Actors and actresses are essentially masters of transformation. After all, their entire job is to become certain characters on screen — and besides directors and acting coaches giving them notes on their performance, a huge part of that is appearance. Even something as simple as a particular hairstyle or style of clothing can have a huge impact on how a character is portrayed by audiences.
Many actors and actresses go above and beyond to inhabit the role of certain characters, going through huge physical transformations in order to look a certain way. And, while you'd think it would take more effort for them to get totally glam for the camera, in fact, many of the individuals on this list actually spent far more time in the make-up chair for roles that required them to look a little less than perfect.
For the actresses on this list, the way they look as these particular characters is completely different from the way they look in real life — and sometimes that can be a fantastic thing. After all, you want to show your range in your craft, and even if you're a gorgeous woman, you don't always want roles just playing the gorgeous woman. Sometimes you want a character with a little more depth, a little more meat to her personality — and that's exactly what some of these roles gave the 18 actresses who look questionable on screen but totally amazing in real life.
18 Ms. Weiss, the totally unglamorous character Mariah Carey played in Precious
Mariah Carey is known for her full glam look — when she's performing or promoting her music career, she's usually in a full face of make-up, glam extensions, an outfit that shows a ton of skin and highlights her curves, etc. She has a particular look that she's been rocking for years. And, even in certain roles like in the movie Glitter, she's looked basically the same. That all changed when she snagged a role in the more serious film Precious, though. In the movie, Carey plays a social worker, and it just wouldn't make sense for her to be rocking the full glam look. So, she committed to the transformation, wearing outfits that hid her curves and made her look frumpy, swapping her blonde highlighted locks for brown hair, and basically wearing make-up designed to make her look plain. Total transformation.
17 Aileen Wuornos, played by the absolutely stunning Charlize Theron
In real life, Charlize Theron is so beautiful it's basically not even human. She's tall, she's slim, she's blonde, her facial features are pretty much perfection — she's one of the most beautiful actresses in the game right now. So when it came time to tackle the role of serial killer Aileen Wuornos in Monster, she had to switch up her look a little bit in order to more closely emulate the real life character. So, she gained about 30 pounds to transform her movie star body into the body of a regular person, she wore almost no make-up, had in prosthetic teeth, and had several beauty decisions made that downgraded her beauty (such as her non-existant eyebrows). She looked like a completely different person on screen, but that's exactly what the character needed.
16 Naomi Grossman, who is a babe in real life but legit terrifying as Pepper on American Horror Story
Okay, this one is, and likely always will be, one of the most dramatic cases of an actress looking totally different as her character than she does in real life. Naomi Grossman snagged the role of Pepper in the popular American Horror Story franchise, appearing in both the Asylum and Freak Show seasons. And the effort it took to get into character, appearance-wise, is insane — she literally shaved her head for the part, had to go through the make-up and prosthetic process, etc. We bet you would never guess that in real life, Naomi Grossman is a stunning brunette who we could easily see playing the part of a romantic love interest — she's gorgeous! It just goes to show you how powerful that time in the make-up chair can be.
15 Peggy Olson, who doesn't hold a candle to real life actress Elisabeth Moss
Peggy Olson certainly went through a style transformation over the seasons on Mad Men. At first, she was a mousy secretary with an unfortunately dowdy style, hair that didn't really flatter her face, and just an overall blah look. She was supposed to be the more homely alternative to the gorgeous women like Joan and Betty. And, while her style got better as her character got more confident, she was still definitely not the most gorgeous character on the show. However, if you've seen Elisabeth Moss on the red carpet or all dolled up for photo shoots, you'd be surprised at just how different she looks from Peggy. We're not sure exactly what make-up choices the beauty team made for the show, but even though she has the same features, she looks totally different in real life.
14 Betty Suarez, who is definitely not as glam as real life actress America Ferrera
America Ferrera is an absolutely stunning Latina bombshell, but when it came time to playing the lead character in the show Ugly Betty, she... well, had to be a little more homely than her normally glamorous self. The producers didn't do anything crazy with special effects make-up or prosthetics or anything like that — they simply gave her braces, glasses, and a much more unfortunate hair and make-up look. It just goes to show you what an impact simple wardrobe and beauty decisions can make on a character — just by choosing certain articles of clothing, and not styling her hair in the sleek way Ferrera usually does, her character gave off a completely different vibe than the actress does in real life. Betty also had her own unique mannerisms and things like that, yes, but her look was a huge part of her character.
13 Lotte, the character Cameron Diaz played in Being John Malkovich
When it comes to transformations for characters, Cameron Diaz hasn't really gone through many in her various roles over the years. She's almost always playing a gorgeous blonde because, well, that's what she is in real life. However, there is one role where she looked a lot different — the role of Lotte Schwartz in Being John Malkovich. It seems like a simple transformation — she wore a less than flattering wig, had make-up that made her look like she wasn't wearing any, and had a series of unfortunate outfits. Overall, it was a totally different look than she normally has in movies — and it definitely worked for this particular character. Diaz has been in the industry forever, so perhaps if she starts tackling even more meaty roles as she ages, she'll undergo a few more crazy transformations.
12 Nanny McPhee, who is certainly not a blonde babe like Emma Thompson
Emma Thompson penned the screenplay for Nanny McPhee, and she ended up playing the title role — however, she didn't shy away from looking a little less than perfect on screen, if that's what the character needed. While certain nannies in cinematic history have been gorgeous — I mean, Julie Andrews was absolutely stunning as Mary Poppins — Thompson had a very different look in mind for this character. It apparently only took about an hour or so in make-up to achieve the look, which basically just required the application of a few prosthetics — there's not really a lot of make-up that goes into her overall look. It was definitely a different side of Thompson, and for this particular character, it totally worked — plus when she appeared in the press rounds to promote it, everyone was stunned at how gorgeous she was in real life.
11 Penelope, a woman with a curse played by real life cutie Christina Ricci
Actors who tackle characters in science fiction or fantasy shows and movies often have a different standard when it comes to transformations. If they're still essentially playing a human, they don't really consider it a huge transformation. Christina Ricci hasn't really ventured into that world, so when she had to become a bit of an otherworldly creature for the film Penelope, it was a huge transformation. Ricci is petite with delicate features, and usually looks totally gorgeous on camera. However, in this particular role, she was playing a young woman who had been cursed with a pig's nose. It's definitely a total transformation, and makes her look far different than she typically does on screen — however, it's what was required for the character, and she loved the character, so she was willing to show a different side of herself on screen.
10 Janice Ian, who was sassy but nowhere near as gorgeous as Lizzie Caplan
Okay, so Janice Ian was by no means hideous. She had a very particular look that was meant to stand in opposition to the bleached blonde, preppy Plastics in the movie Mean Girls. Not to mention, the character was a high school student — often, you haven't quite mastered the style look you're going for when you're just a teenager. Lizzie Caplan played the sassy non-conformist to perfection, but people who really only know her through that role were absolutely stunned when she turned up on the red carpet looking totally different. The real life Lizzie Caplan is super stylish, and instead of rocking a severe hairstyle with dyed black hair, she rocks a shorter, more natural brunette 'do. Her make-up is way more flattering to her features, as are her clothing choices.
9 Marion Cotillard's total transformation to play songbird Edith Piaf
While there are certainly actresses who switch up their look to play fictional characters with a certain personality, one of the most frequent catalysts for a huge transformation is when they're playing a real life figure. Just take French beauty Marion Cotillard when she played the iconic singer Edith Piaf, for example. In order to take on the role, Cotillard shaved off her eyebrows, altered her hairline, and even had to change her voice. Now, at first glance, it doesn't seem like her transformation is that insane — she still looks like a woman. However, the whole make-up process allegedly took around five hours each day, including an extra hour for Cotillard to remove the latex and glue at the end of the day and return to her normal self. Who would have guessed?
8 Josie Grossie, who looks nothing like real life mega-babe Drew Barrymore
Drew Barrymore generally plays total bombshells who are sweet, tough, and just overall fascinating. However, when it came to her character in the film Never Been Kissed, it was a bit of a different story. Josie was a total dork in high school, so for all her flashback scenes, Barrymore had to get into character by donning some truly unflattering '80s attire, rocking braces, and pulling her hair into some '80s styles. Her face is the exact same, but the few wardrobe and make-up decisions definitely transform her overall look. Even in the scenes that aren't flashbacks to her teenage years, Barrymore is rocking a bit of a frumpier wardrobe — a total transformation from her other roles, where she's often showing a ton of skin in her outfits, or just channeling a far different vibe than a dorky undercover reporter.
7 The Witch, played by the legendary Meryl Streep in Into The Woods
Meryl Streep has been in the industry for a very, very long time, and has played a ton of different characters. She's acted in various decades, where the style was different and her character's trendy wardrobe was totally particular to that period. However, one of the most major transformations she's gone through came when she tackled the role of a witch in the musical Into The Woods. From her grotesque teeth to her frizzy, greying wig to the deep wrinkles on her face, she looks, well, like a witch. In fact, if Streep didn't have such distinctive features, we would likely never know who the actress was playing that character — the transformation is absolutely insane. Who knows, perhaps she loved the process and will find herself tackling more roles requiring extensive transformations in her future.
6 Diane in Love Potion No. 9, who is definitely not as hot as Sandra Bullock
When most people think of a role where Sandra Bullock is a bit frumpier, they immediately think of Miss Congeniality, where Bullock plays an agent who goes undercover as a beauty pageant contestant who is definitely less than glamorous when the film starts. However, you have to look way back to her earlier roles to see a totally different version of Bullock on screen — all the way back to Love Potion No. 9. From the frizzy hair to the glasses to the lack of make-up, she looks like a completely different person. In all honesty, Sandra Bullock probably looks better on the red carpet today than she did in that movie — which is a testament to her character's look in that film, and also to the fact that she basically hasn't aged in 20 years (seriously, what's her secret?!)
5 Virginia Woolf, who looks nothing like real life redhead Nicole Kidman
If you looked at a shot of Nicole Kidman from the movie The Hours, where she played iconic author Virginia Woolf, you would never guess she was the same actress as the gorgeous redhead we're so used to seeing on the red carpet. She went through a total transformation to play the British icon, and even received an Oscar for Best Actress for the role — proof that dedication to your character often pays off big. Kidman apparently spent about three hours a day in the make-up chair for her make-under, which involved putting on a prosthetic nose — perhaps the most dramatic part of the transformation. Again, it just goes to show how dramatically make-up and beauty choices can transform your look — she's a completely different woman, and for this character, it totally worked.
4 Lisbeth Salander, who is far more extreme looking than Rooney Mara
In a certain way, you can still definitely see Rooney Mara's natural beauty shining through, even when she's in full make-up and costume for the role of Lisbeth Salander. After all, her bone structure is amazing, and she's a gorgeous woman. However, there's no doubting that she looks totally different as the character than she does on the red carpet, where she looks like your typical utterly glamorous, utterly gorgeous starlet. From the black, slightly androgynous wardrobe choices to the piercings and other body modifications, from the lack of make-up and bleached blonde eyebrows to the harsh hairstyles, Lisbeth Salander is almost a complete 180 from Rooney Mara in terms of appearance. That's part of the reason she's such a great character, though — she has a look all her own, and it's an incredibly distinct one.
3 Any character she plays is a huge downgrade from the real life Kate McKinnon
When it comes to taking risks with their look or thinking outside the box, the cast of Saturday Night Live has it down to an art. That's because, within the span of a single show, they're often playing multiple characters — they have to switch up their look significantly in order to make that happen, and often don't have hours in hair and make-up to do so. Their alternative is a simple outfit change and addition of a wig, perhaps a little wiping off of make-up to play a more plain character. Kate McKinnon has become an SNL favorite who is totally unafraid to play crazy characters and look goofy, but if you've only ever seen her on the show, you just might be surprised to know that she's a legit blonde bombshell in real life. We hope she never abandons comedy, but if she decided she wanted to model instead, she totally could.
2 Toula Portokalos, played by the gorgeous brunette Nia Vardalos
In the sleeper hit My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Nia Vardalos used her character Toula's look to help showcase the transformation she went through in terms of her personal life. When the movie starts, she's incredibly frumpy — she wears big glasses, her hair isn't really styled, she rocks no make-up, and her outfit choices are blah at best. As she becomes more confident, thanks to her new job and new man and new life in general, her entire look changes — and none of the raw materials are any different. All her character does is make a bit more of an effort with her hair and make-up routine, and pick outfits that flatter her physique a bit more, but the transformation is stunning. It just goes to show what a difference even the smallest things can make in a movie.
1 Anton Chigurh, perhaps the one role where Javier Bardem isn't a total babe
Javier Bardem is a total babe in real life, and has played the romantic love interest in many films because, well — women love him. However, when he snagged the role of a total sociopath in the gritty flick No Country for Old Men, they knew they had to change his look — which they primarily did by giving him a sort of weird hairstyle. Bardem has spoken out about how the simply transformation helped him get into character, though, saying that the hair "helped a lot actually, because in a way he [the hairstylist] gave this reality to the character, this dimension of being very methodical. Everything is in place. It's kind of mathematical, like perfectly structured, which is the way I thought the character should be." See? A simple haircut can have a huge impact.