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Actors Who Caused A Stir On Set After Changing Their Appearance

During an appearance on the "WTF with Marc Maron" podcast in 2022, Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio debated whether actors are artists, or simply entertainers. With hesitance, they ultimately agreed that actors could be regarded as artists as well. While it might be difficult to imagine the industry's top actors considering their vocation as anything other than artistry, such discussion of the craft is not without precedent. Artistry is employing a skillset to elicit emotion; entertaining is a desire to captivate the audience. For those who hope to achieve both, it can come down to how any given performer looks. 

Actors often become stars because audiences can't help but look at them. And in extreme instances, when they've taken a transformation too far, it can be startling. In some cases, when an actor has drastically altered their appearance, some fans have even completely stopped watching a show or been repelled by a film.

TV show producers tend to safeguard the audience's suspension of disbelief at all costs, which includes making sure the performers arrive looking like the character they're supposed to portray. This is even incorporated into some contracts, such as Chrissy Metz agreeing to lose weight for "This Is Us." Other times, things go off the rails, like when Alec Baldwin reportedly showed up to a film set and refused to shave his beard. Below are some fascinating examples of actors who caused havoc on a set by drastically changing (or refusing to change) their appearances.

Jamie Lynn-Sigler's extreme weight loss on The Sopranos

Jamie-Lynn Sigler's role as Meadow Soprano in HBO's "The Sopranos" made her a household name. The series cast Sigler as the daughter of James Gandolfini's mercurial Tony who is portrayed as being frequently overprotective of her; Tony's shortcomings in that department helped shape him into an iconic TV antihero.

As it turns out, such protection continued even after the cameras stopped rolling. One of the earliest examples was when Sigler shot the show's pilot the summer before her junior year of high school at her normal weight, then returned a year later to film the first season with an excessive weight loss. Gandolfini instantly took notice and asked if she was eating enough. David Chase, the show's creator, went even further by informing Sigler's mother of such concerns.

As Sigler would later disclose in her book, "Wise Girl: What I've Learned About Life, Love, and Loss," she lost all that weight because, during the show's one-year break, she developed a form of bulimia. "I have something called exercise bulimia, which is where you rid of your calories by over exercising," she told CBS. "I ended up starting at a routine which was, you know, 20 minutes in the morning and cutting back a little on my calories. And it snowballed into six or seven hours a day of exercise." Fortunately, Sigler recovered and went on to become a spokeswoman for the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA).

If you need help with an eating disorder, or know someone who is, help is available. Visit the National Eating Disorders Association website or contact NEDA's Live Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. You can also receive 24/7 Crisis Support via text (send NEDA to 741-741).

Danielle Fishel's neck tattoo in Boy Meets World

"Boy Meets World" is a popular TGIF coming-of-age comedy from the 1990s, and follows Cory (Ben Savage) who navigates the hurdles of transitioning from childhood to young adulthood with the help of friends, family, and a mentoring teacher. His heart, however, gradually found itself falling for a girl named Topanga (Danielle Fishel). 

Fishel found herself in multiple job-threatening situations at an early age; when the then-12-year-old kept delivering her lines too quickly, series creator Michael Jacobs threatened to fire her having already axed the original actress set to play Topanga. "He went through every single one of my lines and what he wanted and what I wasn't doing right and how slow I needed to talk," she told People in 2022. "[He said] 'if you don't come back tomorrow doing this entirely differently, you are also not going to be here,' referencing the girl I had replaced."

When the series first took off, Topanga's hairstyle became a signature, but when Fishel expressed a real-life desire to go short, the producers wanted the shearing to occur on camera, so they wrote an episode around it (Season 4's "Hair Today, Goon Tomorrow"). Later, Fishel wanted to change her appearance again, and this time didn't give anyone a heads-up. It wasn't until the hair department gave Fishel pigtails for a scene that a writer spotted a tattoo on the back of her neck and reported it to Jacobs. The actress was 18 when she got the ink and has since had it (and a second tattoo) removed.

Turtle's weight loss journey

For many reasons, "Entourage" remains in the collective public psyche. While some viewers are interested in the show's fly-on-the-wall portrayal of Hollywood industry dynamics, others better recall the celebrity cameos. Still, others just want to revisit old episodes for Turtle (Jerry Ferrara), a breakout character. For much of the series, Turtle serves as comedic relief and doesn't seem particularly interested in any sort of character growth — which makes him all the more endearing.

However, in the later seasons, Turtle finally begins to evolve. He enters a committed relationship and begins to doubt his life choices and place in the group of friends. Off-screen, Ferrara was embarking on a similar journey, and between Seasons 6 and 7, Ferrara lost some 55 pounds. After the actor had dropped 20 pounds, Ferrara said "Entourage" creator, Doug Ellin, had a friendly note for him, out of concern for fans who were suddenly going to be looking at a ripped Turtle.

"There was a moment when I walked into the production office at the beginning of filming Season 7," Ferrara told Men's Health in 2011. "And [Ellin] goes, 'What the hell were you thinking? You couldn't wait one more year? This is going to be so jarring!'" "I admit the timing wasn't perfect," Ferrara added, saying that ultimately it led to some of the character's late-in-the-series advancements. "Creatively, though, I think it worked. The character evolved a lot ... There hasn't been any backlash. I might've dodged a bullet."

Felicity's Keri Russell haircut

One of the biggest TV controversies occurred when Keri Russell cut her signature locks in favor of a pixie cut for "Felicity". As it turned out, one of Hollywood's worst ideas in the last several decades came from two of its most successful behind-the-scenes talents.

Russell recalled on a 2018 ATX TV Festival panel (via E! News) that the whole situation started as a joke with the hair department when they spotted a "little boy's wig." "We put it on me at like 2 in the morning as a joke ... and we took a polaroid and over the summer we thought it'd be really funny to send to J.J. (Abrams) and Matt (Reeves) and say, 'I cut my hair — hope you like it.' Totally as a joke." But to Abrams and Reeves, it was a moment of ill-advised inspiration. "I was with my girlfriends at some lake and I got this phone call ... and [Abrams] said, 'Hey, we got your picture.' No laughing. No nothing," Russell recalled. "[He asked] 'Would you really cut your hair?' And I was like, 'I guess?'"

Suffice it to say, the haircut was not well-received; Russell even received death threats. "I did not expect all the hysteria," Russell would tell W Magazine in 2017. "Strangers did come up to me on the street and say things like, 'You were so pretty before you cut your hair.'" During a Television Critics Association press tour in 2000, WB Entertainment president Susanne Daniels added: "Part of that strong image of Felicity was the shot of Felicity's profile by the window in her dorm room talking into [a tape recorder]. When they cut the hair off, and I couldn't foresee this, then you diluted that image. You diluted that icon."

Henry Cavill's mustache-gate

It's no secret that "Justice League" was one of Hollywood's most acrimonious film productions. The movie followed "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice," which had a tepid box office performance and a dismal critical reception, prompting the company to reconsider the sequel's approach. Following that, director Zack Snyder suffered a family catastrophe, and the studio replaced him, resulting in a chain of distraught circumstances that have yet to be fully resolved. Yet, somehow the most memorable thing that fans remember is Henry Cavill showing up for reshoots with a mustache.

The mustache controversy is particularly fascinating. The new director brought fresh ideas for lightening the tone of the "Justice League". As a result, substantial reshoots were required, although the only issue was that Cavill was sporting a mustache throughout the filming of "Mission Impossible: Fallout." The DC production team was so desperate to get Cavill's mustache shaved for the role that they offered the "Fallout" production team $3 million to compensate for the shaved mustache. The reimbursement was eventually refused.

This resulted in a CGI-removed mustache that made Cavill's Superman appear a little ridiculous, which fans instantly noticed, and they ended up criticizing the film as a whole, considering that particular piece of it to be emblematic of the film's overall faults. The movie was eventually restored to the original version intended by Snyder, complete with no CGI-removed mustache.

Patricia Arquette refused to lose weight for Medium

From '80s genre work like "A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors" to breaking out as Alabama Worley in "True Romance" to indie classics like "Lost Highway" and "Boyhood" and shows like "Boardwalk Empire" and the Apple+ series, "Severance," Patricia Arquette has built herself an impressive career. But don't forget the '00s TV hit, "Medium," arguably the most successful of them all, at least for a time.

The supernatural drama about a consultant for the fictitious Mariposa County police force was among several successful supernaturally-flavored TV dramas of the period, alongside the likes of Jennifer Love Hewitt's "Ghost Whisperer." In its first season, "Medium" drew nearly 14 million viewers each week. With Arquette wielding the newfound power and influence of a hit show's marquee talent, she wasn't afraid to use it for good when producers approached her about losing some weight she had developed while giving birth.

"I had an argument with one of the producers on 'Medium,' who told me I should lose weight," she would recall years later while speaking with The Hollywood Reporter. "I was like, 'This lady is a mother, she's married, she's got three kids. No.”'

Gina Rodriguez's weight loss worried the producers of Jane The Virgin

From 2014 to 2019, "Jane the Virgin" made Gina Rodriguez a recognizable face on television; the popular satirical telenovela was a hit, and Rodriguez got nominated for three Golden Globes, winning one in 2015. But behind the scenes, some weight-related drama was going down, and it wasn't the way such Hollywood conflicts typically play out.

For decades, TV producers have been guilty of going out of their way to encourage weight loss and, in some situations, even chastise stars who gain weight. Rodriguez, on the other hand, received a very different reaction. "After 'Jane' shot the pilot and we got picked up, I got the hardcore flu," Rodriguez would recall in a 2016 interview with Self. "I lost 15 pounds — and I'm Puerto Rican, you don't lose 15 pounds. I was emaciated." When she returned to continue the series, the folks behind the scenes offered concern that she might have made the noticeable weight loss for the wrong reasons.

"The head of my network and the show creator sit me down," she continued. "They were like, 'Why have you lost weight? You know we love you the way you are. The way you were was perfect.'" Feeling newly galvanized, she went back to work even more determined to give her best effort. "What a beautiful world to live in where they loved me for who I was," she said. "You do your best art when you are [in that environment]."  

Sophie Turner was asked to lose weight during Game of Thrones

Before "Game of Thrones," it was difficult for fans of the books to conceive how it could translate into a television show, given all of the characters and the scope of the story's complexities. Fortunately, before the show even recorded a minute of footage, they had already completed half the task with excellent casting choices, particularly among the younger cast members.

Sophie Turner was one such casting coup, making her television debut at age 14 as Sansa Stark. But as the seasons progressed, Turner's body physically developed. As she gained weight, a certain segment of the internet began to ... well, you can guess the rest. "My metabolism suddenly decided to fall to the depths of the ocean and I started to get spotty and gain weight, and all of this was happening to me on camera," she told Marie Claire Australia in 2019. 

Explaining that pressure from studio execs to lose the weight soon followed, she has a one-word answer for how she managed to cope with it all. "Therapy," she replied. "Everyone needs a therapist, especially when people are constantly telling you you're not good enough and you don't look good enough. I think it's necessary to have someone to talk to, and to help you through that."

Rob McElhenney's Sunny weight fluctuations bothered co-stars

During the record-setting run of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia," Rob McElhenney's body has changed more times than fans can count. When he bulked up again in early 2021, he remarked that he enjoyed using the show to satirize the way contemporary culture is so appearance-focused. "I'm fascinated with the presentation of the human body, and the way it's been presented for the last 30 or so years, and what's considered attractive versus what is considered realistic," he said in a 2021 Men's Health interview with Ryan Reynolds. "I just thought: 'Well, I want to try to build a body that's absolutely ridiculous and truly impossible to keep up unless you devoted your entire life to it.' ... it's a completely unsustainable lifestyle."

McElhenney added that his buff body at the time did not please his wife and co-star Kaitlin Olson because maintaining its upkeep took up so much of his bandwidth. As the show entered its seventh season, the actor decided to satirize the vanity of many TV actors by going in the other direction. For months straight, he ate five 1000-calorie meals a day. "I started at 160 and I got up to 212," McElhenney told The Wrap in 2011. "And I thought, that's enough."

Co-star Charlie Day said the period was somewhat unsettling to observe. "It's been disgusting to watch him go through with this adventure," Day told Screen Junkies at the time (via BroBible). "We were a little on the fence about it for his own personal health and safety ... but it has definitely made Mac a lot funnier."

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau nearly got himself sued

In "Game of Thrones," Nikolaj Coster-Waldau plays perhaps the most despicable Lannister sibling, yet the one fans always seem eager to forgive. This grace was not always extended, however, to Coster-Waldau by HBO. In 2019, the Danish actor recalled playing a prank on the series' showrunners during an interview with Digital Spy. "There'd been a lot of talk about Jaime's hair in the early seasons — his long golden locks," he explained. "I thought he should maybe have a haircut. And then I thought, 'Why don't I just pretend?'"

So, Coster-Waldau found an old picture of himself with a buzz cut, sent it along to the "Game of Thrones" masterminds, then sat back and waited for the laugh. "I sent [it with] a long letter where I explained I'd taken control of my character and I want to be respected. I said that my integrity as an artist was at stake," he added. "They all believed it ... they'd also called my manager. HBO had started to talk about suing me and it had gotten out of control."

A drunken haircut got Mariska Hargitay in trouble on Law & Order: SVU

Actors are human, too — and as such, sometimes make mistakes. Mariska Hargitay once made one, however, that got her in trouble with the bosses and almost fired from "Law & Order: SVU." "This is actually a very funny story," Hargitay said of the now-infamous haircut which happened at her home. "We all decided I was going to get my hair a little shorter ... [the stylist] starts cutting my hair and I thought 'Oh my god, he's amazing.' I said 'Can I get you something to drink? A glass of wine?'"

When it comes to offering alcohol to others, Hargitay learned the hard way that the one person you might want to maintain sobriety is the stylist cutting your leading lady locks. "I was reading something and then I looked up," she recalled, saying she witnessed the "irrevocable" snip that officially took things too far. "He leaves ... I went over to the producer's house and he's like 'Yeah, that's a problem.'" Hargitay added that when the on-set dailies made the rounds, those behind the scenes "weren't happy." But ultimately, all was forgiven.  "Then it grew out," she added. "And that's the good news, it always does."