American Horror Story characters who look completely different in real life

One of the reasons so many cast members have been able to keep returning to American Horror Story is because they're unrecognizable from season-to-season. While the actors have to morph into each bizarre persona, the show's award-winning makeup and costume designers certainly play an important part in these amazing transformations.

Kathy Bates as Ethel Darling

Kathy Bates has had many memorable roles on American Horror Story over the years, but her character from AHS: Freak Show is perhaps her most iconic. She plays a world-weary bearded lady, and she does it with and no-nonsense attitude that almost makes you forget the beard is even there.

Lance Reddick as Papa Legba

When you're gatekeeper to the spirit world, you'd better look the part. In AHS: Coven, Lance Reddick does just that. He's entirely convincing as Papa Legba thanks in part to his otherwordly, voodoo-inspired appearance.

Lily Rabe as Aileen Wuornos

Lily Rabe had big shoes to fill when it came to playing real-life serial killer Aileen Wuornos. After all, Charlize Theron won an Oscar for her portrayal in 2003's Monster. Rabe offered a sauntering performance for AHS: Hotel, but her methodical mannerisms are just a part of the creepiness. Makeup artists turned her into a shiver-inducing dead ringer of the notorious murderer.

Naomi Grossman as Pepper

AHS: Freak Show spawned a catalog of unique individuals, but none stood out more than the diminutive Pepper. A lot of makeup went into overhauling Naomi Grossman's appearance for the role: It took two people nearly three hours to apply the prosthetic details, fake teeth, contact lens, and makeup each day. Grossman even shaved most of her head for the role.

Denis O'Hare as Liz Taylor

Denis O'Hare's transformation into a transgender woman is thorough–and not just on the outside. Aside from the makeup and outfits, O'Hare gave a nuanced performance that showed the emotional impact transitioning can have. Liz Taylor is the heart and soul of the Hotel Cortez, and she is simply fabulous.

Grace Gummer as Penny

If you didn't already know Grace Gummer is Meryl Streep's daughter, you would have had a tough time seeing the resemblance in AHS: Freak Show. To achieve her look as "Lizard Girl," she endured daily application of an elaborate puzzle of prosthetic tattoos that covered her entire head and neck. Although her forked tongue was added in post-production, she did sometimes have to wear a silicon applique.

Ben Woolf as Infantata

Frankenstein has nothing on Infantata. The late Ben Woolf played the miniature monstrosity in season 1, and the character is the reanimated remnants of the murdered Montgomery child–but he's also ravenous for blood. To capture the unsettling look, Woolf had to submit to one heckuva makeup routine.

John Carroll Lynch as Twisty the Clown

It took a hefty amount of special effects talent to bring Twisty the Clown to life for AHS: Freak Show. If you've managed to erase the image from your nightmares, Twisty shot off his jaw with a shotgun, leaving him horribly disfigured beneath his mask. But no amount of makeup could make that happen, so crew members would paint his face green and cover it with motion capture sensors for the CGI effects.

Evan Peters as Tate Langdom

Evan Peters' character in the first season didn't look all that different from Evan Peters in real life. But when Tate applies skull makeup before a horrific killing spree, it's thoroughly terrifying.

Sarah Paulson as Hypodermic Sally

Sarah Paulson was certainly no newcomer to the AHS franchise when she suited up as a drug-addled ghost in AHS: Hotel. Although she also played conjoined twins in AHS: Freak Show, she's almost more unrecognizable as Hypodermic Sally with her frazzled hair and ghoulish makeup.

Frances Conroy as Myrtle Snow

An obvious homage to fashionista Grace Coddington, Frances Conroy's character in AHS: Coven is a brutally stoic (but honest) witch who didn't even flinch when burned at the stake. Perhaps best known as Ruth Fisher on Six Feet Under, Conroy is almost unrecognizable beneath all the hair and flair.

Wes Bentley as Edward Mordrake

Weird facial hair is nothing new for Wes Bentley: he'd already done it in 2012's The Hunger Games. But his character in AHS: Freak Show takes hair to another level. Playing a fictional version of Edward Mordake–an 1800s British man who had an extra face on the back of his head–he conceals a chilling secret beneath his hat.

Lady Gaga as Scáthach

Lady Gaga, a.k.a. Stefani Germanotta, took home a Golden Globe (and a lot of respect) for her work as the Countess in AHS: Hotel. But her visual aesthetic in that season wasn't too drastic a departure from the many zany-slash-fabulous getups she's sported onstage. Her appearance in subsequent season Roanoke, however, was alarmingly different than what Little Monsters are used to.

Appearing as Scáthach, the original supreme witch with an undeniable power over men, she had matted hair, an old crone exterior, and a desperate need for a trip to the dentist. Despite the grimy getup, she still had to be alluring in the role, which was both weird and surprising. It might not have been her most acclaimed performance, but it certainly showcased her chameleonic capacity.

Chloë Sevigny as Shelley

Making her AHS debut in Asylum, Chloe Sevigny starred as Shelley, a nymphomaniacal patient who draws the ire of Dr. Arden for belittling his undersized member during his attempted assault. After that, Arden makes it his personal mission to punish her—first by surgically amputating her legs, then by mutilating her face.

Her appearance becomes so unsightly that, even when she has the chance to escape, others who come across her perceive her as a monster and return her to her tormentor's den. For the role, Sevigny had to wear prosthetics and get wheeled around on set after submitting to four hours of makeup before each day of shooting. The money shot showcasing the full extent of her ruin came when she frightened a whole schoolyard of kids by just being there.

Denis O'Hare as Larry Harvey

Denis O'Hare's AHS portfolio is filled with visually dynamic roles, but one that left the most lingering mental image was that of Larry Harvey in Murder House. The character's face was severely burned on one side in an attack that followed his wife's suicide by fire. Although Harvey was a murderous cretin whose sole motivation was his mistress, his circumstances still weren't enviable, and neither were O'Hare's on the set.

As he told The Morton Report, "The makeup is so good, and it looks so real that people assumed I wasn't an actor, they assumed that is was, 'Oh, look at that poor guy.' So people would sort of avert their eyes, or they would nod politely, and it's a great exercise in exploring what the character's daily reality must be like. I found myself, and I find myself, not wanting to be in public." Perhaps even accidental Method acting can be effective, because O'Hare nailed the ambivalence and secrecy of his character, just as the makeup crew managed to turn him into a very literally two-faced person.

Angela Bassett as Ramona Royale

Although Angela Bassett's had a fair amount of experience dealing with vampires onscreen, her process of becoming one in AHS: Hotel was pretty exceptional, even compared to her other compelling roles throughout the anthology—and her appearance was suitably slick and sassy.

Perhaps the best part about it, though, was how uniquely incisive it was for her audience, both on the show itself and for viewers at home. Ramona might not have required Bassett to wear a third boob prosthesis like she did with Desiree in Freak Show. But she dug deep to deliver a ferociously fun package in this season, inside and out.

Adina Porter as Lee Harris

The character list got a little complicated in Roanoke, which navigated a show-within-a-show concept by dramatizing the events of a haunted country manor before bringing the actors together with their real-life counterparts for its sequel. Adina Porter portrayed Lee Harris, a true survivor of Roanoke who also suffered from some very menacing issues when the cameras weren't rolling.

While she was at times seen as a calm, very put-together woman, in others, she was barely clinging onto sanity, wearing the stresses and guilt of her life on her sleeves. Even splitting the image of her at her most desperate hour with another of the same season would be jarring. Compared to what Porter looks like outside of AHS, she became nearly unrecognizable.

Michael Chiklis as Dell Toledo

Considering most fans are probably used to seeing Michael Chiklis wearing a police uniform from shows like The Shield, it might've been hard to even recognize him beneath his cheetah skinsuit and imperial mustache in AHS: Freak Show. During this season, Chiklis starred as the vaudeville strongman who paraded his "monster baby" around the carnival crowd for cash.

For Chiklis, it wasn't just the physical aspects of the character that felt unique. "I've played some dark and troubled characters in my career," he told Nola.com, "but this is the most deeply emotionally damaged person that I've ever played."

Susan Berger as the Real Butcher

Although the image of Kathy Bates portraying the Butcher in the sub-show version of Roanoke's events was the one that got the most screen time, Susan Berger's stint as the Butcher was similarly shocking. Because not only did she boast the same bedraggled appearance and wield her eponymous death weapon just as wickedly, but she also did it all while wearing hooves for hands.

Berger later credited her makeup artist with creating such an eerie appearance for the actress, but she—and the props/prosthetics team—certainly did their fair share of heavy lifting as well.

Sarah Paulson as Bette and Dot

No discussion of AHS transformations would be complete without Sarah Paulson's turn as conjoined twins Bette and Dot in Freak Show. She's been known to pull double duty on other seasons, but never quite like this. The sisters were connected in nearly every way except for the way they thought, which meant Paulson had to be able to hop between sisterly personalities on a dime—which was not always easy, even for a decorated actress like her.

She later said of the challenge, "It's one thing to play a twin where you tape yourself to another actor, and you're playing one-half of the twin, or if you're playing both twins but you don't have to be attached to each other … here we did things with the camera, but with my body playing two people at the same time. I just thought they were going to come to realize this was not a feasible, realizable idea." Not only did the idea come to fruition successfully, but Paulson earned one of her several Emmy nominations for her work on the season.