7 roles that were a big change-up for Hollywood A-listers
Actors are meant to be able to play anything, but can you imagine Arnold Schwarzegger in La La Land or Rebel Wilson in The Terminator? Most actors have a knack for playing certain roles and genres, gravitating from casting call to calling card.
Here are seven shake-up roles starring some of the most familiar stars in Hollywood in almost unrecognisable roles.
Nicole Kidman in Destroyer
Everyone knows Charlize Theron won her Oscar for a performance augmented by make-up in Monster. Unrecognisable and veering away from her Helen of Troy looks, her sheer talent was finally rewarded. Bombshell co-star Nicole Kidman took note of Theron, who delivered another Oscar-worthy performance under a mask of make-up, as another star also known for her incredible beauty and unmistakable visage.
Immersing herself in the seedy underworld of Los Angeles in Destroyer, Kidman delivers a career-best performance as a detective with a drinking problem. Clouded by a layer of dirt, an unflattering haircut and made to look like she’s not wearing make-up at all, it’s a complete transformation. High-profile celebrities are judged and held to a standard of perfection, which makes it almost impossible to cut loose.
Able to relax under the guidance of a fellow Australian in director Karyn Kusama, she was further distanced from keeping up appearances by her type-breaking reinvention in the aptly titled Destroyer. A gritty cop thriller with action elements, this is a refreshing turn for Kidman, in which she thrives, flung clear of her trademark porcelain features and typical roles in the realm of edgy arthouse drama and fantasy.
Jamie Bell in Skin
Jamie Bell’s story is one of the most successful child-actor-to-adult-star transitions in Hollywood. No one would have guessed he’d be making movies two decades after his breakthrough in Billy Elliot. Bell’s secret was his quiet ascension, picking up better roles and accumulating respect over the years. He could’ve been the next Spider-Man if you consider that Tom Holland played the stage version of Billy Elliot, but his career has been more closely aligned with the trajectory of Christian Bale.
Bell has taken the long road, improving his craft and demonstrating his undeniable talent. Based on his most recent ventures, it seems he’s on the cusp of redefining and reclaiming his Hollywood film identity. Playing real-life skinhead Bryon Widner, Bell is bald and covered in tattoos. Tapping into the white supremacist’s anger and hatred, he’s aggressive and seething with rage.
Skin’s an unconventional role for Bell, who is best known for smaller supporting parts in Jumper, Fantastic Four, Snowpiercer and Rocketman. While he may have blended into the background, it seems as though this chameleon is ready to rumble with the biggest stars and best directors.
Hugh Jackman in Bad Education
Having come from a musical background, it’s no wonder Hugh Jackman seemed perfectly at home in The Greatest Showman and Les Miserables. We got so used to seeing Jackman brandishing his claws as the testosterone-fuelled Wolverine that it seemed weird to see him breaking into song, but it did open up a spectrum of possibility for this talented lead actor.
We know of his muscularity and now his musicality, but the most surprising jump has been his villainy. Jackman looks like a hero – he oozes natural charm and the can-do spirit to such a degree that it’s difficult to imagine him crossing over to the dark side. This is what makes his casting in Bad Education so brilliant. Based on the incredible true story of Frank Tassone, Jackman’s film persona is used as a bait-and-switch for the audience, who are lured into Tassone’s deceit.
With Jackman wearing hardly any make-up, this is one of his best performances to date. Using every line in his face, he contorts his natural charm and nobility into playing a sociopathic charlatan. It’s a well-balanced turn, coaxing us into loving the Roslyn school district’s superintendent before charting his fall from grace. As a long-rumoured “closet case” himself, Jackman got the chance in Bad Education to explore this aspect on screen through a finely calibrated and committed performance.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Project Power
Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s breakthrough role was as Tommy in Third Rock from the Sun, a zany sitcom about aliens posing as a “normal” American family. Much like Jamie Bell, he’s been working hard to nurture a film career in Hollywood on the back of dependable supporting roles. After playing second fiddle to Heath Ledger in 10 Things I Hate About You, an “understudy” shadow has followed Gordon-Levitt, who still seems to be figuring out his acting identity.
Starring in Looper, Gordon-Levitt was essentially playing a younger version of Bruce Willis. Being primed to play Robin in The Dark Knight Rises, it seems that sidekick is actually where he’s most comfortable. This is best exemplified in Project Power, a supernatural action crime thriller about a drug that gives its users superpowers for five minutes.
With Gordon-Levitt playing a maverick detective who actually references Clint Eastwood on screen, it’s clear they were going for a blend of Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon and Eastwood in Dirty Harry with a side order of Robert Patrick in T2. It’s normal to see Gordon-Levitt in a supporting role opposite Jamie Foxx but he seems to be trying to channel Mark Wahlberg, even shedding his shirt at one point!
Stream it on Netflix.
Octavia Spencer in Ma
Once you’ve played God, it seems that anything’s possible! It didn’t quite work out for Alanis Morrisette in Dogma but Morgan Freeman seems to be handling the complex quite well after his iconic role in Bruce Almighty. Octavia Spencer isn’t a household name yet but is working on it with a slew of solid performances in films that hold commercial and critical appeal. Churning out several fine supporting performances a year, Octavia’s star power is growing through her works.
Spencer’s known for her gap-toothed smile and playing a wise counsellor, wisecracking friend or advocate of social change. This is what makes her role in Ma such a dramatic revolution, departing the lofty heights of good into the depths of evil as Sue Ann. Leveraging her trustworthy persona, the lonely woman befriends a group of teenagers, allowing them to live it up in her basement. Just as the party’s gearing up, Sue Ann’s hospitality turns to hostility as torture becomes the admission fee.
Kathy Bates is one of the greatest actors working today, who rose to fame after her Oscar-winning role in Misery. Equally gifted, Ma is Spencer’s opportunity to showcase her amazing range in a shocking and surprising performance.
Rachel McAdams in Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga
If you’re watching a romantic film, chances are you’re watching Rachel McAdams. After the enduring success of The Notebook, it seems that McAdams is every incarnation of the girl next door turned soul mate who likes long walks on the beach. Beautiful, relatable, elemental and operating with a hint of mystique, she’s the go-to girl when it comes to romantic leads.
Luckily for McAdams, she’s just so easy on the eye and ear that no one seems to be getting tired of her playing the prime love interest with the exception of McAdams herself! This is probably what prompted her to seize Eurovision Song Contest like a microphone.
A typically over-the-top comedy about an unlikely duo representing Iceland at Eurovision, it was just the tonic she needed for a refresh. Will Ferrell can’t help but turn every film into a comedy and McAdams plays the perfect counterpoint as his doting companion, who could be his sister. McAdams isn’t known for her straight-up comedy but unleashes her amazing agility and timing in both comedy and singing, shattering all of our preconceived notions in a much-needed shake up.
Stream it on Netflix, and stream The Notebook on Showmax.
Charlize Theron in The Addams Family
Her surname’s pronunciation may change depending on your geolocation, but almost everyone knows Charlize “Taron”, “Tron”… fine, “Their On”? Having started with an uncredited part in Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest, Theron’s spent the better part of 25 years racking up awards and fans. South Africa’s top acting export, has matured from bit parts to a breakthrough role in The Devil’s Advocate to her eventual Oscar for… yes, Monster.
Charlize has built her film career on substantial dramatic roles, venturing into the realm of comedy, fantasy, sci-fi and even action! The headline act is so big in Hollywood, she can pretty much do whatever she feels like. Tapping into Modesty Blaise in Atomic Blonde, going Highlander immortal in The Old Guard, conjuring up the post-apocalypse in Mad Max: Fury Road… she’s an unstoppable force.
Her biggest turning points have hinged on horror. So it should seem only natural that she lends her sultry voice to Morticia in the animated horror comedy The Addams Family *click, click*. It’s rare for Theron to do animation, giving Morticia a Cruella De Vil purr and dark royalty. Blending many of the macabre elements that popularised the original 1938 New Yorker cartoon, it’s a creepy, kooky and silly Halloween comedy in the same street as Hotel Transylvania.