The stars who underwent extreme makeunders for film roles
As Emily Blunt plays down her beauty in 'The Girl on the Train', Tanya Sweeney asks if Hollywood's leading ladies have to undergo makeunders before they are considered serious actresses
It would really take something to make Emily Blunt look 'ugly', but it wasn't for want of trying on Hollywood's part. Playing the frumpy alcoholic heroine in 'The Girl on the Train', the actress remarked recently of her makeunder: "I look awful in the movie and I look like a ghoul. I think any concern people had that I might not look right for [the part] will be put to bed when people see the film.
"There was a lot of specific make-up tricks that my amazing make-up artist did," she continues. "We pulled up tons of pictures of alcoholics - what happens to their skin, what do their eyes look like. I often had a full contact lens that covered my whole eye that gave the whites of the eyes that kind of bloodshot look."
Of course, Hollywood and the rest of the world have long had varying definitions of what 'ordinary' looks like. The most downtrodden and troubled female characters in the business - alcoholics, serial killers, the terminally ill - often just look like beautiful actresses except… y'know, a bit tired.
The list of Plain Janes is a long one, and runs from unconvincing to downright outlandish: Cameron Diaz went frumpy to take a risky, art-house role in 'Being John Malkovich'. The pay-off was immense, landing the actress her first Golden Globe nomination.
When Salma Hayek got the green-light for her pet project 'Frida' (a biopic on Frida Kahlo), she didn't hold back from being as authentic as possible, donning a light 'tache and monobrow to play the enigmatic Mexican artist.
Mariah Carey, often revelling in her reputation as a diva, was completely unrecognisable in 'Precious'. To play the dowdy welfare caseworker, Carey wore no make-up, had a hint of a moustache, bound her breasts, and had perma-bags under her eyes.
It's easy to see what the movie industry gets out of making its most beautiful denizens under. The world is so used to seeing the likes of Jennifer Aniston and Cameron Diaz dewy of skin and megawatt of vibe. The irony is that when they are stripped down to their most ordinary, they are at their most eye-catching for cinemagoers. But what do the actresses themselves get out of 'going ugly' for roles?
Well, the age-old vanity issue is kicked into touch once and for all. For actresses who trade on their beauty, giving up that one currency for a 'serious' role is lauded as brave. It sends a clear message that they're serious about their craft.
Gwyneth Paltrow found the experience of wearing prosthetic make-up and a fat suit for 'Shallow Hal' to be an eye-opening, if not entirely positive, experience.
"The first day I tried [the fat suit] on, I was in the Tribeca Grand [in New York City] and I walked through the lobby. It was so sad; it was so disturbing," she said at the time. "No one would make eye contact with me because I was obese. I felt humiliated because people were really dismissive."
It's also a wily way of escaping dreaded typecast territory, as Jennifer Aniston found by playing a chronic pain sufferer in 'Cake'. The role brought her fresh acclaim, and a different sort of newspaper headline from 'Poor Jen' (and SAG Award and Golden Globe nods).
Nicole Kidman also enjoyed a similar pay-off when she won an Oscar for playing Virginia Woolf (complete with prosthetic nose) in 'The Hours'. Critics were unsure that Kidman looked like the troubled poetess, but gave her role a resounding thumbs-up.
Charlize Theron, too, found that gaining weight to play serial killer Aileen Wuornos (to frightfully convincing effect) saw her move to the upper echelons of the game. Theron amply proved her acting chops in 'Monster', getting an Oscar win for her troubles in 2003.
Speaking of her decision to gain 30 pounds, she once admitted that it made the task of immersing the character much easier: "It wasn't about getting fat. Aileen wasn't fat. Aileen carried scars on her body from her lifestyle, and if I'd gone to make this movie with my body - physically I'm very athletic - I don't know that I would have felt the things Aileen felt with her body. It was about getting to a place where I felt closer to how Aileen was living."
Will Emily Blunt enjoy a similar career boost after her role in 'The Girl on the Train'? Has the experience of playing an entirely different person enriched her personally? The jury is out. But one thing is for sure, when it comes to 'Hollywood ordinary' and 'ordinary ordinary', it's very much a case of never the twain shall meet.
Read Paul Whitington's review of 'The Girl on the Train' on page 50