When the trailer for The Batman first dropped late last month, the most pressing matter was to get a look at Robert Pattinson’s portrayal of the iconic Caped Crusader. Though the trailer teased what looks like a very new and exciting take on the franchise, what left the most impact, at least for me, was a brief image of Colin Farrell in his role as the Penguin.

I wasn’t the only one. Fans across the internet were blown away by Farrell’s complete transformation. Can you blame them? This is what he normally looks like:

And this is what he looks like in The Batman:

Farrell initially seemed like an odd choice to play the Penguin since he doesn’t quite match the appearance of the comic book character, but he is virtually unrecognizable in this trailer. It’s hard to discern exactly what the transformation process was for Farrell, with such limited screen time, but we can look to films in the past to get an idea of what goes into this sort of change.

Seeing Farrell’s metamorphosis calls to mind other actors who have similarly transformed for iconic roles. While some actors choose to take on major dietary changes and extreme workout regimens, other transformations can be largely attributed to make up and prosthetics. Here are five times actors have undergone major transformations for a role that have stuck with me.

1. Emma Stone and Steve Carell in ‘Battle of the Sexes’

Battle of the Sexes is based on real events, dramatizing a famous tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs in the early 1970s that was billed as “The Battle of the Sexes.” Riggs, an aging professional tennis player, made the claim that even though he was past his prime, he could still win against any of the professional women’s tennis players currently competing and challenged some notable players to a match.

King agreed to the match in an effort to bring attention to the movement that sought to give female tennis players equal compensation to their male counterparts, while Riggs pursued the match largely as an opportunity to indulge in his gambling addiction.

As the two lead characters are both based on real-life people, Emma Stone and Steve Carell both had a template to work with, but a tough one to fit.

The changes feel subtle. There’s no major prosthetic or CGI enhancement in this, but dramatic wigs in tandem with Stone’s upgraded workout regimen to help her gain muscle, the results are pretty dramatic. (Stone’s trainer for the movie, Jason Walsh, said Stone worked out five times a week in order to gain 15 lbs of muscle.) Both actors look quite different and do a good job of replicating the looks of the real-world people they’re portraying. They’re still identifiable as themselves, but it’s impressive how much of a difference the changes make.

2. Tilda Swinton in ‘Okja’

One of the first transformations that came immediately to mind was Tilda Swinton in Okja, where she plays a pair of twins, Lucy and Nancy Mirando, who control a company growing genetically modified super pigs. The film’s story focuses on Mija, a young girl who hopes to protect Okja, the super pig she raised, from Mirando Corporation and the machinations of the Mirando twins.

Swinton’s roles in Okja are especially impressive because it appears that the bulk of her aesthetic transformation is the result of hair and styling and doesn’t appear to involve major prosthetic additions or complicated makeup. Despite this, she still seems completely distinct from her actor self. Not to mention, she plays two characters in Okja – double the transformation.

Okja isn’t the only example of characters that have required a full transformation from Swinton; she’s had nearly as many distinct looks as she has had roles. Her turn as Minister Mason in Snowpiercer, another of Bong Joon Ho’s films, is similarly impressive.

3. Jemaine Clement in ‘Men In Black 3’

In the third installment of the Men In Black franchise, audiences saw Will Smith resume his iconic role of Agent J, a member of a secret government agency that defends the planet from aliens. Boris the Animal, an extra-terrestrial fugitive played by Jemaine Clement travels, back in time to prevent the events that lead to his initial capture, and J must follow him to the past to prevent him from changing the timeline.

As a huge Flight of the Conchords fan, and just a fan of Jemaine Clement in general, his role in the third Men In Black movie was the primary reason I went to see it. I spent most of my time in the theater trying to get a glimpse of Jemaine hidden under his Boris the Animal costume but struggled to see any resemblance at all.

In an interview with Fandom regarding the process of applying the makeup and prosthetics, Clement mentioned that “the first time they put the makeup on it took eight hours” adding that they “gradually got it down to four hours” as filming went on. His look can be attributed to a combination of makeup, prosthetics, and a bit of CGI. In the end, the eight-hour days look like they paid off after seeing how he was transformed.

4. Zoe Saldana in ‘Avatar’

Zoe Saldana has played two notable extra-terrestrial characters in her career as Gamora in Guardians of the Galaxy and Neytiri in Avatar. Both required dramatic transformations to give her an otherworldly aesthetic, but it’s her transformation for Avatar that blurs the line of whether or not it’s even still her.

Avatar follows a group of human space explorers in their quest to colonize a foreign planet they’ve named Pandora and to harvest a rare mineral called unobtainium which is characteristically, difficult to obtain. In an effort to interact with and learn from the natives of the planet, the Na’vi, they build genetically engineered bodies that resemble those of the Na’vi. Saldana plays Neytiri, the daughter of two Na’vi leaders.

Her role in Avatar may feel like a cheat, as her character is done entirely with the use of motion capture and CGI. It could certainly be argued that Saldana is playing an animated character and that she isn’t really physically in the movie. But the extensive use of motion capture, which utilizes her motions, her facial expressions, and her acting performance to create the final image, helps make a case that this counts as an aesthetic transformation and thus justifies a spot on the list.

5. Christian Bale in ‘Vice’

As impressive as all the superhero and alien cosmetics are, for me, no transformation is more impressive than when an actor can completely shapeshift into another human character. It’s even more impressive for me when the character being emulated is a real person.

Christian Bale is no stranger to transforming to fit a role. We’ve seen the actor take on extreme weight loss for his role in The Machinist and we’ve seen him gain weight before for films like American Hustle or pack on pure, massive muscle for roles like Batman. But his greatest transformation has to be in 2018’s Vice.

Bale portrays former Vice President Dick Cheney both in his younger years and during the Bush administration. When I think Dick Cheney look-a-likes, Christian Bale doesn’t even grace the Top 5 for me. But after all the movie magic, Bale really does bear a striking resemblance to the former VP.

This transformation is extremely similar to Farrell’s for The Batman. Farrell’s Penguin is a supervillain, but, much like Bale with Vice, Farrell’s transformation isn’t one that’s otherworldly or supernatural but into a completely different human being.

Though we’ll only know the full extent of Farrell’s transformation once more of the film is revealed, considering all the impressive things Hollywood is doing with makeup and CGI, it’s exciting to wonder how The Batman will use these tools.

The Batman is in theaters on October 1, 2021.

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  • Editorial