These Ten Actors Made Remarkable Physical Transformations To Star In Biopics

By: 07.08.14  •  18 Comments

The above image of Don Cheadle as Miles Davis is one of the numerous biopics coming out in the near future — Jimi Hendrix, Elton John and White Bulger movies are all on the way, too. And if there’s anything Oscar nominations have taught us, it’s that the Academy loves itself a good biopic. If an actor’s itching for one of those gold statues, nothing is more of a shoo-in than pretending to play a famous dead person. (Pretending to be mentally handicapped is a good route also, but that’s a post for another time.)

Generally, the transformation process is easy enough, throw on some dated clothes, come your hair in a funny way and presto — the process is complete. Then there are the biopics which call for the actor to wear numerous prosthetics, go through hours of makeup, and possibly shed or gain a ton of weight. Acting performance and general movie enjoyment aside, here are 10 actors who fully became the part.


Getty/United Artists

1. Raging Bull, Robert De Niro — 1980

Of course Robert DeNiro and Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull is going to be on this list, forget fake noses and makeup, DeNiro’s body dramatically changed for the part. Not only did Robert De Niro have to get into fighting shape for the boxer’s younger years, but he went on an eating binge through Europe to gain 60 pounds to portray LaMotta later in life. Some of those black eyes that DeNiro sports in the film are the real deal, too. LaMotta anonymously scheduled three professional matches for DeNiro, and the actor won two of them.


Getty/Goldcrest Films

2. Gandhi, Ben Kingsley — 1982

According to director Richard Attenborough, when he was in talks with American studios about doing the film, one studio wanted Richard Burton because they thought Gandhi should be sexier. Attenborough’s original choice for the part was Anthony Hopkins, but he was busy at the time and the director went with relatively then-unknown Ben Kingsley. Kingsley who is half Indian, was so convincing in his Gandhi attire that some of the extras believed him to be Gandhi’s ghost.


Getty/Caroloco Pictures

3. Chaplin, Robert Downey Jr. — 1992

Downey beat out Jim Carrey and Johnny Depp for the part of the comic actor. The power of cocaine?


Getty/Media 8

4. Monster, Charlize Theron — 2003

Next to DeNiro and Christian Bale, Charlize Theron takes the cake for biopic transformation. The actress gained 30 pounds for her role as serial killer prostitute, Aileen Wuornos. The only prosthetic pieces used were the eyelids and dentures, and order to achieve that truck stop hooker hair, Theron had her hair repeatedly fried, thinned and bleached.



5. Ray, Jamie Foxx — 2004

Jamie Foxx’s transformation into singer Ray Charles isn’t as noticeably striking as some of the others on our list, but he did have the hindrance of actually being blind. To emerse himself into the part of Charles, Jamie Foxx wore eye prosthetics that would leave him nearly blind while shooting on set. The transformation was convincing enough to nearly fool Charles’ relatives.

Co-producer, Ray Charles Jr., said he got emotional on set because there were times that Jamie’s mannerisms reminded him of the real Ray Charles. “There were times it was just too real. There were times he reminded me of my father,” Ray Jr. said.

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