and Brooke Burns in Shallow Hal. When the movie got flak for casting such a thin woman as a heavy character, the director defended himself by noting that the concept called for her to be attractively thin through most of the movie — Paltrow could fat up while a heavy actress could not thin down. The result is a movie littered with bad fat jokes... about the smoking hot Paltrow.
- Almost all the women in the movie version of Push. Mariah Carey (Precious' social worker, pictured above) is the most obvious example, but the lead actress Gabourey Sidibe was also made to look larger using unflattering clothes.
- Mariah Carey doesn't look too good in her role as the titular character's mother in The Butler, either.
- Sharon Stone in Alpha Dog, where she uses a fatsuit in an interview held years after her only son was killed.
- Johnny Depp had his head shaved (by Hunter S. Thompson) and wore huge glasses in Terry Gilliam's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Benicio del Toro just put up a lot of weight and a leatherman's moustache. They both looked quite unspectacular in result. But it was the brilliant acting that made them truly offputting.
- Similarly, he wore extensive prosthetics and makeup (including a cap to simulate a receding hairline) to play Whitey Bulger in Black Mass and as a result is barely recognizable.
- Heath Ledger as The Joker in The Dark Knight.
- Jude Law played a slimy, gaunt, brown-toothed, heavily balding photographer/assassin in Road to Perdition with disfiguring facial scars in the end. Like in Anna Karenina he made himself balding, grew a big beard, and gave himself spectacles and wrinkles to make himself look older and unattractive. And in Contagion he has snaggle-teeth to point out that he's the bad guy.
- Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard had to look more aged as Norma Desmond than she did in Real Life.
- The handsome, elegant Dame Judi Dench playing the haggard spinster Barbara Covett in Notes on a Scandal.
- This◊ is Elizabeth Banks. This◊ is Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket in The Hunger Games, under ten tons of makeup to bring out her wrinkles and make her look more like Joan Rivers than a 37-year-old woman has any business looking.
- AnnaLynne McCord in Excision not only wears no makeup, but has acne scars and badly damaged hair, and looks far less attractive than the blonde bombshell that McCord is in real life.
- The normally very beautiful Lena Headey sports some very nasty looking facial scars, cracked lips and bad teeth in Dredd while playing former prostitute turned drug baron Mama.
- Missi Pyle as Fran Stalinovskovichdavidovitchsky in DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story. Of course, this doesn't stop Owen from falling in love with her. In the epilogue, she is shown to be substantially more attractive, though.
- Tilda Swinton sported a prosthetic nose and protruding teeth for her role as Mason in Snowpiercer.
- Nicholas Hoult in Mad Max: Fury Road. To quote one article: "Hire one of Hollywood's youngest, most attractive stars, then shave his head, paint him bone white, and have him play a character with disgusting chapped lips for the entire movie."
- Angela Bettis as the title character in the TV remake of Carrie (2002). Drab clothes, messy hair and something about not washing her face or anything definitely hid any beauty that she had, making it that much more special when she went to the prom.
- Portia Doubleday in Kimberly Peirce's 2013 remake of the above does a different take on this trope to play Chris. In contrast to previous films showing the Alpha Bitch as one of The Beautiful Elite, this version is done up to look like an over-tanned, made-up Snooki wannabe with ratty hair extensions and trashy clothes. This adds a layer of subtext that Chris could be jealous of Carrie's more natural beauty.
- Meryl Streep as the Witch in Into the Woods. Like Thompson above, she said it took more makeup to make her look beautiful later in the film than to make her look ugly for the majority of her screentime. Played straighter with Ironweed and Sophie's Choice.
- Blake Lively, a very glamorous blonde, in The Town. She plays a trashy alcoholic who layers the make-up on and looks constantly spaced out. Critics were shocked. She also did this in The Rhythm Section, disguising herself as a homeless woman and adopting various other disguises. It became a Running Gag during production of the film for tabloids to report "Blake Lively looks unrecognisable..." In The Shallows her character also ends up with a nasty gash along her legs, sunburn all over her body and other unsightly blemishes brought on by spending the day trapped at sea.
- Keira Knightley as a skinny, sleep-deprived, chain-smoking alcoholic in The Jacket.
- Downplayed with Lizzie Caplan in Mean Girls. Producers were reluctant to cast her as 'art freak' Janis because of her beauty, but she gave the best audition. So instead of trying to dress her down, they gave her odd fashion choices, goth make-up and Messy Hair. She even wears a tuxedo to the prom, subverting She Cleans Up Nicely. There are fandom rumours that Janis herself is a former Alpha Bitch, and Caplan's beauty is likely a contributing factor.
- Christian Bale does this a lot:
- Melissa McCarthy is very pretty when seen in interviews, even making People's "Most Beautiful" list at least once. For a lot of her roles, she's given make-up and hairstyles to make herself seem frumpier and less attractive.
- Kate McKinnon is likewise a very beautiful lady. In Ghostbusters (2016) she's dressed down with Messy Hair, constantly seen in overalls and portrayed as something of an oddball.
- Rosanne Barr isn't a conventional looker, but she really downgraded her appearance in She-Devil.
- Stella Maris:
- Mary Pickford played one of the earliest examples in the 1918 film Stella Maris. She played the titular Stella in her normal look but also played the plain and homely Unity Blake as well. Unity is the least attractive girl at her orphanage while Mary Pickford was known for her cherub cute looks.
- Marcia Manon played The Alcoholic Louise. She had Messy Hair and looked like she was in a permanent stupor.
- James Franco donned various prosthetics and put on a wig for his role as Tommy Wiseau in The Disaster Artist. Nonetheless, he still looks far better than the real Tommy.
Live Action TV
- Big Rhonda on That '70s Show. The actress who plays her appeared out of costume in a flash forward once, and looked nothing like Big Rhonda.
- Ana Maria Orozco, the original Betty in Yo soy Betty, la fea, especially when compared with her Anglo counterpart who was Hollywood Homely at worst. The Colombian producers went the whole nine yards on transforming Orozco: no makeup, bad haircut, the ugliest glasses possible, orthodontics... they even hired an expert to choose specifically the most unflattering colors and styles to dress her, then the writers incorporated that knowledge on the script to justify and explain her eventual makeover and her business plan.
- Amy Sedaris is another comedian who is attractive in real life, yet prefers playing unattractive characters. The David Sedaris essay "Shiner Like A Diamond" noted how she is easily the most attractive member of the family, yet all her life she enjoyed hiding it under wigs and prosthetics. She has said in interviews as well that she's never comfortable doing straight-up sexy, she can't help but add some sort of goofy element to it. Don't forget her "fatty suit".
- Helena Bonham-Carter as Morgan in Merlin (1998). In the first act she is a homely girl with a lazy eye and pigtails, but uses magic to make herself beautiful in order to trip up Arthur. At the end her magic slips away and she is homely again.
- Some well-applied zombie makeup was enough to make the incredibly handsome Jamie Bamber look utterly horrible during a guest stint on Ghost Whisperer. There's also his appearance on House, where he starts out looking like his usual gorgeous self, but his looks worsen as his condition does—yellowing skin, bulging eyes, etc—until finally, the sight of him laying on a bed wearing nothing but boxer shorts is completely undercut by the fact his skin is peeling off. Quite jarring considering that he's usually Mr. Fanservice in whatever he's starring in.
- Most of the women on Orange Is the New Black are made to look a lot uglier than they do in real life by using a combination of unflattering hairstyles and the ill-fitting prison uniforms, and they in most cases wear a minimal make-up (...which by any logic different than the Hollywood one doesn't make them uglier, but rather shows their faces closer to like they really look). The most literal examples of the trope are Taryn Manning (Pennsatucky) and her character's followers, who are given meth-teeth, bad skin and perpetually messy, dirty hair.
- The microcephalic Pepper in American Horror Story: Asylum and Freak Show is played by the beautiful Naomi Grossman.
- In A Series of Unfortunate Events (2017), the murderous, balding grey-haired and perpetually scowling Count Olaf was played by Neil Patrick Harris.
- For her recurring role as Estelle in Friends June Gable wore an unflattering wig, too much jewellery and Uncanny Valley Make Up. She also affected a voice to suggest the agent had been a chain-smoker for years.
- Once Upon a Time Season 5 featured Jennifer Morrison in her Dark One make-up to subvert Evil Is Sexy. Even after then, the stress and exhaustion Emma is going through in her Trauma Conga Line is conveyed with make-up to have her look continually weary and tired.
- Larissa does this on an episode of the reality show Average Joe, under a lot of ageing prosthetics to appear like an overweight old woman. She passed herself off as her visiting mother and fooled all the other contestants.
- Rik Mayall frequently covered up his Pretty Boy / Bishōnen good looks with grotesque costumes, make-up, and exaggerated expressions for several of his roles in The Young Ones, The Comic Strip Presents and Bottom. Fellow comedian Andy de la Tour even commented "Rik was a very beautiful man, but in every character he played, he made himself ugly."
- The actresses playing the maids in Downton Abbey were dressed down considerably to look plainer and less glamorous than the aristocrats.