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8 Actors Who Were Unconvincingly Aged With Terrible Makeup

Jun 25, 2023Jun 25, 2023

Movies like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button blew audiences away with their use of 'aging-up' makeup—but others were far less convincing.

Occasionally, the plot of a movie requires an actor to be aged up using prosthetic makeup, but this isn't always done convincingly. The toll that years take on a person's facial features is difficult to imitate, but special effects artists have come a long way in disguising an actor's youthful glow. Unfortunately, this is a lot easier to pull off for pictures since adding movement to these layers of makeup can be a dead giveaway that something isn't quite right. This is the dilemma of filmmakers everywhere and a factor that can make or break the immersion of a movie.

The nature of films like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button makes prosthetic makeup a necessity and manages to pull it off with mesmerizing effect. It's especially striking for actors like Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, who are not only recognizable but known for their youthful attractiveness. Still, the movie managed to show their ages change (though in reverse order from one another) in a way that didn't break the illusion in an unsettling way. Unfortunately, other movies over the years have been far less successful.

Little Big Man (1970) saw 121-year-old Jack Crabb tell his life story of growing up in the old west and surviving the Battle of the Little Bighorn. During the 'present-day' scenes, actor Dustin Hoffman sat beneath layers of makeup and discussed his past with a historian (William Hickey). Hoffman is no stranger to acting from behind a costume, and he managed to pull off the voice and demeanor of a cranky old man with a story to tell—but his appearance was a little too much. The makeup team was sure to cover him in as many wrinkles as possible, but the fact that they didn't move a bit gave away that they were made of silicone, not skin.

The talent leading in The Hours (2002) was enough to draw audiences to the theaters. Overall, the plot that saw three women (played by Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, and Julianne Moore) play out their stories at different times before finally coming together didn't disappoint. However, this meant a time jump for Moore's character, Laura Brown, so the actress underwent a makeup transformation. On its own, Moore's age-up wasn't as disturbing as those with layers and layers of prosthetics. However, the issue was that the character was supposed to be in her 80s—something that a few wrinkles and grayed hair didn't communicate.

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While most cases of aging up in movies are because of a character's flashbacks or flash-forwards, this wasn't the case for the Alien franchise prequel Prometheus (2012). Ridley Scott's choice in casting Guy Pearce as 104-year-old billionaire entrepreneur Peter Weyland was a surprise since the plot didn't make the prosthetic makeup necessary. Weyland was never shown as a young man during the Prometheus' official cut—so an elderly actor could have been cast from the very beginning. Unfortunately, the result of casting Pearce was a yellow and crusty character who looked more alarming than any of the aliens.

Leonardo DiCaprio's portrayal of John Edgar Hoover in J. Edgar (2011) is another example of unnecessary prosthetics in film. DiCaprio had layers of makeup applied to his face to age him up and make him look more like the real-life character he was meant to portray. This meant a permanently furrowed brow, heavy cheeks, and a couple of extra chins, all of which were nearly impossible to take seriously. DiCaprio's stellar acting was a saving grace. Still, the weight of his makeup was apparent in looking at him, and depending on the lighting and angle, it was easy to see where the silicone prosthetics had been blended into the skin.

Mr. Nobody (2009) follows yet another heavily aged character as they recount the details of their life. The science fiction drama was thought-provoking and emotional, and Jared Leto's performance as the younger version of Nemo was satisfactory. However, the aged character fell prey to the heavy layers of makeup that often strike audiences as unsettling. As an image or a wax figure, Nemo's wrinkled face would have been a masterpiece. Unfortunately, in motion, it was only disturbing. Ultimately, it added nothing to have Leto play both versions of the character. Films like Titanic have done well in casting two separate actors—Mr. Nobody should have done the same.

Overall, Edward Scissorhands (1990) is acclaimed for its practical effects, and its campy nature makes the strange makeup choices for Johnny Depp's character an extension of the film's themes. Even the makeup for the older version of Winona Ryder's Kim wasn't as heavy and caked on as some other films. The problem came from the fact that Ryder was only 19 years old when she played the character, which made the portrayal entirely unconvincing. The actress proved her chops otherwise, but during these scenes, it was clear she struggled to act through the layers of wrinkles.

The Back to the Future movies were more about fun than believability, but it was still hard to take the older Marty McFly very seriously. In Back to the Future Part II, Michael J. Fox entertained audiences by playing three separate characters within the same couple of scenes, and the ludicrousness of this was all part of the comedy. However, the makeup artists did Fox dirty regarding his older counterpart. To make matters worse, the Back to the Future movies had been aging up characters with grey hair and a couple of wrinkles since Part 1—so there was no need to layer Fox up to the point of looking like wax.

As seen in other examples of unsuccessful aging up in movies, the Golden trio in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (2011) could have gone way worse. Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson were lucky enough to avoid layers of facial prosthetics, but that doesn't mean their makeup did them any justice. The Harry Potter film's epilogue was supposed to be set only 19 years after the trio was meant to be high school-aged, which means they would have been around 36 years old. Unfortunately, the actors were made to look not only older than this but terribly ill with jaundiced skin and darkly rimmed eyes—a terrible way to leave off their characters.