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Actors Who Were Unrecognizable From One Season To The Next

Surely this has happened to you. Let's say you're binge-watching your favorite TV show, when suddenly you need to freeze-frame it and squint at a certain actor's face. "Who is that?" you may wonder. Did they really recast such a beloved character? They must have, you decide, because this can't be the familiar face that you know and love. Can it?

We can assure you that none of the TV actors below have been recast. Instead, they have simply undergone some startling transformations between seasons. In some cases, it's a child actor who grows up (as child actors tend to do). Other times, the actor has undergone some dramatic weight loss. Also, you'd be surprised how many familiar actors are buried under heavy prosthetic makeup and nobody's the wiser. From distracting haircuts to unexpected mustaches, here are the most unforgettable examples of actors who were unrecognizable from one season to the next.

Iain Armitage from Young Sheldon

We knew it was inevitable: adorable little Sheldon Cooper (Iain Armitage) would eventually become a teenager. That doesn't mean it was easy for "Young Sheldon" fans to swallow, especially when Sheldon's voice became noticeably deeper between Season 5 and Season 6. In fact, some fans have pointed out that teenage Sheldon's voice is bizarrely much deeper than that of Jim Parsons, who played adult Sheldon in "The Big Bang Theory."

Reddit user u/Desperate-Staff-7745 wrote, "Damn I got weirded out by Sheldon's voice! It's so deep now." The Redditor added, "Didn't feel this change on Georgie," referring to Sheldon's older brother (who went through puberty earlier in the show but whose transformation wasn't nearly as distracting). Perhaps it would have been less jarring if the showrunners hadn't slowed the passage of time to make the series last a little longer. Then at least Sheldon would have grown up at the same rate as the actor who played him.

To be fair, "Young Sheldon" tried to acknowledge these physical changes. At the end of Season 5, the showrunners chose to foreshadow the looming specter of puberty with a dream sequence in which Sheldon imagines himself all grown up. Likewise, Season 6 gave a nod to Sheldon's deeper voice when he declares, "The other day I answered the phone and they didn't mistake me for Mom." Even so, the whole conceit of the show starts to fall apart when the child prodigy is no longer a child.

Laz Alonso from The Boys

Every now and then a superhero franchise needs to recast characters. (Sorry Terrence Howard fans, but Don Cheadle is Rhodey and has been for more than a decade. Deal with it.) But if you watched Season 4 of "The Boys" and wondered why Mother's Milk looks so different, it's not because he was recast (as some fans first assumed). That's still the same old Laz Alonso in Season 4; the actor has simply lost some weight. He's also discarded his beard in favor of a little soul patch, which only makes his face look skinnier.

At first, fans were concerned that this sudden weight loss was an indicator of a serious health issue, just like with Chadwick Boseman's dramatic weight loss. However, it's safe to assume that's not the case here. Posting on Instagram, the actor shared his new dietary regimen, which is likely the reason he looks so different. Alonso explained that he took a DNA test which gave him some insight into which vitamins and nutrients he needs and which he doesn't. He added that going forward, he will be "only putting in my body what my body is deficient in."

The TV show acknowledged the actor's startling physical change (because it would be weird if it didn't). In the first episode, Kimiko (Karen Fukuhara) notices that Mother's Milk is much thinner, so she offers him some Gruyère puffs and says, "You need to eat more."

Art Parkinson in Game of Thrones

Kids grow up so fast, especially in a world as brutal as Westeros. And perhaps nobody has grown up faster than Rickon Stark (Art Parkinson). When he first appears in "Game of Thrones" Season 1, Rickon is the baby of the Stark family, an adorable kid with a dirty face. After his father (Sean Bean) bestows him a powerful and majestic direwolf, he gives it the most terrifying name he can think of: Shaggydog. (Give the kid a break, he was only six.) Even in Seasons 2 and 3, Rickon still has the sweet, innocent face of a child. 

At the end of Season 3, when he begs his brother (Isaac Hempstead Wright) to let him come along to the North, it's clear that the boy is woefully unprepared to survive beyond the Wall. That's the last we see of Rickon for two whole seasons. When he appears again, Rickon is not a boy anymore. By Season 6 he is undeniably a teenager, with a taller frame, a narrower face, and a mop of messy hair. At first, his captor Ramsey (Iwan Rheon) doesn't believe it's really him, and we suspect many viewers felt the same way.

Unfortunately, poor Shaggydog is no more, and with him went Rickon's childhood. Although Rickon is still the youngest Stark, he has come a long way since the little boy we saw in the first season. Of course, the fact that Rickon looks dramatically older doesn't soften the blow of his death.

Sarah Paulson from American Crime Story

Sometimes an actor will undergo a physical transformation from one season to the next because they are playing multiple roles in the same TV show. This is precisely what happened with Sarah Paulson, who plays two starkly different characters in the anthology series "American Crime Story."

In "The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story," Paulson portrays Marcia Clark, the lead prosecutor in the O. J. Simpson murder case. Paulson's character starts out as a shy, self-conscious woman for whom a simple choice like getting a haircut leads to immense public backlash. Aside from a wig and a mole added by her makeup artist, she is still easy to recognize as Sarah Paulson.

Not so for Season 3, where Paulson is utterly unrecognizable. In "Impeachment: American Crime Story," Paulson played Linda Tripp, a Pentagon employee who encouraged Monica Lewinsky (Beanie Feldstein) to come clean about her affair with President Bill Clinton (Clive Owen). This character is almost the polar opposite of Marcia Clark: her voice is almost an octave deeper, and Paulson all but disappeared underneath some heavy prosthetic makeup. She wore a blonde wig and dental veneers, while the makeup team gave her a totally different prosthetic nose and even bleached Paulson's eyebrows so they could change the shape of her eyes. If that's not commitment to a role, then we don't know what is.

Sean Murray from NCIS

If you compared Special Agent Timothy McGee (Sean Murray) in the first season of "NCIS" with his character in the last season, you would have a hard time believing it was the same actor. In the early seasons of the show, McGee starts out as a round-faced rookie that everybody calls "McGeek." Yet over the course of the series, he becomes taller, leaner, and more confident. 

Sean Murray lost weight over the course of multiple seasons, but it was most noticeable between Season 7 and Season 8. In fact, the actor wrote on X (formerly Twitter), "You can actually see me gradually lose the weight over the 24 [episodes of Season 7] ... a pound every week or two." His transformation was so jarring that Murray had to assure fans that his weight loss was totally healthy. He went to X to say, "To those who have asked what I did to lose the 25 lbs: 14 months of no alcohol and almost no sugar. ate strictly organic."

Yet even then, his evolution wasn't done. After a hostage situation that doesn't afford him much time to shave, McGee returns in Season 15 wearing a goatee, and decides to keep this new look. Although Murray loved his new goatee, seeing such a familiar face with so much unfamiliar facial hair was too much for some fans. Reddit users and critics alike urged him to shave it off.

Michael Cera from Arrested Development

Like so many child actors on sitcoms, Michael Cera was endearing when he first appeared on "Arrested Development." Cera played George Michael Bluth with sincerity and not a hint of self-consciousness. Audiences couldn't get enough of this adorable teenager who did the Sad Walk after his girlfriend broke up with him. The TV show seemed like it would end after three seasons on Fox, allowing fans to hope that this beloved character could forever remain a child.

Yet after a time gap of several years, "Arrested Development" returned for a fourth season, this time on Netflix. Season 4 promised a cast reunion, even though there were only a handful of scenes where the cast was all in the same room. Unfortunately, many audiences felt that the show was ruined after it switched networks, and arguably this decline was best exemplified with Michael Cera's character.

Gone in Season 4 are George-Michael's baby face and puppy-dog eyes. Instead, Cera (who was 24 at the time) is tall and lanky with a more pronounced nose and deeper voice. Even more shocking was the montage of George-Michael's college years, which shows just how radically the character has transformed. In one scene, he has passionate sex with a woman whose kids he babysits, all while wearing a painter's brush mustache. When fans were done picking up their jaws from the floor, they were no doubt checking to make sure it was even the same actor. (It was.)

Erin Moriarty from The Boys

Some fans felt that Starlight (Erin Moriarty) looked a bit different in Season 3 of "The Boys." Her cheekbones were more strongly defined in this season, making her face look more angular compared to previous seasons. This led to rumors that the actress had gotten plastic surgery, with political commentator Megyn Kelly accusing Moriarty of being obsessed with appearance.

Moriarty responded to those plastic surgery comments in a now-deleted Instagram post (via Deadline), pointing out that Kelly used a "before" photo taken 10 years earlier yet claimed it had only been a year old. Moriarty added that the reason she looked so different was because she "[had gotten her] make up done that day and it involves major contouring." Despite this, Moriarty soon became a target for Internet trolls, who kept comparing her body to how it looked in previous seasons. The harassment grew to be so bad that the actress temporarily left Instagram.

In that respect, Moriarty has something in common with the character she plays in "The Boys." When Starlight decides to quit the misogynistic superhero team known as The Seven, her choice is met with public backlash. The irony was not lost on Moriarty. "This kind of trolling is exactly what [Annie] would speak out against," she wrote in a now-removed Instagram post (via Esquire).

J. G. Hertzler from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

There are plenty of "Star Trek" actors who play multiple characters, but J. G. Hertzler was one of the busier ones. In "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" alone, he portrayed four different characters. Fans may not know it, since the actor was under so much prosthetic makeup, but his most prominent role was the Klingon General Martok. Hertzler also played Laas, a doughy-faced Changeling who can take any form he chooses. He even donned the signature pointy ears to play an unnamed Vulcan captain in the pilot episode of the series.

Then — perhaps most shocking of all — Hertzler played a role that didn't require any prosthetics. In the episode "Far Beyond the Stars," Benjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks) experiences a vision in which he is a sci-fi writer in the 1950s, struggling to get his story published. Each of the major characters from the show appears in his vision, except they are all human (much like the dual roles in "The Wizard of Oz"). Sisko's illustrator, Roy Ritterhouse, is played by none other than Hertzler, and even draws a spaceship that looks an awful lot like Deep Space Nine. 

With his goatee and cigar, the actor looks nothing like any of his previous Star Trek roles. But any eagle-eyed fans who spot this cameo will be rewarded with the knowledge of what Hertzler's real face looks like under all that makeup.

Noah Schnapp from Stranger Things

In Season 1 of "Stranger Things," Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) wears a classic 1980s bowl cut, and given his age and the time period, it suits him. (In case you were wondering, this iconic bowl cut is not the actor's real hair.)

Yet with each season, the cast grows increasingly older, and the show's creators didn't want to draw attention to the fact that these actors were no longer kids. Fans have speculated that the makeup team gave the kids new hairstyles in Season 4 to hide how much the actors had grown. "They put bad haircuts on them to try and make it look like they are in their awkward preteen years," wrote @hollyxhawthorne on X (formerly Twitter). In this case, the show's efforts to make Will look exactly the same as previous seasons only highlight how different he looks.

Even before Season 4 came out, fans were concerned that a bowl cut would look ridiculous on a teenager. They were so concerned, in fact, that they launched a petition on Change.org to ditch the bowl cut and get a style closer to what Noah Schnapp wore in real life. No such luck. The showrunners doubled down on Will's bowl cut in Season 4, and while they did shave the sides of his head to create a fade effect, this only made his hair look worse. In a season full of terrible haircuts, Will's hair was voted the worst. Even Schnapp himself hated it.

Evan Peters from American Horror Story

Evan Peters is a actor of many hats, and "American Horror Story" has given audiences a chance to see his versatility. Peters has played more than a dozen characters across various seasons of the show; he has played a hairdresser, a man from a freak show, and even a vampire drag queen. Yet no two roles could be more different than James Patrick March from "American Horror Story: Hotel" and Kai Anderson from "American Horror Story: Cult."

In the former, Peters portrays a genteel hotel designer who moonlights as a serial killer. The actor sports coiffed hair, dapper suits, and a Gomez Addams-style pencil mustache, looking like he walked right out of a noir movie. Meanwhile, cult leader Kai Anderson is almost the polar opposite. His hair is dyed a shocking purple, and whether it's pulled back in a tight knot or hanging loose, it looks strange on Peters. While March oozes cold and calculating restraint, Anderson is a character with no inhibitions. Watching Kai shout at the TV or cry pitifully as he kills his sister, it's incredible to think that this is in fact the same actor.

As a bonus, fans also get to watch Peters play multiple historical figures in "American Horror Story: Cult," including Andy Warhol, Charles Manson, and even Jesus. Each time, Peters completely reinvents himself. It takes a talented actor indeed to make himself unrecognizable over and over again.

Rickety Cricket from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia

Most actors undergo a single change between TV seasons, and that's it. However, "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" takes character transformation to a whole new level.

When we first meet him, Matthew "Rickety Cricket" Mara (David Hornsby) is a respectable, clean-shaven man of the cloth. Yet when he abandons the priesthood so he can be with Deandra (Kaitlin Olson), only to discover that she wants nothing to do with him, Rickety Cricket soon ends up living in the streets. From this point on, it's a downward spiral. The show's writers (including Hornsby himself) keep outdoing themselves, finding creative ways to drag Rickety Cricket even lower. 

In one episode, his beard has grown scraggly and he's lost one of his teeth. In another, we see his skeletal chest, pockmarked by ringworms. As if that isn't bad enough, he soon gets a scar that leaves him blind in one eye. Before long, Rickety Cricket is wearing a hood to hide the hideous burns on his face that look like they would be more at home in "Game of Thrones" than a sitcom. With each appearance, Hornsby becomes more and more unrecognizable. So if you ever feel the urge to call out a returning TV character for looking different, you can assure yourself that they could always look worse.