Actresses Who Sacrificed Their Beauty for Oscar Nods

by Vicki Santillano

Actresses Who Sacrificed Their Beauty for Oscar Nods

Every actress dreams of winning an Oscar. But that coveted statue doesn’t come without a great deal of work, and I’m not just talking about memorizing lines and marks. More and more, actresses must find a way to stand out from the pack in order to nab nominations. And more and more, that means transforming themselves from the inside out, delving so deeply into a character that they become nearly unrecognizable. These actresses who are often praised for their beauty managed to eschew what society deems attractive—so believably so that they inspired awe and adulation in critics, audiences, and the Academy itself.


Charlize Theron, Monster



If her name weren’t on the publicity posters for this movie, you might never guess that the hardened, scarred woman front and center is gorgeous Charlize Theron. She put on almost 30 pounds for the role, donned fake teeth to mimic real-life killer Aileen Wuornos’s not-so-perfect ones, and boldly went eyebrow-less. But her skin underwent possibly the most impressive metamorphosis, going from flawless to a blotchy, wrinkled mess.


Hilary Swank, Boys Don’t Cry



To portray Brandon Teena, a nonoperative transgender man who was brutally terrorized and murdered, Swank reportedly spent at least a month as a man before shooting started. She cropped her hair short and wrapped her chest to put herself completely in the mind frame of a biological woman who identified as a man. And considering that she now has a 2000 Oscar win under her belt, the process clearly worked.


Cate Blanchett, I’m Not There



In this movie, six actors, including Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, and Richard Gere, took on various roles inspired by singer Bob Dylan at various points in his life. But the one who stood out the most—and the only one who received Oscar, BAFTA, and Critics’ Choice award nominations—was Cate Blanchett. As Jude Quinn, she adopted a throaty, Dylan-esque drawl and fully epitomized the essence of his character.


Mo’Nique, Precious



Usually vivacious, hilarious, and utterly glamorous in her stand-up shows and movie and TV roles, Mo’Nique was anything but while playing abusive mother Mary in this critically acclaimed, gut-wrenching movie. The makeup came off and the glittery outfits were swapped out for sweat suits and a head wrap. When she showed up at the 2010 Oscars in a beautiful blue dress and a flower in her lovely coif, you’d never have guessed it was the same woman.


Felicity Huffman, Transamerica



“I look like a bird, I have no lips, my face is falling off my face, my legs are like melted candlesticks,” Huffman told Entertainment Weekly (EW) in a 2005 interview. Anyone who’s seen her on Desperate Housewives or Sports Night would surely disagree, but even those viewers might have trouble recognizing her as a preoperative transgender woman in Transamerica. According to the EW story, Huffman lowered her voice five whole octaves and learned how to walk completely differently. And according to a different interview, the makeup process wasn’t that intense; she claims that the artists just accentuated her already long features.


Salma Hayek, Frida



Even with a unibrow and a hint of a ’stache, Salma Hayek is still, well, Salma Hayek. It would take a lot of makeup and prosthetics to make her look anything less than gorgeous. Still, her dedication to replicating artist Frida Kahlo’s facial hair in this film was admirable—she actually started shaving her upper lip before production to make the hair there grow darker and thicker. Our society may frown on unibrows and hairy-lipped women, but it certainly didn’t hurt Frida’s appeal in her lifetime (or in the movie).


Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs



To play a woman living as a man in the harsh environment of 19th century Ireland, Glenn Close underwent an Academy Award-nominated makeup transformation that rendered her nearly unrecognizable. Close explains Albert Nobbs’ look in the featurette: “Working on the look of Albert was a very long process because the one thing we always knew is it’s not about putting on a moustache or doing anything other than trying to figure out how that life would change your face.”


Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo



Rooney Mara didn’t even have her ears pierced before playing Lisbeth Salander, a computer hacker with numerous face and body piercings. But she didn’t hesitate to get every single one, including Lisbeth’s nipple piercing. “I’m naked quite a lot in the movie,” Mara told Allure magazine. “And I thought, She has it in the book, and she should have it [in the movie]. Because of all the tattoos and the makeup and the piercings, and the physical transformations my body has to go through, it would always feel sort of like I was in costume, even if I was naked. It just felt like a good one to get—a necessary one to get.”