Transforming Actors: The Ultimate Oscar Bait
Foxcatcher, starring Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo – and a nearly unrecognizable Steve Carell – hit theaters recently. Having premiered at a number of film festivals, critics have been weighing in on the film’s ability to haul in some trophies come awards season for months. The best chance of Foxcatcher landing an Oscar, according to the general consensus, is Carell, who plays paranoid schizophrenic wrestling coach John du Pont. More talked about than the indubitably interesting character Carell takes on or his inspired acting, is the physical transformation he underwent to embody the part.
Carell burst onto the scene as a leading man in The 40-Year-Old Virgin, a film that remains in the pantheon of quality Judd Apatow comedies. But Carell aspires to diversify the work for which he is known. Taking on the part of John du Pont afforded Carell the opportunity to disguise his well-known Michael “World’s Greatest Boss” Scott face with prosthesis and makeup. Carell has proven over the years that he’s a multi-faceted actor, but it’s hard for someone who’s most recognizable for playing affable, developmentally arrested fortysomethings to be taken seriously, even when they should be.
Spackle on some fake skin, and Carell just might have a shot. He’s on multiple Oscar short lists for Outstanding Leading Man.
Critics and casual audiences alike seem to unabashedly fangirl and fanboy when an actor subverts expectations with a physical transformation that makes them seem more “actorly.” With these actors, it’s as though they’ve undergone that painful looking cinematic process when one thing becomes another thing before our very eyes – like cars into robots and wizards into werewolves – crushing metal, cracking their bones, stretching their skin, snapping into something or someone entirely other, but utterly recognizable as what or whom it was before. It impresses.
While Carell grew an imposing schnoz this season, Jake Gyllenhaal’s transformation in his Oscar-bait flick falls under the umbrella of body-morphing. Gyllenhaal is a pretty, boyish-looking, well-built man. In order to play a seedy, hungry crook-turned-crooked journalist in Nightcrawler, he wanted a meaner, leaner look than the one he was genetically blessed with. As with Matthew McConaughey in last season’s Dallas Buyers Club, Gyllenhaal considered the weight loss essential to his craft, and potentially, a wieldy way of flirting with the people who will be deciding if this year is his year.
In reverse, Bradley Cooper, gained some 40 pounds of muscle for American Sniper. He’s a long shot for an Academy Award nod.
For the first time in her long career, Jennifer Aniston is creating Oscar buzz. After Friends, the “American Sweetheart” has predominantly been known for acting in rom-coms in which she’s played a variation of poor little rich girl Rachel Green (and been made into poor little rich girl Rachel Green in her personal life by the media). She had notable turns in The Good Girl and Friends with Money, but it’s Cake that’s finally giving her her due. Aniston is baiting the Oscar voters with a make-under for her role as a depressed woman battling chronic pain – dimming her shiny locks, matte-ing her glowing face and hiding her Pilates body under drab attire. The movie isn’t amazing, but seeing Aniston un-pretty herself has somehow sparked Oscar talk.
McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club), Daniel Day Lewis (Lincoln, There will Be Blood), Adrien Brody (The Pianist), Tom Hanks (Philadelphia), Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady), Natalie Portman (Black Swan), Kate Winslet (The Reader), Charlize Theron (Monster), Nicole Kidman (The Hours), etc. All Oscar winners. All underwent physical transformations.
Leonardo DiCaprio has been nominated for four Oscars – What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1994), The Aviator (2004), Blood Diamond (2005) and Wolf of Wall Street (2013). He was too young and untested for What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and too classically good looking in the last three – not to mention his turns in Great Gatsby, Revolutionary Road, Catch Me If You Can and Titanic. Perhaps he thought he had it in the bag transforming in J. Edgar, but the movie flailed helplessly despite his evolution into the protruding forehead of the FBI.
In effect, changing your appearance in a meaningful way, preferably for the “worse,” is a sure-fire way to be considered for an Academy Award – provided you campaign with a string of talk show appearances. Look like your groomed, sculpted self, and it’s a bit more of a crapshoot.