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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
6. Bronson, Tom Hardy — 2008
Real-life convict Charles Bronson, initially was disappointed in the choice of Tom Hardy portraying him and wanted Jason Statham. (Before Bane, Hardy was just another geeky thespian of the stage.) Hardy put the work in though, bulking up 40 pounds at the gym to become the madman Bronson.
7. The Fighter, Christian Bale — 2010
So the star of the biopic on fighter Micky Ward of course is Mark Wahlberg, but it’s Chritian Bale who really transformed into Ward’s crackhead brother, Dicky Eklund. Bale had previously lost 60 pounds for The Machinist, so slimming down to play a drug addict should have been simple, right?
“I couldn’t go too far,” Bale added. “Because if I went too far, I’d be able to play the crackhead side, but then after jail, he got clean mentally and physically, and he’s always wiry, he’s always lean, but I had to be able to show that. So we needed makeup to help me out a great deal with that.”
8. J. Edgar, Leonardo DiCaprio — 2011
Transforming pretty boy Leo DiCaprio into not nearly as pretty FBI director J. Edgar Hover was not an easy task for makeup artist Sian Grigg, and involved dental pieces to change the shape of DiCaprio’s face. Grigg also used numerous silicone prosthetics to give the actor a double chin and larger nose. The makeup process to give DiCaprio’s hands and face a nice liver-spotted look took around four and half hours.
9. Hitchcock, Anthony Hopkins — 2012
Makeup artist Howard Berger created six different versions of Anthony Hopkins’ Alfred Hitchcock makeup before the actor and producers were satisfied with the results. One of the more difficult parts was getting the right chin prosthetic that would have a natural look and not affect Hopkins’ performance. Via Fast Company:
What had begun as an exacting likeness had become what Berger aptly deems “a portrait of Anthony as Hitchcock,” which gets at the essence of the character rather than duplicating the real man. “We wanted to create a transformation, a combination of the two,” says Berger. “There’s a good mix there.”
10. Lincoln, Daniel Day-Lewis — 2012
Critics were all about singing Daniel Day-Lewis’ praises for his speech and refusal to break character on lunch breaks. (The boom guy just wants to make small talk during a cig break, give it a rest, Abe.) The real credit to his presidential transformation goes to Lois Burwell, who developed the makeup to give the actor such a weathered look. Via So Cal Public Radio:
“The process we used is called stretch and stipple to create those furrows. And basically, it’s a medium that you paint on the skin while stretching the skin. And then you dry it. And then move it with your hands and with the actor’s face as well into the shapes and forms that you want to actually define and create furrows or whatever.”
Black Mass, Johnny Depp — 2015
I can’t say who’s responsible or how long it takes to do Depp’s makeup for the upcoming Whitey Bulger movie, Black Mass, but they’re nailing it. The guy is looking especially rough in some photos.