When you’re an actor, you have the opportunity to totally transform yourself into someone else. When you get into character, you have hair, makeup, and a wardrobe to help complete your immersion into a new role. Some actors tend to stick to what they know, and don’t really change their physical appearance all that much, which is fine. However, there’s something to be said for the actors that do a complete 180 when it comes to their appearance, leaving us open-mouthed when we see them off the set as their normal selves.
Certain TV shows and films have managed to become the best-known work of an actor, with the character they play (or played) being the most well-recognized of their career. Because of that, it can be all that more jarring to see them out of costume and makeup. We could walk right past them on the street and be none the wiser! Since women are usually relegated to playing it pretty when it comes to Hollywood, it’s interesting to see the actors who have downplayed their naturally gorgeous looks for the sake of a character, sometimes totally erasing their beauty for the sake of their art! These 15 women look completely different from the characters they’ve played, and who we know and love.
15 Rooney Mara vs. Lisbeth Salander, ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’
Now, we might be used to seeing Rooney Mara walk to red carpet in a bit of a Goth-chic vibe, with her pale skin and black hair, but when she first nabbed the role of computer hacker Lisbeth Salander in the American adaption of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Mara was a peachy-skinned, brunette, quiet girl who was pined for by Jesse Eisenberg in the Social Network and not a whole lot else.
To get into the role of Lisbeth, Mara underwent a complete body transformation, so it’s no surprise that the role is arguably her most recognizable to date. As Lisbeth, Mara dyed her brown hair black, shaved part of her head, bleached her eyebrows, lost weight off her naturally slender body, and pierced her nose, lips, ears, and nipples! The role ended up altering Mara’s personal sense of style once filming wrapped, too, seeing her dress in darker colours and more androgynous silhouettes, making her a far cry of the young girl we were first introduced to!
14 Emilia Clarke vs. Daenerys Targaryen, ‘Game of Thrones’
Thanks to her ice-blonde wig with its intricate braids and minimal makeup, Daenerys Targaryen hardly resembles the real-life actor who plays her, Emilia Clarke! With a short brown bob (although Clarke did recently get her hair dyed the Mother of Dragons’ signature platinum hue for the final season of Game of Thrones) and smoky eye makeup, Clarke definitely looks as bada** as her regal counterpart, but in a 2017 kind of way.
Unlike Daenerys, who is usually scowling or in serious-mode, since she’s, you know, taking the Iron Throne and attempting to rule all of Westeros, Clarke is a big goofball with a ready smile when she’s not on screen. Those expressive eyebrows are unmistakable, though! Since Clarke has decided to go blonde for real for the much-anticipated final season of GoT, we’ll probably see her looking more like the Dragon Queen on upcoming red carpets, but her style couldn’t be any more different from the famous Targaryen, thanks to bold colours and cuts that are miles away from armour and stiff fabrics.
13 Kate McKinnon vs. Multiple Characters, ‘Saturday Night Live’
When you’re a cast member on Saturday Night Live, you can guarantee that you’re going to undergo tons of costume and character changes. Perhaps no one showcases this better than Kate McKinnon, who manages to look like a completely different person with every new wig and pair of glasses in her recurring characters, naturally making her a fan-favourite.
As (from left to right), Mrs. Rafferty the alien abductee, Debette Goldry the old Hollywood actress, and Jeff Sessions, McKinnon brings the laughs and totally immerses herself in the characters, even if only for a few minutes. It’s pretty hard to believe that this funny lady is actually completely gorgeous in real life, too! Without the bad fashions and equally terrible wigs, McKinnon is a blonde comedy goddess who knows how to bring the sultry to the red carpet. Dressing up in floor-grazing gowns and mugging for the cameras, she’s clearly girl-crush material!
12 Gemma Whelan vs. Yara Greyjoy, ‘Game of Thrones’
The third Game of Thrones entrant on our list, we have Gemma Whelan, who plays the commanding and womanizing Yara Greyjoy, sister of Theon. While she’s the tough, no-nonsense older sibling who continuously puts her life on the line for her brother, in real life Whelan is as sweet as she is cute!
Rather than limit herself to the drab colours her character is often stuck in, Whelan loves to rock it on the red carpet in bold prints and patterns, and seriously knows how to rock a bold lip, as seen here. Oh, and did we mention that she’s a new mama? As opposed to Yara, who doesn’t seem the least bit maternal, Whelan was spotted at the GoT season seven premiere sporting a giant baby bump. Perhaps less surprisingly, considering her comedic timing in the few lighter moments in the HBO show, Whelan began her career as a stand-up comedian, and if you’ve seen any of her social media accounts, it’s easy to see why!
11 Halston Sage vs. Alara Kitan, ‘The Orville’
While The Orville, a sci-fi show from the mind of Seth Macfarlane, the man behind Family Guy, is the newest one to mention on our list, perhaps even fewer are familiar with Halston Sage, the pretty blonde who plays Lt. Alara Kitan.
Thanks to weird makeup and facial prosthetics, Sage looks almost nothing like her dark-haired, super-strong alien counterpart. In fact, Sage looked even LESS like Alara in the pilot episode of the show, because the character didn’t have any eyebrows! In fact, in a recent episode that borrowed heavily from an episode of Black Mirror, Alara’s weird facial deformity is covered up bit a bandage on the nose and a hat pulled low over her head, so as to better pass as human. Really, it’s the strange skin ripples that makes Sage look so unlike her TV characters, as well as the lack of a space-age costume and long, blonde hair, putting her firmly among the young and beautiful Hollywood set.
10 Shannon Purser vs. Barb, ‘Stranger Things’
It’d be hard for any actress to rock grandma glasses and ‘80s mom fashion, but Shannon Purser did it valiantly in season one of Netflix’s Stranger Things. As the character Barb, who met an untimely end but resonated among audiences, Purser killed it in the frump department, donning cardigans and floral prints that belonged more of a couch rather than a woman’s body. Perhaps she was able to do it so well because Purser is actually a total knockout in real life! With her fiery hair and voluptuous figure, the actress isn’t confined by the terrible style of the ‘80s and can really work it on the red carpet.
While Purser is now on the extremely popular show Riverdale (also produced by Netflix), Barb is so intrinsically linked to the actress that we had to include her. #JusticeForBarb, but also #JusticeForShannon, right? She may have been a stick in the mud, but she was our stick in the mud, and we’re so happy to see Purser making it and strutting her stuff outside of tapered jeans and granny glasses.
9 Maisie Williams vs. Arya Stark, ‘Game of Thrones’
Considering the fact that Arya Stark managed to disguise herself as a boy for a couple seasons of Game of Thrones, Maisie Williams looks beyond adorable when she’s all cleaned up! Thanks to a designer dress, a bit of makeup, and hair that’s seen a brush recently, Williams looks as unlike her sociopathic character as it’s possible to look!
Since the show’s beginning in 2011, we’ve seen Williams grow from a precocious and fierce child with braided hair to an assassin who can disguise herself in order to attack her victims. In real life, Williams is a lot funnier and less crazy than the girl who put her on the map, and we imagine she enjoys the chance to play dress-up for red-carpet events, especially when she’s spending seasons in tattered, dirty clothes and ratty hair. We can definitely see the resemblance between Arya and Maisie, but fortunately for the latter, she’s much, much prettier (and sporting way better hair).
8 Taryn Manning vs. Tiffany “Pennsatucky” Doggett, ‘Orange Is The New Black’
As far as looking unglamourous goes, the cast of Orange Is The New Black have it on lock! For her role as the meth-addicted, crazy Christian Tiffany “Pennsatucky” Doggett, actress Taryn Manning looks as far from her red carpet self as is possible to get!
The most recognizable physical aspect of Pennsatucky is easily her stained teeth, which get punched out of her mouth in the season one finale. Afterwards, though, with a new set of pearly whites, the inmate fails to brush of take care of them, making them look especially nasty. To get their gag-inducing look, Manning has to have waterproof makeup applied to her teeth – but no makeup on her face! Her stylish blonde hair also gets a major make-under, with straggly dark extensions and, of course, the shapeless khaki prison uniform that would make even a stunning woman resemble a potato. It’s a good thing we can see what Manning looks like under the yucky guise of her most famous character!
7 Uzo Aduba vs. Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren, ‘Orange Is The New Black’
The second actress of OITNB fame, Uzo Aduba looks both insane and childlike when she’s in character as Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren. Like her cast-mates, Aduba goes bare-faced and has her hair tied in Bantu knots or spirals, a hairstyle that is revealed to have been given to her character as a child. Aduba’s Warren is also stuck in the shapeless beige prison gear the rest of the OITNB ladies are stuck donning, which plays up the erratic, childlike nature of the character.
Off-set, however, is an entirely different story!
Perhaps owing to the fact that so much of her screen time is spent in blah colours, Aduba always goes bright when she’s on the red carpet or accepting a well-deserved award for her role. Jewel tones and bold shades abound on the actress, who is never one to shy away from a slim-fitting dress and high heel. With her sleek hair and bright lipstick, she is far more in command – and colourful – than plain old “Crazy Eyes”.
6 Naomi Grossman vs. Pepper, ‘American Horror Story’
Be honest: If we hadn’t told you that Naomi Grossman played the role of Pepper in American Horror Story, would you have believed us? Clearly, becoming Pepper is no easy feat! To become the small-headed character, Grossman has to endure three hours in the makeup chair, which sees her shave her head, have prosthetic ears, nose, brows, and arms applied, put in fake buckteeth, and have one contact lens worn that obscures her vision.
When she’s not on set, Grossman goes super glam, even if she has to keep her head clean-shaven most of the time. Not that is bothers the actress, of course! One of the major perks of her insane transformation are the compliments she receives when she’s approached in her daily life – not that she’d ever admit to it! “There’s the added benefit of the whole world telling me how pretty I am, which is absurd.” Not to us, Naomi!
5 Laura Gomez vs. Blanca Flores, ‘Orange Is The New Black’
For Orange Is The New Black, most of the actresses have to take a lot off in order to properly capture the prison aesthetic. For Laura Gomez, though, it means adding something on. Specifically: a unibrow. Gomez’s character, Blanca Flores, was always a bit off-the-wall, but in season four, she really let her freak flag fly, refusing to shower and peeing herself in protest! Fortunately for Gomez – and everyone on-set – she’s much cleaner in real life and, frankly, a total stunner!
With brushed hair and two eyebrows rather than one, Gomez is well-groomed and totally stylish. Perhaps it’s because of all the bland outfits and lack of makeup that the actresses of OITNB clean up so well, or maybe because we’re so used to seeing them all stripped down, but these women look absolutely gorgeous when they’re not in their prison gear! Even in the recent flashback’s of Blanca, she didn’t look nearly as beautiful as Gomez in real life!
4 Francesca Curran vs. Helen, ‘Orange Is The New Black’
The final entry on our list from the hit Netflix show, we have Francesca Curran, who plays new addition Helen (or “Skinhead Helen”). As Helen, Curran has to totally de-glam herself, and she doesn’t rely on bald caps to do it. In a show of commitment to a role, Curran actually shaves her head to play Helen, and spends the rest of her time when she’s not filming in a variety of wigs, like this lush blonde number seen here!
In addition to going clean-shaven to play the neo-Nazi, Curran also has fake tattoos applied to her skin by the makeup department, dark circles drawn under her eyes (which is a departure from the rest of us who usually spend time trying to cover them up), and a coat of grey makeup to make her teeth look dirty. According to an interview with Insider, Curran says the whole process used to take three and a half hours, but has now been whittled down to about an hour. The cost of (no) beauty, right?
3 America Ferrara vs. Betty Suarez, ‘Ugly Betty’
America Ferrara is such a naturally beautiful woman that it seems downright mean to cast her as the lead role in a TV show called Ugly Betty, but that’s what happened! Throughout the show’s four-season run, we saw Ferrara trade in her sleek strands for frizzy hair, don braces, glasses, and bad fashion to play writer Betty Suarez who landed a dream job at a glossy fashion magazine.
Of course, Betty couldn’t stay ugly forever, and the ugly duckling turned into a swan on-screen as the show wrapped in what turned out to be a dream sequence, but one that finally gave audiences a glimpse of the beauty that was underneath all that metal. Off-screen and on other projects, anyone can see that Ferrara is a total knockout with envy-inducing hair, killer curves, and a smile that gleams without the help or orthodontic gear, so it wouldn’t surprise us if you had to do a double take to make sure it was the same actress!
2 Charlize Theron vs. Aileen Wuornos, ‘Monster’
Actresses “going ugly” for a role is a bit of a cliché now, as Hollywood beauties try to change their looks for the worse in order to be taken more seriously – and perhaps take in some awards – but few really knocked it out of the park like Charlize Theron in 2003’s Monster.
As serial killer Aileen Wuornos, Theron didn’t look a thing like her bronzed and beautiful self. A 30-pound weight gain, prosthetic teeth, shaved eyebrows, contacts, and a makeup job that gave her rough and scarred skin helped transform the actress into the Florida hustler and murderer – and won her an Oscar for her hard work. Theron is often cited as an example of extreme transformation as an actor, and indeed, it’s arguably her most recognizable role to date! She completely slipped into the skin of Aileen Wuornos, and made us all forget what a stunner she was outside of her snaggle-toothed, hair-sprayed character. Clearly, she deserved that Academy Award!
1 Ariel Winter vs. Alex Dunphy, ‘Modern Family’
Arguably the most famous glow-up among young female actresses stuck playing frumpy characters, Ariel Winter is about as far from her brainy character, Alex Dunphy, as it’s possible to get.
Alex, usually dressed in sweaters and no makeup, with a pair of thick-rimmed glasses, is always the smart one of the family. In fact, her style is so laughable that she’s regularly teased for it by her sister, Hayley, played by Sarah Hyland. Off-screen, though, Winter is a buxom vixen of Kardashian-level proportions. In fact, the actress – who got a breast reduction to downsize her chest from an F-cup – has been the source of scorn as of late for flaunting her figure, despite the fact that she’s a beautiful young woman who spent too long covering herself up. Unlike Alex, Winter shakes what her mama gave her and isn’t afraid to walk on the wild side of fashion. Plus, without those geek-chic glasses, we get a total facial transformation, too!