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For her role in Precious, Mariah Carey went from diva to drab.
"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[.]"
George Jean Nathan

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. Compare with Unkempt Beauty, which is more along the lines of "the less makeup you wear, the better you look."

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.



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    Anime and Manga 
  • Glass Mask does this in-universe with Utako Himekawa, who is a beautiful actress. When she performed Annie Sullivan in The Miracle Worker, people mention how a beauty like her was made very plain for the role.

    Comic Books  
  • 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 (though Furiosa is quite attractive in spite of it).
  • 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 to play foul-mouthed Corrupt Corporate Executive Les Grossman. It was believed to have been Cruise’s idea to disguise himself like this.
  • Justin Timberlake wears a wig and mustache in The Love Guru.
  • Being John Malkovich:
    • Cameron Diaz wears frumpy clothes and frizzy hair.
    • John Cusack in that same movie also does not look too attractive with his greasy hair and unclean skin, descending into seediness at the midpoint of the film.
  • 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.
  • Jared Leto aging through prosthetics in Mr. Nobody.
  • 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.
  • Precious: Mariah Carey (Precious' social worker, pictured above) is the most obvious example, but the lead actress Gabourey Sidibe (who herself was already a large woman) 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. Ledger was known mostly for dashing Pretty Boy roles when he was cast as the Joker, for which he bleached his hair, donned facial prostheses to simulate a nasty Glasgow Grin, and of course badly applied clown make-up.
  • Played with by Tom Hardy in The Dark Knight Rises. While Bane's mask, bald head, wrecked skin, and grotesquely muscular body make him anything but attractive, Hardy's naturally handsome face still allows us to immediately identify him in a flashback as the prisoner who helps Talia escape.
  • 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.
  • 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 Ma-Ma.
  • 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:
    • He starved himself down to a dangerously skinny weight as an anorexic insomniac for The Machinist.
    • As an overweight balding conman with a bad fashion sense in American Hustle. He gained the weight and shaved the hair himself to affect an authentic combover.
  • 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.
  • Roseanne 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.
  • Bombshell actress and comedienne Jennifer Baxter was made into a zombie in Land of the Dead. Even then though, her beauty still somewhat shines through.
  • 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.
  • Downplayed by Ana de Armas for Knives Out. While no amount of loose-fitting, delightfully tacky sweaters; oversized scarves, unkempt hair, and modest makeup can conceal the fact that de Armas is an absurdly beautiful woman, they do mean that Marta is a noticeable change from her usual roles. The script outright notes that Marta is pretty, but she's never portrayed as sexy either.
  • A lesser version in The Preacher's Wife While Whitney Houston is still undeniably gorgeous, her hair/clothing/makeup is far more akin to a middle-class minister's wife rather than a famous actress/singer.
  • Similarly in Maid in Manhattan, Jennifer Lopez still looks beautiful even in a maid's uniform and dowdy ponytail/bun, but the difference when she's clad in a ball gown and a fancy updo is very noticeable.
  • In the film Epic Movie, this is played for comedy. Carmen Electra in the film plays a parody of Mystique, and initially looks absolutely gorgeous, especially since it basically shows off her entire naked body, only with certain placed scales to hide her nipples and private areas. Later on, she even gets a sex scene with the main character Peter, where she seductively expands her chest and ass at his request... and then he starts requesting some rather ugly and disgusting features. The absolutely stunning Carmen Electra goes from a stunning near naked woman with a larger rack and ass, to a fat and flabby grandma with a unibrow and crossed eyes. Followed by a sloppy make out and hardcore granny sex with Peter...
  • Mortal Kombat (2021) has Sisi Stringer's Mileena, who while not having the hideous shark-like mouth from the games, still makes a pretty actress monstruous through cheeks full of scars and Scary Teeth. Stringer herself said it was easy to get into character just by following along the hour-long make-up process - "So I’m seeing my own pretty face in the mirror and then they’re just layering and layering until I turn into something that is absolutely not me!"
  • In House of Gucci, the strikingly handsome and youthful looking Jared Leto is unrecognizable as the overweight, balding and mustachioed Paolo Gucci, aided even further by Paolo's poor dress sense.
  • While Reese Witherspoon in Walk the Line is NOT an example, it should be noted that her Oscar win for that movie broke a back to back to back three peat of actresses (Halle Berry for Monster's Ball, Nicole Kidman for The Hours, and Charlize Theron for Monster) who DID follow this trope to the T and win the Oscar.

    Live Action TV  
  • Ruyi's Royal Love in the Palace: Wallace Huo is made to look downright plain as the older Qianlong.
  • 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.
  • In The Dropout, the series about the rise and fall of Elizabeth Holmes, CEO and founder of Theranos, this trope is averted for Amanda Seyfried as the equally attractive Holmes. However, Naveen Andrews was portraying COO Sunny Balwani. Between a weight gain of 25 lbs (11.34 kg) and prosthetics, the resemblance to the paunchy real-life figure is uncanny.
  • 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 jewelry 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 only possible exception is his bit role in Shock Treatment, ready-for-his-closeup sanitarium orderly Rest-Home Ricky, who's even described as "young male intern, tall and handsome"- but contextually that helps play into the film's mild Beauty Is Bad, or at least not everything, Aesop.)
  • The actresses playing the maids in Downton Abbey were dressed down considerably to look plainer and less glamorous than the aristocrats.
  • Done to nearly everyone in Tim & Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!. Any conventionally attractive celebrity that appears on the show will often end up being made much uglier with intentionally bad makeup, lighting and color correction (or just being directed to make weird faces through their whole scene.) John C. Reilly as the dopey Dr. Steve Brule is perhaps the most well-known example.
  • The Terror: While almost the entire cast go through this to some extent as they begin to suffer from starvation, lead poisoning and scurvy, Captain Francis Crozier stands out as weary, hollow-eyed, paunchy and generally pretty rough-looking from the start- not much at all like the usual rugged handsomeness of his actor, Jared Harris. It's an unusual case, as the real Crozier had very delicate, even features that persisted even after the premature aging he suffered from stress and prior polar expeditions that left him white-haired and tremulous.
  • When playing the androgynous Pat on Saturday Night Live, Julia Sweeney colored her lips beige and thickened up her eyebrows with makeup to avoid any possible clues about their gender, in addition to the usual padded bodysuit and gender-ambiguous clothing.
    • Kate McKinnon is an attractive woman in real life, but on SNL, she often plays old men, old women or hideous monsters that aren't even human (like Shud the blobfish mermaid).
    • Cecily Strong is one of the straight-up hottest cast-members of all time, and has played a number of characters and impressions that play on this. However, one of her most popular characters is Cathy-Anne, a middle-aged drug-addict who lives in Michael Che's building.
  • In Fargo Season 3, Ewan McGregor plays both the successful Emmit Stussy and his down-on-his-luck brother Ray. Emmit Stussy is as sharp and handsome as, well, Ewan McGregor, albeit saddled with an unflattering perm. Ray Stussy, however, is balding, portly, windburned and sickly, all of which were accomplished with two hours of makeup that ensure you can barely even tell that they're played by the same man.
  • Maniac:
    • The handsome and chiseled Justin Theroux is given a ludicrous combover that he hides with even more ludicrous wigs to make him seem rather pathetic.
    • The glamorous Sonoya Mizuno is given a cartoonishly frumpy hairstyle and Nerd Glasses. She also tends to have a cigarette hanging out of her mouth, wears shapeless laboratory coats, and tends to hunch forward with her hands high on her hips.
  • Devs: Sonoya Mizuno gets hit with a more mild case as Lily Chen, who is considered desirable but still has her looks noticeably toned down. She wears a very short, boyish haircut and always wears casual, unisex clothing.
  • The Stand (2020): Ezra Miller has a certain chiseled, androgynous beauty about them, but they are nearly unrecognizable as the psychotic pyromaniac Trashcan Man, between the constant mumbling, wild hair, and junkyard-scraps-over-tighty-whiteys fashion choices. It veers into The Grotesque towards his final scenes when he is deformed from radiation poisoning.

    Professional Wrestling  
  • The evil cheerleader HBIAC was nothing if not attractive, as was the dancing ho Victoria. However, Victoria decided the best way to win a Halloween costume contest was to put on a fat suit and become a sumo wrestler. This was Played for Laughs, although the baby faces did "sell" her "higher" weight.
  • Vixen was goofy and cute, but when she was flown into All Japan Women's Pro-Wrestling she was made into a Evil Foreigner Brawn Hilda counterpart of Arsion's head booker Aja Kong when Aja could not make it to a show that had only announced "A Kong" would appear. This eventually went full circle when both Amazing Kong and Aja Kong would get Girly Girl baby face gimmicks in Fighting Opera Hustle based on earlier work they did where they were not trying to look like wrestling monsters.
  • Vixen's perennial rival Nanae Takahashi was also briefly turned into an Aja Kong knockoff, although this case was purely comedy and just a one off thing.
  • Daffney Unger and The Lovely Lacey are mildly unattractive at worst to those they are simply not the type of and considered smoking hot to many fans and wrestlers alike. However, Wrestlicious turned them into the deliberately less attractive vampire Draculetta and hoodoo bokor White Magic.
  • Jessica James may or may not be as attractive as the porn star she was named after, but she was definitely easier on the eyes than Lady Poison, the zombie who haunted Anarchy Championship Wrestling.