15 times actors completely transformed their appearance to play a villain

Warner Bros. / AP Photo/Stuart RamsonVoldemort is the main villain in the ‘Harry Potter’ series.
  • Some actors completely transform themselves for their roles as terrifying villains.
  • Due to time constraints, the “Harry Potter” crew had to digitally erase Voldemort’s nose.
  • Motion-capture technology helped bring Gollum to life in “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.”
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Some of the best villains are the ones with memorable and shocking designs — but it’s the actors under the makeup and costumes who bring these haunting characters to life.

Read on for 15 times actors transformed into horrifying movie villains.


Linda Blair played a possessed 12-year-old in “The Exorcist” (1973).

Warner Bros./YouTube / David Livingston/Getty Images‘The Exorcist’ marked a turning point for special effects.

At 14 years old, Linda Blair haunted viewers with her performance in “The Exorcist” after special-effects makeup artist Dick Smith transformed Blair into a nightmarish demon.

Rick Baker, Smith’s assistant on “The Exorcist,” told The Washington Post in 2007 that Smith revolutionised special effects in film.

“Dick showed that makeup wasn’t just about making people look scary or old, but had many applications. He figured out a way to make the welts swell up on Linda’s stomach, to make her head spin around, and he created the vomit scenes,” Baker said.

Baker isn’t the only one to acknowledge Smith’s impact – the special-effects veteran earned an honorary award at the Academy’s Governors Awards in 2011 for his trailblazing work.


Some elements of Voldemort’s look were digitally added or, like his nose, removed.

Warner Bros. / AP Photo/Stuart RamsonThe crew only had two hours in the makeup chair to complete Voldemort’s look.

Ralph Fiennes played Voldemort in the “Harry Potter” films. The character was so scary that he was referred to as “He Who Must Not Be Named,” and the filmmakers lived up to that legacy with a terrifying transformation.

Unlike some of the other films on the list, the makeup crew wasn’t under budget constraints, but rather time limitations. The child actors could only be on set for an allotted amount of time each day, which meant everyone had to adjust accommodate that schedule.

With only two hours to transform Fiennes, makeup artist Mark Coulier, who has won two Oscars, got creative to get the look done in time.

Coulier spoke about the look with Bustle in 2016, saying, “The nose is digital. We did eyebrow blockers … In order to get continuity in a short span of time, I painted the veins all on the computer, then I printed them all as temporary tattoo transfers. It worked really well, we covered his whole head in veins in about 10 minutes.”


Robert Englund originated the role of Freddy Krueger in “A Nightmare on Elm Street” (1984).

New Line Cinema/Frederick M. Brown/GettyImagesRobert Englund as Freddy Krueger in ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street.’

Robert Englund starred in “A Nightmare on Elm Street” as Freddy Krueger, the vengeful spirit of a serial killer who’d slash his victims to death with a razored glove.

Englund reprised the role for various sequels and spin-offs, crafting Freddy’s legacy as an iconic villain in the horror genre.

Jackie Earle Haley replaced Englund in the 2010 remake.

Englund spoke to Entertainment Weekly in 2020 about returning to his role, saying, “I don’t think I’ll ever don the makeup again. I’m a little too old for that. I’m a little long in the tooth to play Freddy now. I think if I was doing it, it would be more like ‘Freddy vs. Viagra.'”


Sam Neill’s character in “Event Horizon” (1997) gouged his own eyes out.

Paramount Pictures/Cole Bennetts/GettyImagesThe inner-eye sockets were designed with cabbage leaves and raw steak.

Best known for his work in “Jurassic Park” (1993) and on “Peaky Blinders,” actor Sam Neill played Dr. William Weir, the antagonistic spaceship designer in the sci-fi horror flick “Event Horizon.”

At one point in the film, Neill’s character gouges his own eyes out – a gruesome scene with a less gruesome story behind it.

Sue Rowe, a sequence supervisor for the movie, told VFXblog in 2017, “My favourite shot in the film was of Sam Neill with his own eyes gouged out … [Charlie Tait and Dave Houghton] used a cheap flatbed scanner to scan a cabbage leaf and a raw steak combo to make the interior eye sockets.”

“One day my Mum came to the office to see what her ‘little girl’ was up to in this new crazy film industry and she saw us working on this shot,” she continued. “Charlie was adding blood pulsing out of the eyes – she ran out of the office screaming.”


Joaquin Phoenix transformed into the Joker for the namesake film.

Warner Bros / Joel C Ryan/Invision/APJoaquin Phoenix in ‘Joker.’

Joaquin Phoenix played the title character in “Joker” (2019). In 2020, he won an Oscar for best actor for his performance.

Batman’s iconic villain has a memorable look – a dark twist on clown makeup, with a too-long smile. But Phoenix’s transformation wasn’t only in the makeup chair – he also lost 52 pounds for the role.

In 2019, Phoenix spoke about his weight-loss experience on “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” saying, “In the beginning, you’re exhausted. You look at a flight of stairs and it takes like 30 seconds. You have to talk yourself into it and say, ‘I can do this, I know I can do this.'”


There’s a real person under the Pinhead makeup — Doug Bradley.

Murray Close/Getty Images / George De Sota/Getty ImagesDoug Bradley as Pinhead.

Doug Bradley played Pinhead in writer and director Clive Barker’s “Hellraiser” (1987). The villain is the leader of a dangerous group called the Cenobites.

Special-effects makeup artist Bob Keen and his team collaborated with Barker to come up with what would become one of the most iconic horror film characters of all time. But the brainstorming process wasn’t simple, as the team had to consider their budget restraints.

Keen spoke to Daily Dead in 2017 about the process, saying, “Originally, Pinhead wasn’t like he is now at all. He was much more like the character Shuna Sassi in Nightbreed … I was looking at this and going, ‘Clive, we can’t do this on this budget.'”

“That’s when we came up with this drawing of a grid on a lifecast … Clive looked at the grid and decided he really liked the symmetry of it, so we left it in,” he added.


Ed Gale added physicality to the terrifying doll, Chucky.

MGM/YouTube / Michael Tullberg/Getty ImagesThe crew built an oversized set for Ed Gale’s scenes.

Although Brad Dourif voiced the horrifying doll, Chucky, Ed Gale was the actor inside the costume in “Child’s Play” (1988), “Child’s Play 2” (1990), and “Bride of Chucky” (1998).

Gale stands at about 3-foot-4-inches, 10 inches taller than the Chucky doll. To compensate for this difference, the crew built oversized replicas of the set to seamlessly transition between the doll’s and Gale’s scenes.

Gale, who did not participate in “Child’s Play 3” (1991), talked to iHorror in 2015 about the importance of his role.

Regarding the third instalment, Gale said, “Chucky could not move as freely. They were relegated to moving the camera to give the illusion of Chucky moving. Hence it being the least successful of the franchise.”


Bonnie Aarons played the demonic villain in “The Conjuring 2” (2016) and “The Nun” (2018).

Warner Bros/Kevin Winter/GettyImagesBonnie Aarons played the demonic nun in two films.

You may recognise Bonnie Aarons as Baroness Joy von Troken from “The Princess Diaries” duology, but she’s hardly regal in her roles in “The Nun” and “The Conjuring 2.”

With sunken eyes and sharp teeth, Aarons’ character is the terrifying villain of both films.

Her performance unsettled viewers as well as cast members.

“The Nun” star Taissa Farmiga told CinemaBlend in 2018 that Aarons’ costume was pretty terrifying.

“I have to admit, there was a time or two when we were filming in these dark castles … And Bonnie is in full demon nun garb, hair, and makeup, and I had to ask her to just step away for a moment,” she said.


Tom Hardy played the Spider-Man villain turned anti-hero.

Sony Pictures/Matt Winkelmeyer/GettyImagesTom Hardy said he thinks Venom is the ‘coolest’ looking Marvel character.

Some viewers debate whether Venom is a villain or anti-hero, but Tom Hardy, also known for his work in “The Dark Knight Rises” (2012) and “Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015), brought the role to life in the 2018 release, “Venom.”

Entertainment Weekly reported in 2018 that Hardy’s son was a fan of the comic-book villain, which made Hardy all the more eager to accept the role.

He also told EW that he marveled at the character’s design, saying, “As far as Marvel characters, I have to say for me, Venom looks to the coolest. That sounds a bit shallow! But I appreciate that he has a kind of brazen swagger and a zero foxtrot attitude.”


Several actors have played Leatherface, but Gunnar Hansen was the first.

New Line Cinema/ROBERT F. BUKATY/ApImagesGunnar Hansen said he had never used a chainsaw before playing the role.

Gunnar Hansen originated the role of Leatherface, the murderous villain in the slasher film “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (1974).

Possibly more iconic than Leatherface’s nightmarish mask is the weapon he wielded – a roaring chainsaw. In 2015, Hansen told USA Today that he had never used a chainsaw before the film.

He said, “It was a live saw. During the night chase, I slipped and fell with a fully functioning saw … Plus, I had a mask on that I could barely see out of. So, I was lucky because it landed beside me.”

Hansen died of pancreatic cancer at 68 years old in November of 2015.


Nick Castle played Michael Myers in most of “Halloween” (1978), but several other people stepped into the costume.

Anchor Bay / Steve Granitz/Getty ImagesNick Castle was one of the actors to play Michael Myers.

Michael Myers, also referred to as “The Shape,” is the horrifying villain of the “Halloween” franchise. Although Nick Castle played the masked murderer for a majority of the original movie, several others stepped in to fill the role.

In a 2018 interview with Vanity Fair, Rob Zombie, who directed the classic’s 2007 remake, said Michael is a character whose face you never see and voice you never hear.

Zombie also said, “The funny thing about that mask: it’s so blank that everybody projects on to it what they want to see, and how he should behave.

“Sometimes, I’d get pushback along the lines of, ‘Michael Myers can’t do that?'” he continued. “According to who? The ‘Michael Myers Handbook?’ I never got a copy of that.”


Andy Serkis brought Gollum to life with motion-capture technology.

New Line Cinema / Chris Pizzello/Invision/APAndy Serkis as Gollum.

Andy Serkis brought Gollum, once a Hobbit named Sméagol, to life in “The Lord of the Rings” films. In “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” (2012), however, the creature was more human-like than ever.

In the first instalment of “The Hobbit” trilogy, Serkis played Gollum with more advanced motion-capture technology. Wearing a bodysuit and facial markers, along with other capturing devices, the film crew translated Serkis’ movements and facial expressions for the screen.

Although some critics felt this performance-capture-style acting wasn’t authentic, Serkis told Time magazine in 2012 that “acting is acting.”

“It’s really a matter of how the character is clothed and made up. One is before the fact, and one is after the fact,” he added.


Several actors have played Jason, but none more than Kane Hodder.

Paramount/David Livingston/GettyImagesKane Hodder is an established stunt coordinator.

Kane Hodder played Jason Voorhees, the slasher in a hockey mask, in the 1988 movie “Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood.” He also continued to play the villain in later installments.

Before taking on the role, Hodder was an established stunt coordinator. The director, John Buechler, wanted Hodder to take on the part to seamlessly integrate the acting and stunts.

In a 2018 interview with the AV Club, Hodder said, “… Jason had to do many stunts. And they were big stunts, like being on fire and all that stuff.”

He continued, “And that worked in my favour, because John was like, ‘You can’t have an actor playing a character and then a stunt double doing all the action. It’s never gonna look consistent.'”


The Joker isn’t the only terrifying clown on this list.

Warner Bros / Neilson Barnard/Getty ImagesBill Skarsgård as Pennywise.

Bill Skarsgård suited up as the nightmarish clown, Pennywise, for the 2017 remake of “It” and the 2019 sequel “It Chapter Two.” Both films are based on a Stephen King novel by the same name.

According to The New York Times, the Pennywise makeup took two and a half hours, but the performance as the murderous clown was even more exhausting, physically and mentally.

But with sharp teeth, an oversized forehead, and clown makeup, Skarsgård is hardly recognisable.

He spoke about this drastic characterization in the same 2017 New York Times interview, saying, “I wouldn’t want to be associated with one character, because I want to be able to do different roles.”

“Pennywise looks and sounds so different from me that I could do a rom-com next, and people probably wouldn’t even know I was the same guy,” he added.


As Pale Man in “Pan’s Labyrinth” (2006), Doug Jones is exceedingly creepy.

Warner Bros/Rich Polk/GettyImagesDoug Jones in ‘Pan’s Labyrinth.’

Guillermo del Toro’s film “Pan’s Labyrinth” took a few dark twists and turns, but with drooping skin, eyes on hands, and a skeletal shape, Pale Man’s design was a terrifying sight.

Makeup specialists David Martí and Montse Ribé worked on the film. Martí told Daily Dead in a 2016 interview that del Toro’s original idea for Pale Man, which included a on-screen transformation into another creature, did not fit into the film’s allocated budget.

So, the team decided to put eyes on Pale Man’s hands – an easy fix to give the character sight. Martí said, “Imagination isn’t about having a lot of money; imagination is about something magical.”

Martí added, “And sometimes you have to go back and reconsider designs because of your budget, but that kind of challenge gives artists the opportunity to push harder and come up with something new … what seems like a challenge ends up being a real opportunity.”

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