Acting is about transforming oneself into another being both psychologically and physically. Many well-known actors take this transformation seriously, adopting the character’s persona for their own during the time of filming. 

This is method acting. While there is nothing inherently wrong with the acting technique, actors have started to become the character quite literally. From weight gain to weight loss to hours of makeup, the physical change of the actors' bodies to make them look like someone else has become a stunt to get people talking, and it works. 

The newest transformation requires latex, turning well-known stars into unrecognizable people—a compliment to any prestige film or series if an actor is labeled as "unrecognizable." This effect is created through makeup, costume, and "natural-looking" prosthetics

Nicole_kidman_as_lucille_ballNicole Kidman as Lucille Ball in 'Being the Ricardos'Credit: Amazon Studios

Prosthetics seems to be the hot go-to effect this season as it is used for Jessica Chastain's as Tammy Faye Bakker in The Eyes of Tammy Faye, Sarah Paulson as Linda Tripp in Impeachment: American Crime Story, Nicole Kidman as Lucille Ball in Being the Ricardos, and for Jared Leto as Paolo Gucci in Ridley Scott’sHouse of Gucci. The craft is very theatrical, taking a technique used for the stage and finding a place for it in modern-day cinema to make actors look like the real-life person.

To play Paolo in House of Gucci, the part-time rock star and cult leader dons a bald cap and heavy layer of prosthetics on his face and body to make his nose more bulbous, cheeks plumper, and achieve a double chin without gaining weight. While Leto does look unrecognizable in the role, he doesn’t look or transform into Paolo Gucci. Instead, he looks kind of like Paolo Gucci. 

Leto’s performance of Paolo was fun with his Super Mario accent and layers of sweat pouring down his brightly colored suits, but was he embodying the character he was supposed to be? There might have been other actors out there that could have captured Paolo’s essence, but they wouldn’t have had Leto’s box-office allure. 

Jared_leto_house_of_gucci_preformanceJared Leto as Paolo Gucci in 'House of Gucci'Credit: United Artists Releasing

The problem many have with prosthetics is that it has become a distraction and a form of Hollywood gatekeeping, only allowing beloved actors who look similar or nothing like the character they are portraying to become the character through layers of latex and bodysuits. "Unrecognizable" becomes when they’ve erased themselves for a character that looks uncanny and unfamiliar. 

The uncanny feeling could be the result of excess, which seems to be the point in House of Gucci. In The Eyes of Tammy Faye, the prosthetics round out Chastain’s tarantula-like mascara and hard-line eyebrows to accentuate the character’s inability to find the woman she is—to a point. Tammy Faye eventually learns who she is and what she wants from her televised persona. Some feel the prosthetic Chastain can’t translate that to the screen. 

It is hard for people playing heavily televised or photographed characters to not want to tweak their appearance to look like characters, yet the result pushes the actors into the uncanny valley of overly literal biopics. Think of when Charlize Theron wore prosthetic eyelids and got plugs in her nose to make it resemble Megyn Kelly’s nose for Bombshell.

Charlize_theron_bombshell_makeupCharlize Theron as Megyn Kelly in 'Bombshell'Credit: Lionsgate

Biopics attempt to adopt the real world through prosthetics but often fail to make the story feel real because of messy development and facts that skew the story. Fiction begins to fill the gaps, and we are left with a story that is inspired by the truth, but that doesn't seem to be good enough. 

It may be easier to think about an actor’s physical transformation rather than ask why we care so much about the illusion of historical accuracy. Many of these transformations take place when a light-skinned, thin, able-bodied, conventionally attractive performer is cast and transformed to look other for a part before they return to the privileges of their status once the job is over. Sarah Paulson quickly got over the fact that she wore a fat suit for her role as Tripp in Impeachment after telling Los Angeles Times that when she considers everything she went through for the part, she regrets, “...not thinking about [the fat suit] fully.” 

What is considered acceptable and praisable is allowing well-known actors to become what they are not instead of allowing other actors whose looks resemble the character to be cast. Consider the history of blackface, yellowface, and brownface in cinema that is still happening. Do we value imitation over acting? 

In the same conversation about prosthetics, one of the most talked-about performances this fall is Kristen Stewart’s interpretation of Princess Diana in Spencer. The film is billed as a “fable from a true tragedy,” creating a space between the real-life incident and the fictional telling of the tragic famous figure’s breakdown and newfound strength over the Christmas festivities. Stewart doesn’t look like Diana. In fact, Stewart’s jawline is different, she is five inches shorter, and her eyes are green instead of blue, yet the critics and general public don’t seem to be bothered by this. 

Kristen_stewart_spencer_Kristen Stewart's portrayal of Princess Diana in 'Spencer'Credit: Neon

The same can be said for Lady Gaga’s character in House of Gucci. To age Gaga up, prosthetics were considered, but her team opted to use makeup instead, lightening Gaga’s skin tone and using taupe colors to bring out nasal folds. Changing Gaga’s face completely would have taken the audience out of the story as we stare at the unrecognizable actress, wondering why they would make her look so different as she sits in a courtroom, trying to convince us she didn’t murder her husband. 

We are aware that this story is just that—a story dreamed up by the screenwriter and director. It’s an imagining of what could have been happening rather than what did happen. 

Perhaps the benefit of making yourself look unrecognizable is to hide the self, allowing you to transform into the character by physically being them. It is a layer of protection, armor to shield yourself from the critiques and comments on how you don't look like the person, but you could almost be them if your nose was smaller or jawline was not as sharp. By stripping away the self, there is somebody else on screen, free to be who everyone else wants them to be. 

What are your thoughts on actors making themselves unrecognizable? Is the transformation distracting or an achievement? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below! 

Source: Vulture