To coincide with the upcoming Blu-ray and DVD release of director Michael Apted’s Noomi Rapace starring thriller Unlocked, which sees co-stars Toni Collette and Orlando Bloom significantly alter their appearances on screen, HeyUGuys takes a look back at some other films in which the stars did the same.
While honourable mentions should go to: De Niro in Raging Bull, Charlize Theron in Monster, Tom Cruise in Tropic Thunder and Anthony Hopkins in Nixon, the below is a list of either undeservedly less celebrated/ studied instances or those which have more interesting stories surrounding the production or their characters’ manifestations.
- True Identity (race)
Following a brief stint during his late 80s stand up film Lenny: Live and Unleashed that saw black Brit comic Lenny Henry transform himself into Steve Martin using make up and prosthetics, the actor/comedian went all out two years later in True Identity. This first (and last) of a three picture deal with Disney saw Henry play Miles Pope: an African American on the run from the mob who hides under the guise of a white man to evade hoodlums.
The film flopped and Henry’s Disney deal was cancelled but True Identity remains one of the first features in which a black actor masqueraded as a white man in a lead role. Eddie Murphy did a brief but similar stint a few years earlier as a Jewish pensioner in Coming To America while the Wayans Brothers followed suite (changing sex too) for White Chicks in 2004.
- The Exorcist (age)
So many actors have had their age altered on screen but Max Von Sydow’s groundbreaking turn as Father Merrin in The Exorcist remains a benchmark in pioneering facial/age manipulation, mostly due to SFX maestro Dick Smith. Smith smeared liquid latex across Max Von Sydow which was later stippled, stretched and corrugated. The then forty four year old Von Sydow was so convincing as Merrin, those familiar with the actor still didn’t recognise him. Subsequent Blu-ray releases have revealed the joins but Smith’s work and Von Sydow’s performance remain remarkable achievements, especially considering how long ago they were accomplished (1973). Looking back from an era/ perspective where mainstream cinema is rife with digital de-aging, forty years ago The Exorcist did the opposite and should be celebrated as much as a landmark for its special effect, as well as for being a commanding horror masterpiece.
- Battlefield Earth (species)
John Travolta referred to Roger Christian’s adaptation of L. Ron Hubbard’s pseudo “religious” space opera as being “better than Star Wars” but, despite his consensus shunning verdict, Travolta’s alien villain Terl arguably more so resembled a Predator pickled in bong water then neutered, muzzled, de-fanged and left for dead in a pissed on clown outfit. Operating under a head apparatus with hand talons, contact lenses while on four foot stilts, this passion project was always going to be an awkward walk in the park for Travolta but no-one could foresee Battlefield Earth becoming the multi Razzie award winning sci-fi faux pas egg it was. The Dutch angle captured adaptation was as much of an unfathomably bat shit assemblage as the make-up and costume design that completely disguised the Grease/Pulp Fiction actor.
- Tomboy (sex)
Walter Hill’s latest action flick sees Michelle Rodriguez’s celebrated assassin Frank Kitchen drugged and forced into gender reassignment by Sigourney Weaver’s “mad scientist” Dr Rachel Jane. Kitchen spends the majority of the film taking revenge on those who took his cock away but Rodriguez’s screen time as the hit-non gender specific features some incredibly authentic sex change effects. Still images from Tomboy may just reveal Rodriguez in a fake beard brandishing a firearm but fleeting moments show her in full-frontal CG man body-mode, during the set-up of Hill’s flawed and ridiculous yet unforgettable she-male assassin romp. I didn’t find her attractive, it was just confusing.
- The Machinist (weight)
The only film in the selection in which the actor’s transformation was real: Christian Bale shed a staggering sixty three pounds to play Trevor Reznik in Brad Anderson’s twisted psycho thriller, The Machinist. Operating on just an apple and can of tuna a day, Bale’s phenomenal commitment went beyond the call of duty and furrowed the brows of director Anderson and the film’s producers. The actor’s loyalty resulted in a truly unforgettable performance that has never been topped in terms of dedication. Bale had to swiftly put the weight back on to play Batman for Chris Nolan straight after which probably involved some kind of rapid dumbbell pumping, burger gorging and protein shake quaffing frenzy. You know what you can do with your six eggs Sylvester.
- Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (entire body)
Set in his ways, at the other end of the spectrum sits Andy Serkis: a now well-known and renowned talent mostly famous for playing digitally rendered creatures so well, his personal traits and nuances shine through the digital tomfoolery. Serkis mastered the art of mo-cap performance as both Gollum and Caesar in the Lord of the Rings/ Planet of the Apes trilogies, as well as playing King Kong for Peter Jackson, he constantly causes award season kerfuffle by prompting questions such as: where do the effects stop and the performance art begin? as actors and tech teams continue to push the boundaries between art and technology. Maybe one day the Academy will see through the CGI and rightfully award Serkis with the gong he deserves. If he doesn’t first receive one for his skills as a director with debut feature Breathe, next year.
- Young Frankenstein (hair)
Considering the amount of effort that went into changing actors’ appearances in all of the above productions, all Gene Hackman did was put on a fake beard, wig and robe and became completely unrecognisable in black and white, in his sweet but fleeting cameo as a put-upon blind priest in Mel Brooks’ Universal horror spoofing classic.
Unlocked is released on DVD, Blu-ray and Download on the 28th of August.