Revisit the Most Shocking Oscar Movie Role Transformations of All Time

Andra Day, Glenn Close, Charlize Theron, Christian Bale, Jared Leto and other stars transformed their looks to take on roles that later landed them Oscar nominations or wins.

By Corinne Heller Apr 24, 2021 2:00 AMTags
Watch: Charlize Theron Wins Best Date Award at 2020 Oscars

Weight loss, weight gain, elaborate makeup, realistic-looking prosthetics...Celebrities often go to great lengths to transform themselves into a complex film role all in the name of Oscars glory.

Andra Day lost almost 40 pounds to play the iconic jazz singer in the 2021 film The United States vs Billie Holiday, which earned her her first Oscar nomination, for Best Actress in a Leading Role, at this year's upcoming ceremony.

"I was originally 163 pounds when I started, and I got down to 124," the star, known for her 2015 hit single "Rise Up," told W magazine in a February interview. "I don't necessarily recommend but to me, I didn't want my body to look like a gym body of 2020 or 2019 at the time. For me, it was important having a period body."

She continued, "At first, I started by just shrinking my caloric intake, of course, and then exercising as well. But honestly, I did kind of starve myself a bit when I was on set."

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Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto both lost an extreme amount of weight to play AIDS patients in Dallas Buyers Club, for which they each won their own first Oscars. And Christian Bale has both gained and lost an extreme amount of weight for movie roles such as The Fighter—which earned him his first Oscar, American Hustle and Vice. Since then, the actor has vowed to stop putting his body through the ringer for his career.

"I've become a little more boring now because I'm older and I feel if I keep doing what I've done in the past, I'm gonna die," Bale told E! News in 2019. "So I prefer not to die."

With the help of makeup artists and costume designers, Charlize Theron famously changed her entire physical appearance to portray a real-life serial killer in the 2003 film Monster and won her first Oscar for her chilling performance. This year, Glenn Close is nominated for an Oscar for the eighth time, for her role in Hillbilly Elegy. Prosthetics were used to transform her face for her leading role. 

The 2021 Oscars will take place this Sunday, April 25.

Look back at the actors who underwent major transformations in films that earned them Oscar nominations or wins:

Andra Day, The United States vs Billie Holiday

The actress lost almost 40 pounds to play the iconic jazz singer in the 2021 film, which earned her an Oscar nomination.

Glenn Close, Hillbilly Elegy

To transform the actress into her role of real life Appalachian grandmother Mamaw Vance in the 2020 film, makeup and special effects artist Matthew Mungle pulled Close's 2011 head cast from Albert Nobbs and sculpted her a new set of false ears and a false nose, according to Variety. The actress received an Oscar nomination for her role.

Charlize Theron, Monster

At the 2004 Academy Awards, the gorgeous A-lister was honored with a Best Actress win for her chilling portrayal of real-life serial killer Aileen Wuornos

Christian Bale, American Hustle

The British actor packed on more than 40 pounds for his Oscar-nominated performance as a beer-bellied con artist in 2013's American Hustle. He put on the same amount to play former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney in the 2018 movie Vice, which also earned him an Oscar nomination. The star dropped 70 pounds for the 2019 movie Ford v Ferrari, in which he plays slender race car driver Ken Miles. For the 2011 film The Fighter, which earned him his first Oscar, he lost about 30 pounds while gaining muscle.

Joaquin Phoenix in The Joker

The actor lost 52 pounds to play the deeply disturbed Arthur Fleck, the man who would become Batman's adversary.

Nicole Kidman, The Hours

It took three hours (and an infamously large prosthetic nose) for makeup artists to render the Best Actress winner completely unrecognizable for the 2002 drama. 

Tom Hanks, Philadelphia

The actor shed 35 pounds and shaved his head to play an HIV-stricken attorney suing his former firm for wrongful termination. Hanks took home Best Actor at the 1994 Oscars, and made a similar transformation for his Oscar-nominated performance in 2000's Cast Away

Renee Zellwegger, Judy

The actress, who famously gained a reported 17 pounds to play the title role in Bridget Jones's Diary, did not have to change her physique to transform into Judy Garland for the 2019 film Judy, for which she won her first Oscar. You can thank the makeup and costume department for her transformation.

"Renée was extremely emotionally and artistically involved in Judy, the movie's costume designer, Jany Temime, who also worked on the Harry Potter films, told Vulture. "It was her film. I think she really got into Judy's skin."

Zellweger told the outlet, "Jany fit the costumes to Judy's posture. So the dresses didn't fit me unless I stood like I was supposed to stand. The zipper wouldn't go up."

Margot Robbie, I, Tonya

Quite a departure from Robbie's sultry character in The Wolf of Wall Street, several prosthetics, braces and wigs helped the Best Actress nominee bring the disgraced figure skater's career-ending scandal to life in the 2017 flick. 

Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club

The Academy recognized McConaughey's extreme commitment to playing an HIV/AIDS stricken electrician with a Best Actor win during the 2014 ceremony. 

Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight

The late actor received a posthumous Oscar in 2008 for his chilling and mesmerizing performance as The Joker in the second film in Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy. His look as the iconic villain differed greatly from those previously seen on past actors onscreen.

"What would it be if this guy slept in his makeup, this psychopath?" makeup artist John Caglione Jr. told IGN. "If he didn't spruce up his makeup for two or three weeks? He never changes his clothes It's those kinds of organic details that really helped."

He continued, "You think of a clown's makeup and for the most part, they're pretty detailed with sharp lines. But this had to be the opposite of that."

Hilary Swank, Boys Don't Cry & Million Dollar Baby

The two-time Oscar winner dramatically altered her appearance to play real-life transgender man Brandon Teena in the 1999 drama, and then again in Clint Eastwood's 2004 Best Picture winner.

Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour

In order to play British prime minister Winston Churchill, the 2018 Best Actor nominee spent upwards of four hours in the makeup chair every day and wore a "Victorian corset" style bodysuit. 

Natalie Portman, Black Swan

Before taking home Best Actress at the 2011 Oscars, the petite actress shed 20 pounds and trained up to 16 hours a day for her role as a mentally ill ballerina. 

Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club

Ever the chameleon, the 2014 Best Supporting Actor winner prepared to play a HIV-positive transgender woman by losing 40 pounds and only staying in character on set. 

"I had done similar things with weight, but this was different," Leto told E! News in 2013. "I think the role demanded that commitment…It was about how does that effect how I walk, how I talked, who I am, how I feel. You know, you feel very fragile and delicate and unsafe."

Brie Larson, Room

The Best Actress winner gained 15 pounds of muscle to play a mother who escapes years of captivity with her 5-year-old son (Jacob Tremblay) in the 2015 film. Larson said she even limited her exposure to the outside world, restricted nutrients like Vitamin D and tailored her eating habits to better grasp what her character experienced. 

Rooney Mara, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

At the 2012 Academy Awards, the typically fresh-faced starlet was honored with a Best Actress nomination for her performance in the thriller. Mara went as far as to pierce multiple body parts, bleach her eyebrows and chop her hair to transform into Lisbeth Salander.