Man of a Thousand Faces
Most actors have a familiar energy that they bring to the screen, from the bubbly good-heartedness of Jennifer Aniston
to the simmering intensity of Al Pacino
. A few, however, bring a different energy to every character they play. They are chameleons, slipping fully into a variety of wildly dissimilar roles in which they are largely unrecognizable. They are masters of accents, alter their mannerisms for each character, and change their appearance so drastically that they seem almost like shape shifters.
This type of performance is usually a requirement for films with one actor playing Loads and Loads of Roles
. It is also at the heart of many Biopics
A hallmark of this trope is that seeing an actor's name in opening credits gives you no
idea of what sort of character to expect. This may particularly apply to actors who make few public appearances, because the audience may have no conception of what they would be like out of character, making it more difficult to see the actor behind each performance.
This trope is the polar opposite of I Am Not Leonard Nimoy
and Type Casting
. These actors aren't Playing Against Type
; they would never let themselves get pinned down to a type to begin with. Also contrast with actors who have a generally well-known persona, but undergo the occasional Beauty Inversion
In voice acting, this is Man of a Thousand Voices
. When the Man of a Thousand Faces
is a character, they're a Master of Disguise
- Pre-Batman Christian Bale was a pretty fair example of this trope.
- Cate Blanchett can seemingly effortlessly slip into Kathryn Hepburn, Bob Dylan, and Galadriel, as well as wielding a Streep-sized arsenal of accents.
- Lon Chaney is the trope-namer, famed for his ability to transform himself convincingly into a wide variety of grotesque monsters—and a Marine drill sergeant...
- Proof that Sacha Baron Cohen is an example is the fact he is consistently able to make his candid camera movies without being recognized.
- Daniel Day-Lewis radically alters his appearance, accent and everything else about himself for any role he does. It's pretty insane to compare his appearance in any movie he does beside his appearance receiving the Oscar nomination for said movie.
- Johnny Depp may be one of these, as he seems to be nearly unrecognizable between Edward Scissorhands, Captain Jack Sparrow, and Willy Wonka.
- Not to mention Sweeney Todd (though this one arguably resembles Edward).
- Tom Jones, Daddy Warbucks, Hercule Poirot, and the lawyer from Erin Brockovich? Yep, all Albert Finney.
- Alec Guinness played many roles - once, in Kind Hearts and Coronets, no fewer than eight, one of them female.
- Ian Hart is Professor Quirrell in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. He's a bald assistant in Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story. He has a quite thick NE England accent as a working-class father in the 1930s in Liam. He puts on an American accent for a bit of undercover work in Sherlock Holmes and the Silk Stocking that sounds nothing like his own voice (some viewers didn't think it was him for the first several seconds).
- James McAvoy:
- Paul Webster, the producer of Atonement, lampshades this in one of the movie's featurettes when he talks about McAvoy's skill as a performer.
"It's an incredible transformation, it's not just make-up. He physically altered himself in a way that all the best actors do [...]. They kind of metamorphose in front of the camera."
- The German magazine Jolie made the following observation about the actor's abilities:
When someone mentions the name James McAvoy, it's usually followed by comments like, "Chameleon," "the man with the thousand faces" or "one of the most versatile actors of our time."
- He showcased his multifaceted acting talent in Split, where he embodied a character afflicted with dissociative identity disorder. From io9's review:
This sets the stage for an absolute acting tour-de-force for McAvoy, who gets to play multiple sexualities, genders and ages in a single movie with only a few wardrobe changes. And he's absolutely incredible in each role, completely believable and able to flip between the characters with a twist of his face or gleam in his eye.
- Paul Muni was, like Lon Chaney, well known for this (even if he's not as well known now). He played Tony Montana in the original Scarface, Wang Lung in The Good Earth, Emile Zola, Juarez, Louis Pastuer, and seven different characters — six of them waxwork mannequins come to life — in Seven Faces.
- Eddie Murphy deserves a mention if only for this scene. He plays two people in that room — the obvious one and someone else. Can you guess who?
- Gary Oldman has absolutely nailed depictions as diverse as Sid Vicious, Lee Harvey Oswald, Count Dracula, Beethoven, Sirius Black, and Commissioner Gordon. And yet Iím not at all confident that I would recognize him if I met him on the street.
- Ron Perlman: Slade, Vincent, and Hellboy. All the same guy.
- Richard Roxbrugh is known for creating unique voices for the parts he plays. It isn't immediately obvious that he's both Dracula in Van Helsing and the evil duke in Moulin Rouge!. BTW he's also played both Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty (the latter admittedly in the non-canonical The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen film).
- Both Dr. Strangelove and The Mouse That Roared were built around the fact that Peter Sellers was one.
- Meryl Streep is famed for her versatility, particularly her mastery of accents. Compare, just for example, Sophie's Choice, Out of Africa, Julie & Julia, A Prairie Home Companion, and Doubt. And then watch Angels in America.
- David Suchet completely nails the "rat-faced" Inspector Japp in the Peter Ustinov Poirot film Thirteen at Dinner. He then he goes on to play the dapper Belgian himself in Poirot. He's also almost unrecognisable as the piratical Reacher Gilt in Going Postal.
- Tracey Ullman can do almost any accent, and play almost any part.
- Hugo Weaving... a.k.a. Elrond, V, Agent Smith, The Red Skull, Mitzi Del Bra...The list goes on◊.
- Fictional example: The man who eventually becomes Clayface on Batman: The Animated Series.
- Brazilian actor Orival Pessini is this, thanks to Latex Perfection. His several characters has appeared in different TV comedy shows along the years. His best known character, the friendly alien Fofão, appered on Kid Shows. He also appeared with his own face in a few occasions. He and his characters can be seen here (his real face in on his hand) and here(he appears unmasksed in tuxedo, holding a mic).
- Norwegian actor Sverre Hansen likewise over a career that spanned almost 50 years. In his time as an actor for Norwegian television, he managed to span almost every aspect of theatre in multiple roles, from sick old men to fools, misers and madmen. When educating at the Norwegian school for actors, his speciality was - masks, of course.