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Actors That Look Completely Unrecognizable Since Their First Movie Role

As unfortunate as it may be to verbalize, more often than not, acting is a looks-based profession. Square jaws, tight faces, plump lips and sizable forearms can be the crux of success in Hollywood. Sometimes, actors like Christian Bale, Gary Oldman or Tilda Swinton temporarily morph into the characters they play, wielding a chameleon-esque ability to transform their birth-given features beyond recognition. For other actors, real-life transformations can open them up to different roles, slowly and almost imperceptible to their fanbase. 

Oftentimes, such changes in appearance can be attributed to plastic surgery or performance-enhancing drugs; some end up proud of the results, while others feel the opposite. Other times, actors simply age, grow out of old styles, habits and hairlines. 

We're not here to judge, condemn or shame. With the ten actors below, however, seeing side-by-side comparisons of their earliest public appearances alongside how they look today, you could be forgiven for thinking they were two different people. Whether intentional or not, their appearances have changed their identities as performers, for better or worse.

John Travolta

Perhaps no one has navigated more ups and downs than John Travolta; initially gaining fame in the '70s with shows like "Welcome Back, Kotter" and films like "Saturday Night Fever" and "Grease," he sporting an iconic look: Flowing black hair, a charming baby face, and a lean, long body. Travolta maintained his leading man looks well into the '90s, as his career was revived by films like "Pulp Fiction" and "Michael," even if both seemed to play up a doughier-in-the-middle, Nicholson-esque physique that still nonetheless could cut a rug.  

The John Travolta of today, however, is a far cry from the leading man audiences fell in love with next to Olivia Newton-John. After years of battling a much-discussed hairline, Travolta took the stage at the 2022 Academy Awards with "Pulp Fiction" co-stars Samuel L. Jackson and Uma Thurman, sporting a decidedly different look: completely bald, with a light beard. His appearance today is more Heisenberg than Vincent Vega, though it may have a practical purpose for his acting endeavors. 

Although he isn't quite the A-lister he has been at other points in his career (recent efforts include multiple VOD films, as well as a stint playing Santa Claus) this change in appearance seems to have improved bis malleability in film and TV. Performances in films like "Gotti," "The Fanatic," and "The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story" had Travolta dispalying a Gary Oldman-like knack for transforming his appearance, even if it often did come with a Fletch-like low-rent aesthetic. Starting sometime around when he transformed himself into Edna Turnblad for "Hairspray," Travolta seems to have embraced a dispatching of vanity — now he just needs to find some better scripts with which to flaunt it.

Mickey Rourke

Mickey Rourke's career didn't begin as an actor. While a teenager, Rourke made his way up the ranks of amateur boxing. In his final year of high school he began acting, and he was eventually accepted into the Actors Studio. He'd soon land small roles in flicks like Steven Spielberg's "1941" and Michael Cimino's infamous "Heaven's Gate," but it was around the mid-'80s — with Barry Levinson's "Diner," Francis Ford Coppola's "Rumble Fish," and most significantly, Adrian Lyne's "9 1/2 Weeks" — that the Schenectady-born scoundrel with the mischievous grin would become a star.

By the '90s, however, Rourke's bad reputation and duds like "Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man" and "White Sands" had caught up with him; having difficulty landing good roles, the "Johnny Handsome" leading man stunned many by returning to boxing. He actually had a pretty decent record, going undefeated in eight fights, boxing against opponents in Japan and Germany. But being a boxer and making a living off your physical appearance are about as contradictory as one can get; unsurprisingly, Rourke suffered many injuries that would require him to undergo several reconstructive surgeries, seemingly removing him even further from any chance of being a lead actor again. In fact, his physical changes in appearance would become the subject of tabloids for much of the late '90s and 2000s

Rourke eventually returned to the silver screen, and his much-transformed-visage was ideal for roles like hard-living, sliced-up Marv in the "Sin City" films and his Oscar-nominated turn as battered, broken Randy "The Ram" Robinson in "The Wrestler." While that newly-minted Oscar cred led to high-profile work in films like "Iron Man 2" and "The Expendables," however, Rourke's career has since plummeted again into a sinkhole of little-seen films with titles like "WarHunt" and head-scratching sightings on "The Masked Singer." 

Say what you want about Mickey Rourke, but the man has always chosen his own unique career path. Where his talents (and appearance) will take him next is anyone's guess. 

Meg Ryan

Making her screen debut in the 1981 Jacqueline Bisset/Candice Bergen drama "Rich and Famous," Meg Ryan's movie career soon took off with minor mid-'80s roles in films like "Top Gun" and "Promised Land." Soon, she was landing starring roles in hits like Joe Dante's "Innerspace" and a "D.O.A." remake (opposite future husband Dennis Quaid). 1989's "When Harry Met Sally" minted her as the queen of rom-coms, just as rom-coms were beginning to hit it big at the box office. The genre would become her bread-and-butter throughout the '90s, especially when paired with Tom Hanks for films like "Sleepless in Seattle" and "You've Got Mail."

Diminishing box-office returns led to an attempt at reinvention with 2003's "In the Cut," but few turned out for an edgier Ryan. Her career slowed down considerably after that, with occasional work in underseen films punctuating her efforts to focus on family — she has two children, including "The Boys" star Jack Quaid with her former husband. With public appearances few and far between for much of the last 20 years, speculation ran rampant that Ryan had plastic surgery procedures on her face and lips

More recently, Ryan has moved behind the camera, making her feature directorial debut with "Ithaca," which she starred in alongside her son and Tom Hanks. Her next film, "What Happens Later," will find her again both in front of and behind the camera, returning to her rom-com roots with David Duchovny. 

Heather Locklear

This blonde bombshell's successful TV career began with guest-starring roles in shows like "CHiPs," before she landed a main role on the soap opera "Dynasty." Playing Sammy Jo Carrington, Locklear quickly became a sex symbol and star, then followed it up with a high-profile role in "T.J. Hooker" opposite William Shatner. Her success continued into the 2000s as she became in-demand for breathing new life into fledgling series, doing so for "Spin City," "Melrose Place" and "Boston Legal."

During much of this time, however, she also made headlines with a succession of rock star paramours, including Bret Michaels, Tommy Lee and Richie Sambora. By 2008, Locklear's rock 'n' roll proclivities seemed to be threatening her career, as she became the subject of headlines for public mental health breakdowns, including a DUI and drug overdose. After time spent in a mental health facility, Locklear took a break from the limelight, and in recent years has been working her way back via a recurring role in the Tyler Perry series "Too Close to Home," and the 2021 Lifetime movie "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff: The Kristine Carlson Story." 

After that lengthy time away, her appearance in "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff" in particular drew attention from fans who took notice of her much older, mature appearance. While initially expressing trepidation about returning to TV in such a big role, Locklear eventually gained the confidence she needed to tackle the role.

Courteney Cox

Courteney Cox's career in Hollywood began on TV with a guest spot on the soap opera "As The World Turns" in 1984, but more famously, she was so convincing as a fan pulled out of the audience to dance in Bruce Springsteen's "Dancing in the Dark" video that few realized she was an actress. Like much of the "Friends" cast, Cox bounced around among other short-lived TV series ("Misfits of Science") and secondary appearances ("Family Ties") and the ocassional film (1990's Jim Belushi starrer "Mr. Destiny") before hooking up with the gang at Central Perk. Of course, "Friends" would change her life forever, and she is still best known for her breakout role as Monica Geller, which she played for 10 years.

Cox also found time to star in "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective," and then kicked off the "Scream" series in 1996; she is currently in post production on a sixth "Scream" movie. 

Somewhere in the middle of it all, Cox had another hit in the 2009 – 2015 series "Cougar Town, but the show also got people talking about how drastically her appearance had changed, the results of extensive cosmetic surgery and Botox treatments. We know this because in 2022 the former "Friends" star candidly discussed getting the procedures done, saying such attempts to chase youthfulness ended up making her look "really strange." 

Recently, Cox got to relive her youth with a reunion special for "Friends" on HBO Max. Though she claims to not remember much about the show's events, it was a nice moment between the show's original cast to reminisce on their memories from filming and the bonds they created, as well as the iconic TV moments they created together. 

Zach Galifianakis

Long before his breakout role in 2009's "The Hangover," this funnyman was building his career via stand-up comedy, small roles on series like "Boston Common" (he played "Bobby" in five episodes) and a short-lived writing job at "Saturday Night Live." By the early 2000s, he began to gain traction on his career, launching his own offbeat VH1 program talk show entitled "Late World with Zach" and stealing scenes in the claustrophobic, paranoid David Twohy submarine thriller "Below." 

Fans may have a hard time spotting the North Carolina native in some of these early roles, as he hadn't quite established his signature beard yet. By the time his role in "The Hangover" hit, and he was gaining repeated viral fame via his Funny or Die webseries "Between Two Ferns," Zach's long hair, beard, and stocky body type were part of his signature look. In the years since, Galifianakis has rarely given fans a peek under the facial hair — with one notable exception being 2012's "The Campaign," where he went with a moustache.

Seth Rogen

Seth Rogen's first on-screen appearance was a career-making role in "Freaks and Geeks," the short-lived, much-beloved NBC sitcom from Paul Feig and Judd Apatow. Rogen would forge a career-long bond with Apatow, along with such co-stars James Franco, Jason Segel, Busy Philipps, and Martin Starr. When Rogen broke out in Apatow efforts like "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," Knocked Up" and "Superbad," he still looked familiar to audiences who'd grown up with "Geeks." He was a bit bigger and sometimes sported a clean-shaven face and/or slicked back hair, and became a leading man with films like "Zack and Miri Make a Porno" and "Observe and Report."

As Rogen's star power grew, new roles began to present themselves that required some degree of physical transformation. For Michel Gondry's "The Green Hornet," media coverage revolved about Rogen's weight loss as he bulked up play a quasi-superhero. Then there was 2019's "Long Shot," his first romantic role, which had Rogen needing to believably play someone who could land Charlize Theron (Rogen himself often joked about the possibility). But in other films like "This Is The End" and "The Interview," Rogen would return to his familiar glasses-beard-and-curly hair style; "An American Pickle" had him both growing out his beard (to play an Eastern European immigrant from the early 1900s) and going somewhat clean-shaven (to play the man's grandson).

Perhaps Rogen's biggest makeover came in the past year, when he cut his hair and beard short and declared: "New hair, same smoldering look." In 2022, Rogen doubled-down, dyeing his shaved hair blonde and sporting acrylic nails. 

Zac Efron

Becoming a household name via his role as Troy Bolton in Disney's "High School Musical" trilogy, Efron began making a transition to grown-up-targeting feature films while still relatively young, with "17 Again" and 2007's "Hairspray" (his first true feature film) both marking significant hits. Although he can is still a welcomed presence in youth-oriented fare (he voiced the kid in "The Lorax"), films like "Me and Orson Welles," "Charlie St. Cloud" and "The Paperboy" have belied an eagerness to take on heftier dramatic work. 

As Efron's star as risen, however, he has been plagued by a streak of bad luck when it comes to his health. In 2008, Efron was rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery to remove his appendix; in and around 2018, Efron tore his ACL, dislocated his shoulder, broke his wrist, and threw out his back — all in the span of about 18 months

Most significantly, perhaps, is that during this time he also fell at home (running through his house in socks) and broke his jaw on the granite corner of a fountain; looking back years later, he would say he "almost died."

Much surgery would follow to repair a chin bone that was reportedly hanging off his face; Efron even had it wired shut for a time. In April 2021, Efron's fans began noticing, as so-called "Jaw-gate" yielded a series of memes and speculation he had undergone significant plastic surgery; others attributed it to the "Baywatch" movie for which he had significantly bulked up. The actor cleared up such rumors in 2022, explaining the reasoning for his changes in appearance.

"That 'Baywatch' look, I don't know if that's really attainable. There's just too little water in the skin," he said, admitting that diuretics, overtraining, lack of sleep and repetitive eating made the shoot difficult. "Like, it's fake; it looks CGI'd. And that required Lasix, powerful diuretics, to achieve. So I don't need to do that. I much prefer to have an extra, you know, 2 to 3 percent body fat."

For the most part, changes in Efron's body and face don't seem to have negatively impacted his career. In 2022, he starred in "Gold," "Firestarter" and "The Greatest Beer Run Ever."

Kristen Stewart

Kristen Stewart's career began in the early 2000s after being spotted in a school Christmas play; small roles followed, but her big break came when she played Jodie Foster's diabetic daughter in the David Fincher thriller "Panic Room." Comparisons to Foster soon followed, as she was roughly the same age as Foster had been when she made "Taxi Driver" (a film Stewart had watched as a youngster), and the pair became lifelong friends and supporters

Over the next half decade, Stewart would appear in films from the good ("In the Land of Women") to the bad ("The Messengers") to the obscure "Undertow"). But it was her starring role as Bella Swan in Catherine Hardwicke's "Twilight" that would make her a superstar. Alongside Robert Pattinson, Anna Kendrick and others, Stewart made headlines and multiple sequels. Her look at the time could perhaps best be described as low-maintenance and natural: messy brown hair, minimal makeup, casual clothes. The Bella/KStew look was subject to numerous parodies, as in one "Saturday Night Live" Digital Short.

Once the quadrilogy of "Twilight" films had concluded, Stewart's career took several unexpected turns. Her tabloid-grabbing dalliances with the likes of Pattinson and "Snow White and the Huntsman" director Rupert Sanders gave way to a 2017 announcement that she was bisexual, followed by a vast change in style that seemed — at least to outsiders — to be a reflection of a newfound liberation. 

Stewart cut her hair short, dyed it blonde, and embraced queer fashion trends, most notably during red carpet appearances. It was enough of a change for Stewart to be labeled a queer fashion icon, particularly after a high profile 2019 "Saturday Night Live" hosting gig.

In recent years, Stewart has become positively chameleonesque. Look at her acclaimed work in "Spencer," "Personal Shopper" and something like the 2019 would-be "Charlie's Angels" reboot, and you could be forgiven for disbelieving it's the same actor. Stewart was nominated for best actress in a leading role for "Spencer," and despite losing, awards season gave her plenty of opportunities to flex new styles that seemed to further align with a Kristen Stewart more comfortable, confident and secure in her true self.

Miley Cyrus

Few celebrities have experienced as much of a physical and public transformation in as short a span as Miley Cyrus. The daughter of country star Billy Ray Cyrus got her start playing a fictional, Disney-friendly version of herself on the beloved tween series "Hannah Montana." But the end of that show proved to be just the beginning for Cyrus, who embarked on a personal journey that has been at various turns triumphant, head-scratching, rebellious and extremely influential. 

In 2013, a 21-year-old Cyrus released "We Can't Stop," sporting an all-new look with short, blonde hair. Similarities were drawn between Miley's new public persona and the Hannah Montana character (who performed in a blonde wig). Piercings, tattoos (at least one source claims she has 74 of them) and an embracing of drug culture became increasingly noticeable, and as Miley's star rose in the pop music industry with songs like "Wrecking Ball," so did public scrutiny of her behavior

By the time 2020 rolled around, Cyrus seemed like she had spent the past decade transforming into a wholly different person and performer. With the release of her seventh album and title track "Plastic Hearts," she seemed to acknowledge exactly that with lyrics like "I can be whoever you want me to be" and a newfound embracing of glam rock. 

Most recently, Miley Cyrus has been seen rocking longer, blonde hair, often messy, with makeup that harkens back to '80s fashion trends. But then again, since the time you began reading this article, don't be surprised if her look has changed yet again.