Since the dawn of sci-fi movies, Hollywood has transformed actors into fantastic and terrifying aliens. In the early days, artists created costumes; now, we have CGI. Both are so effective that most people don’t know what the real actor looks like.
These actors deserve praise as well, and many of them are fascinating even out of costume. Meet two iconic “aliens” who stand over seven feet tall, and the actor who looked so different onset that even his agent didn’t recognize him.
His Blood Doesn’t Look Acidic
In 1979, Bolaji Badejo was scouted for his first and only role: the extraterrestrial from Alien. According to Vanity Fair, producers found the Nigerian actor in a London pub. He stands at 6’10”, and had the “thin, insect-like profile” that Ridley Scott wanted for the alien. In the suit, he stood at seven feet tall.
Badejo likened the headpiece to being struck with a giant banana. He had to wear the suit in 15-minute increments to avoid overheating. On top of that, his suit was covered in cellulose slime that zapped his body heat.
The Woman With Many Alien Faces
Zoe Saldana has become a staple of sci-fi, even though many people have never seen her face. She acted as Neytiri in Avatar and Gamora in Guardians of the Galaxy and Avengers. After Avatar, Saldana told STV that she appreciated how Neytiri looked “lean with a really cute bod.”
By the time she played Gamora, Saldana had to clarify that she’s not eye-candy. Playing CGI characters empowers her, according to an interview in The Daily Telegraph’s Stellar Magazine. “I think science fiction has given me the ability as an artist to be colorblind and gender-blind,” she said.
Turning A Woman Into A Bug
Pom Klementieff joined Guardians of the Galaxy in the sequel as Mantis, the insect-humanoid alien. The actress told Metro that she wore prosthetics at the beginning of her forehead, but the rest was all CGI. Hence, she didn’t spend as much time in the makeup chair as other actresses.
According to Klementieff, the makeup artists tested several different looks for Mantis’s design. “We tried different wigs; at some point, the makeup artists drew veins on my face…I looked really crazy. And then we decided to go for something a little more human.”
The Man Behind The Epic Snap
When Josh Brolin was offered the role of Thanos in the Avengers series, he hesitated at first. He told Entertainment Weekly Radio that he didn’t want to do “practically nothing” in front of a green screen. But after he saw Benedict Cumberbatch’s acting in motion capture during The Hobbit, he realized that CGI characters were no joke.
Unlike other alien characters, Brolin’s role was 100% CGI. Nonetheless, he felt nervous in front of 32 cameras with his face covered in iridescent paint. “It was very, very different,” he later said. “But I like it. It’s fun.”
Working As A Deputy And A Wookie
The beloved Wookie in Star Wars is all thanks to Peter Mayhew, an actor who towered at 7’4″. His suit was layered with a combination of real yak and rabbit, and it included a water-cooling system so Mayhew wouldn’t overheat. Amazingly, Mayhew kept his day job as a deputy head porter while filming the movies.
According to makeup supervisor Stuart Freeborn, the biggest problem with Mayhew’s suit was the eyes. His eyes would frequently detach from the suit, which made them look separate and hollow. He passed away in 2019 at 74 years old.
The Gentle Giant Who Became Predator
While casting for the 1987 movie Predator, the staff initially chose Jean-Claude Van Damme. After he dropped out, they switched to a 7’4″ musical actor named Kevin Peter Hall. The producers wanted someone who could overshadow Arnold Schwarzenegger, and only a Hall could pull that off.
Hall referred to his alien acting as “grunt roles,” since he never spoke beyond growling or yelling. Although the suit was hard to navigate, Hall enjoyed playing the Predator. “I’m bigger than life and so, in a way, I’m part of the fantasy/science fiction/horror genre,” he said.
From The Oscars To A Space Bar
Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o turned orange for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. She played Maz Kanata, a tiny pirate alien. “I didn’t really know what I was auditioning for,” Nyong’o admitted on The Ellen DeGeneres Show.
To play the CGI character, Nyong’o had to wear motion-capture dots and Maz’s goggles. Nyong’o told Insider that the script was kept a secret. An assistant would fly the script to her in Morocco, give her a couple of hours to read it, and then take it again. She couldn’t even tell her mother.
Even His Agent Didn’t Recognize Him
Australian actor Eric Bana switched up his career by playing Nero in the 2009 movie Star Trek. Bana had to sit in a makeup chair for three hours. On his first day, he didn’t remember anything before lunch because of all the chemicals. When his agent arrived, he didn’t even recognize Bana.
Despite the challenges, Bana loved playing an unrecognizable character. “Those opportunities in Hollywood are so rare,” Bana told The Sydney Morning Herald. After the makeup, Bana couldn’t recognize his own facial expressions. He had to re-calibrate his acting to fit Nero’s costume.
Korg, The Director
Director Taika Waititi not only guided Thor: Ragnarok, but also lent his voice to the fan-favorite alien, Korg. In an interview with The Last Leg, Waititi said that Korg’s voice reflected delicate, lovely Polynesian bouncers he met in New Zealand.
The director went on camera and improvised many of Korg’s lines in the movie, and the special effects team transformed him into a seven-foot-six rock man. On the Jimmy Kimmel show, Waititi revealed that Korg will come back in the fourth movie, Thor: Love and Thunder. He seemed surprised at the ripple of cheers from the audience.
The King Of CGI
Andy Serkis has dominated the realm of CGI characters for years, from Gollum in The Lord of the Rings to Caesar in Planet of the Apes to Supreme Leader Snoke in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Serkis is no stranger to what he calls “visual makeup.”
Serkis told The Independent that, because motion capture doesn’t involve hours of prosthetic makeup, actors can play their character more truthfully. “There is no difference between performance-capture technology and conventional acting,” he clarified. For Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Serkis studied gorillas to recreate their movements for the role.
Was The Heat Worth The Alien Suit?
Simon Pegg has always been a die-hard Star Wars fan, so he jumped at the opportunity to play Unkar Plutt in The Force Awakens. Most fans wouldn’t recognize him thanks to a combination of a suit, makeup, prosthetics, and CGI.
Although effective, Pegg admitted that the suit was a disaster. On The Graham Norton Show, Pegg said that the suit was 50°C inside (122°F). “I had these big, rubber, silicon gauntlets…and when I took them off, I could pour the sweat out.” Yikes.
From Redhead To Blue Alien
Red-haired actress Karen Gillan transformed into a blue robotic alien for Guardians of the Galaxy. Her minor role was so popular that she appeared beside Iron Man in Avengers: Endgame. Nebula’s design wasn’t painted on Gillan; it was a claustrophobic costume.
Gillan told Variety that the suit was glued to her, which made it difficult to move her face. “I think it’s stopping me from overacting,” she added. After filming, Gillan said that she would watch behind-the-scenes footage of Zoe Saldana’s making getting done so she felt like hers “wasn’t so bad.”
Acting While On Stilts
Although John Carter tanked in the box office, we can’t forget that Willem Dafoe played the green-skinned chieftain Tars Tarkas. To play a nine-foot-tall alien, Dafoe had to wear motion capture and act on stilts. On top of that, Dafoe had to navigate a rough, uneven Southwest terrain.
Rather than feeling intimidated, Dafoe excitedly accepted the challenge. “Always as an actor you’re looking for things to jump off from, to find new ways of thinking, new ways of looking,” Dafoe told Coming Soon. “The stilts were part of that.”
How A Comedian Became Terrifying
The comedic actor from The Flight of the Conchords took a different route in Men in Black III. Jemaine Clement became the bike-riding, time-traveling alien Boris through hours of makeup. “I think the first day we put the makeup on, it took eight hours,” Clement recalled. On a normal day, the makeup would take four hours.
Clement said that he didn’t mind the four hours because it gave him a chance to talk to the legendary makeup artist, Rick Baker. His appearance was so effective that when Clement joined the staff for lunch, no one would know who he was.
One Actor Played All The Aliens In District 9
In an interview with Gizmodo, director Neill Blomkamp revealed that one actor played all the aliens in District 9. Jason Cope hopped from set to set in motion capture sensors to play multiple roles. During the eviction scene, Cope and fellow actor Sharlto Copely improvised all dialogue.
During an interview with Love-It-Loud, Cope said that he and Sharlto filled in wherever they had to–helping the wardrobe, acting as soldiers, and directing the art department. When asked how many characters he ended up playing, Cope said, “I have no idea. It must be close to fifty, perhaps more.”
Oscar-Nominated Makeup Will Transform A Person
When French-Algerian dancer Sofia Boutella played Jaylah in Star Trek Beyond, her fans didn’t recognize her. She spent four hours every day in a makeup chair with an Oscar-nominated team. Joel Harlow, the Academy Award-winning makeup artist, said that only Boutella’s nose, mouth, and chin were hers. The rest were prosthetics.
Despite the hours of painstaking application, Boutella loved the costume. She said that it allowed a meditation process to get her into character. “I like that second skin,” she told an interviewer with FilmIsNow. “It’s like, as soon as I had it on, you feel in character.”
Drax’s Entire Body Was All Makeup
When Dave Bautista began his wrestling career in 1999, he probably didn’t expect to sit in a makeup chair for five hours every day to apply 18 prosthetic pieces. That was his daily life while playing Drax the Destroyer in Guardians of the Galaxy. Before the makeup, Bautista applied a medical adhesive across his entire body.
The makeup was sealed so that it would stay on for the entire day. As a result, it was very difficult to take off. “I had to sit in a sauna for 45 minutes to an hour,” Bautista said. After it melted off, producers would remove it with more chemicals.
Paul The Alien Wasn’t Even On Set
While most alien movies are serious, Paul takes a hilarious turn–especially with Seth Rogen as the alien. Throughout his role, Rogen was also under contract for The Green Hornet, so he had to play Paul while not being on set.
A co-star, Joe Lo Truglio, acted in Rogen’s place during the shooting. Afterward, Rogen created some of Truglio’s lines and improv. He performed all the motion capture and voice acting post-production. In an interview with Collider, co-star Nick Frost admitted that he kept forgetting that Rogen was playing Paul.
Wake Up At Four, Film Until Nine
In 2016, actor and musician Idris Elba spent several hours transforming into Krall for Star Trek Beyond. “Typically, my day would start at 4:15 in the morning. I’d be in the chair until around 7:30, shoot about 8:30,” he told Entertainment Weekly. Shooting would go until 9:00 p.m., and then he’d do the entire thing over again.
Elba also said that he’s claustrophobic and didn’t enjoy all the prosthetics on his face. Head makeup artist Joel Harlow said that the aliens in Star Trek Beyond followed aquatic and lizard-like designs that required hours of prosthetic application.
Her Role Resulted In Exactly What She Feared
Initially, French actress Maïwenn Le Besco didn’t want to play the blue-skinned alien in The Fifth Element. Her husband at the time, Luc Besson, was the movie’s director. When Luc approached her for the role, Maïwenn didn’t want to muddy their relationship by working with him.
However, the alien’s original actress disappeared, and Maïwenn stepped up to the role. After the movie, Maïwenn’s fears became true. Her husband left her for the leading actress, Milla Jovovich. Maïwenn moved back to France to become a stand-up comedian, and she later became a director and screenwriter.
Cate Blanchett In Thor: Ragnarok
The marvelous Cate Blanchett played the character of Hela in Thor: Ragnarok, otherwise known as the Goddess of Death. She was certainly terrifying with her massive antlers, known for destroying anyone in her path. Blanchett nailed the character even though it was something that she might usually not play.
However, according to Blanchett, “I just try to look the best I can at whatever age I am […] I always find people attractive when they are comfortable with their own skin and not trying to be someone else, but their best selves.
Lee Pace In Guardians of the Galaxy
Most audiences, even if they are fans of Pace wouldn’t recognize him as Ronan the Accuser in Guardians of the Galaxy. Not only was his face painted black and blue, but he also sported heavy cosmetics that concealed most of his noticeable features.
On top of that, he was also fitted a hood that covered the majority of his face. However, this wasn’t his first time being unrecognizable. He dressed up in women’s clothes for the 2003 film Soldier’s Girl.
Mads Mikkelsen In Doctor Strange
Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen is known for his ability to play just about any role ranging from Hannibal Lecter to a Bond villain. However, in order to become Kaecilius in Doctor Strange, some altercations had to be made.
He had to receive makeup around his eyes that made him look like a colorful raccoon, as well as dye his hair. In addition, his already prominent bone structure helped to really sell the part. Another villainous part, check.
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje In Thor: Dark World
Many fans will will know Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje from the show Lost, who was eventually taken out from the smoke monster. However, he played quite a different character of Algrim in Thor: Dark World who eventually turns into the monster Kurse.
Underneath all of his horns and bones as the character of Kurse, few people would have been able to know who he was if he hadn’t already appeared as Algrim, with his bleach wig and bright blue contact lenses.
Vincent D’Onofrio Was Freaky In Men In Black
Vincent D’Onofrio is an American actor, singer, producer, and director. He is best known for his supporting roles both in film and television, getting his start in the film Full Metal Jacket. One of his most notable roles includes Edgar the Bug in the film Men in Black.
He begins as a farmer named Edgar who is then possessed by the Bug, becoming one of the greatest antagonists of the film. For his performance, he won a Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actor.
Terrance Stamp In Alien Nation
An English actor, Terrance Stamp began acting professionally after studying at the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art in London. Over the course of his career, he appeared in over 60 films and won countless accolades for his performances.
In the 1988 film Alien Nation, he plays the role of William Harcourt, the main antagonist of the film. Harcourt is a member of the alien species known as the Tenctonese whose ship crash lands on Earth.
David Bowie In Labyrinth
Most well-known for his incredible accomplishments as a musician, David Bowie also took up some acting during his life. In the film, Bowie plays the character of Jareth the Goblin King, the main antagonist of the 1986 film.
After taking the protagonist, Sarah’s little brother, Jareth gives her 13 hours to retrieve the baby at the center of an enormous labyrinth, which he has rigged with numerous trials and tests to stop her. Bowie was hailed for his performance.
Natasha Henstridge In Species
A Canadian actress and model, in 1995, Natasha Henstridge came into popularity after her debut role in the science-fiction film Thriller. The film was then followed by Species II and Species III.
In Species, Henstridge plays the character of Sil, a genetically engineered alien/human hybrid, who breaks free from the laboratory that she was contained in. Hunted by a group of experts, Sil goes on a rampage in search of finding a mate. The film was a success, making $133 million at the box office.
Zachary Quinto In Star Trek
Although known for a variety of different roles, one of the biggest projects that Quinto has worked on as of late is the Star Trek series in which he plays the character of Spock. He played the role in the films Star Trek, Star Trek Into Darkness, and Star Trek Beyond.
Spock is serves in the starship Enterprise as the science officer, first officer, and later commanding officer. He is one of the central figures in the Stark Trek franchise.
Gemma Chan In Captain Marvel
Gemma Chan is an English actress that is best known for her work on the film Crazy Rich Asians and later in the television series Humans. However, she appeared in the 2019 Marvel Cinematic Universe film Captain Marvel as Minn-Erva.
In the film, Minn-Erva is a Kree sniper and a member of the Starforce unit. According to Chan, inn-Erva was “the star of Starforce” before Danvers joined the team and is “slightly threatened by someone else who has come in and is also very talented.”
Emilia Clarke As Daenerys
Although she’s a favorite on the television show, you very well might pass by Emilia Clarke on the street unknowingly without her staple silver Targaryen hair or dragon companions. Emilia Clarke certainly undergoes many transformations on-set according to what her character Daenerys is undergoing at the time. She goes from clean to dirty back to clean so many times it makes your head spin.
Clarke also goes through numerous costume changes as Daenerys slowly rises to power throughout the series. Even though she rides a mechanical bull-like mechanism in front of a green screen during her dragon riding scenes, it feels as though she really has a special connection with them.
Conleth Hill As Lord Varys
Who would have ever thought we would see the day when the Master of Whisperers and eunuch Lord Vanys has hair! Conleth Hill is another Game of Thrones actor that you might not recognize while out in public. We’ve never seen Lord Varys without a perfectly shaved head and face with his signature robes.
Now, that we think about it, have we even ever gotten a glimpse of his hands? Hill notes that he had never been bald in the 47 years he had been alive unless he is filming for the show, and now people get weirded out by his hair.
Vladimir Furdik As The Night King
Slovakian actor Vladimir Furdik plays the Night King, the leader of the White Walkers and controller of the Army of the Dead. Furdik is a stuntman who decided to try his hand at acting after he was approached by Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss.
He plays the ultimate threat in the Game of Thrones universe and does a great job at it. Surely, his character has given countless people nightmares even though the Night King doesn’t have one word of dialogue in the whole show!
Rory McCann As The Hound
From first glance, it’s obvious that the makeup team on Game of Thrones had to put in some serious work on Rory McCann’s face every day of shooting. They did a really good job of making him look as ugly as possible, and you’d never guess what he looks like in real life.
His half-burned prosthetic face takes two hours to put on and a half an hour to get off. McCann noted that the prosthetic would fill up with sweat and would leak every time that he smiled. He’s one of the main characters in the show that actually had to consistently wear such a detailed prosthetic since day one of shooting.
Lena Heady As Cersei Lannister
It is no secret that Lena Heady was riding the wave of a very successful acting career years before Game of Thrones even aired. Yet now, she plays one of the most resented people on television. For the character of Cersei, they didn’t need to do much to amplify Heady’s beauty except giver her exceptionally bright Lannister-colored hair.
However, that staple look of her character was eventually cut off after her walk of atonement in the show (and it was cut in real life, too). These days, she’s rocking the short-hair look like nobody’s business. Heady also has to be sure to cover up the various tattoos she has on her back.
Jacob Anderson As Grey Worm
Jacob Anderson plays Grey Worm, the elite fighter and leader of Daenerys’ Unsullied Army. In the novels as well as the show, Grey Worm was castrated when he was a slave during childhood, so in the show they make him appear to have very boyish features for his age.
They do this by keeping him totally clean-shaven except for his head during filming. He also had to keep his body in tip-top shape considering that he wears the most revealing armor in the entire show, with his arms exposed at all times.
Jason Momoa As Khal Drogo
Let’s be honest, Jason Momoa was a perfect fit to play the character of Khal Drogo. Even without the tribal tattoos, braided beard, and dark makeup he still has a king-of-the-wild-tribe vibe going on. Still, outside of the costume it’s obvious that Momoa can clean up well. No one expected the Khal to look so good in a pink velvet suit.
Thanks to his unique appearance, Momoa has been able to land a ton of similar roles. He portrayed the character of Conan the Barbarian and in 2014 took on the role of DC’s Aquaman.
Carice van Houten As Melisandre
The Red Woman looks a lot less terrifying out of costume. We’ve seen what the priestess is capable of doing (like convincing a man to burn his own daughter or bringing Jon Snow back to life) so we know just how dangerous that smirk can be. In real life though, Carice van Houten is as sweet and down to earth as it gets.
Van Houten notably refuses to live in Hollywood, saying that living in Europe is much more her lifestyle. Despite her sweet personality, she tends to take on darker characters.
Kristian Nairn As Hodor
I think we can all agree that no one expected Hodor to serve up punk rock hipster vibes in real life. That’s because in real life, he’s a DJ. While he’s gone on to act in other film and television shows, playing the friendly giant was Nairn first acting role ever.
After he takes off the multiple layer of fur coats, Nairn returns to DJ. He is the resident house DJ at a gay club in Belfast, Ireland and in 2014 went on a DJ tour called “Rave of Thrones.”
Hannah Murray As Gilly
In the television series, we see Gilly as a rather distressed new mother still recovering from her previous life north of the wall. She is usually dressed in her old and dirty brown robes that she’s probably worn for the majority of her life, with tangled hair and no makeup.
But have no fear, actress Hannah Murray looks far from the character that she portrays on the show. She clearly has not lived a life of abuse, doesn’t have the stresses of being a new mother, and has the time to keep up with her personal hygiene. It’s probably more time and work to make her look bad than good!