Patience and prosthetics: what were the most punishing actor transformations?


Gary Oldman claims to have sat in the makeup chair for 200 hours to become Winston Churchill in the Darkest Hour, but thats a catnap compared to some

Sometimes being a Hollywood star isnt all its cracked up to be. In fact, there are some moments that are downright unglamorous. Consider this: nearly every star actor, at some point in his or her career, has had to transform his or her own body for a role, requiring pain and patience in equal measure. (Sometimes, those changes are for projects that bomb completely.) Other times, actors must sit perfectly still in one place for hours on end, while professional makeup artists turn their beautiful face into something hideous.

Gary Oldman recently announced that he had sat in the makeup chair for 200 hours cumulatively to be transformed into Winston Churchill for his role in the forthcoming Darkest Hour, a historical drama about the first days of the second world war. But where does that sit in the pantheon of patience and prosthetics?

Marion Cotillard in La Vie en Rose

When actors suffer through painful transformations for their art, they typically have just one thing on their mind: an Oscar. In La Vie en Rose, Cotillard plays Edith Piaf, the French jazz singer, at nearly every stage of her life, requiring three hours of makeup for certain scenes. Cumulatively, she may have endured more than was needed; the make-up artists had a hard time finding the right look for Cotillard, requiring multiple scenes to be reshot in the middle of filming. Turns out the work was worth the effort. La Vie en Rose won two Academy Awards, for best actress and best makeup.

John Matuszak in The Goonies

Hey, you guys! You probably dont know John Matuszak by name, and you certainly dont know his face. The former NFL lineman (with two Super Bowl rings) played an unforgettable character in a childrens film, but he did it under makeup that took five hours to put on and made his already unfamiliar face unrecognizable. Fans of The Goonies can never forget Sloth, the deformed younger brother of the villain siblings out to stop a group of kids from discovering buried treasure. As an untrained actor, Matuszak brings to the role a powerful physicality and endearing innocence that shines through, even under so many layers of latex.

John Hurt in The Elephant Man

In 1981, makeup artists did not yet have their own category at the Oscars. But after The Elephant Man was denied such an honor, the rules were changed and a new regular category was announced. Its a well-deserved distinction, if only for the sheer amount of time involved. John Hurt sat for seven to eight hours to transform into John Merrick, the real-life Leicester-born man who had Proteus syndrome, which caused him to develop severe deformities. The makeup also took over two hours to remove after each day, and Hurt could only work every other day because of the strain the heavy makeup put on his body.

Jennifer Lawrence in the X-Men movies

As time marches on, technology improves, and certain processes get quicker. Thats the only explanation for why Rebecca Romijns Mystique makeup took nine hours for X-Men, X-2, and X-Men: The Last Stand, while J-Law only had to suffer for eight hours to play the same character in X-Men: First Class. Standing in place for eight hours while a team of artists paint your naked body may not sound like fun, but its certainly better than doing it for nine hours.

Tom Hanks in Cast Away

Some actors go the extra mile for realism, eschewing the falseness of makeup for real, physical transformation. There are countless examples Robert DeNiro gaining 60lb to play Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull, Christian Bale losing the same amount for The Machinist but its worth singling out Tom Hanks, who has suffered the most for his art. Hanks gained 30lb to play a washed-up ballplayer in 1992s A League of Their Own, then lost 50lb for 2000s Cast Away, playing a man who had lived for years on a deserted island. Hanks was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 2013, and has speculated that the dramatic weight fluctuation played a part.

Rod Steiger in The Illustrated Man

The late film critic Gene Siskel had a rule. He would always give a film a negative review if he imagined a documentary of those same actors hanging out and having lunch would be more enjoyable. A similar sentiment could apply to The Illustrated Man. Its a Twilight Zone knock-off about a wanderer (Rod Steiger) who is covered head-to-toe in tattoos. When a young man asks about them, he launches into a series of stories that are dramatized in the film, each one inspired by some of his body art. As a film, its subpar, but look for the documentary Tattooed Steiger, which details the 20-hour process by which the temporary tattoos were applied. Steiger only had to go through it once, but its an ordeal that lingers in the mind much longer than the film itself.

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