Just by a Nose: 10 Actors Who Earned Oscar Buzz by Wearing a Prosthetic Schnoz

Just by a Nose: 10 Actors Who Earned Oscar Buzz by Wearing a Prosthetic Schnoz

Nov 13, 2014

From the first look at Steve Carell in Foxcatcher, we knew he was going to be an Oscar contender. To play real-life wrestling coach John du Pont, Carell had to wear a prosthetic nose. And if history tells us anything, it's that donning a fake nose for a part in a movie means automatic awards buzz.

If you don't believe us, check out the following list of movie stars who humbly altered their snouts for a character, all of whom received some level of kudos and talk of Academy Awards potential. Most of them were even nominated, and some actually won Oscars. 

 

OSCAR WIN: Robert De Niro in Raging Bull (1980)

Often acknowledged for his physical tranformation in the part of Jake LaMotta, it's usually just De Niro's weight gain for the final act that's celebrated. He also wore a fake, battered nose to not just resemble the real-life boxer but show its damage from taking too many punches in the ring. Was it a lucky charm at the Oscars? Nothing can be proven there, but he did go home with the statue. Then again, he also sported a prosthetic proboscis years later as Al Capone in The Untouchables, and he was singled out by some critics as being the worst part of that historical drama. 

 

OSCAR NOMINATION: Will Smith in Ali (2001)

Another boxer in need of the perfect look, Muhammad Ali had his nose copied by makeup artists for Will Smith's portrayal in a biopic of "the Greatest." Smith's physical transformation also included bulking himself up to resemble the athlete from the neck down and wearing a hairpiece from the neck up. Before taking on this role, Smith hadn't really been considered for his dramatic chops, but he got his first genuine awards push and rightfully earned his first Academy Award nomination for showing that he could act and was willing to change his appearance to do so -- the latter seemingly more important to voters. 

 

OSCAR WIN: Nicole Kidman in The Hours (2002)

Kidman was an acclaimed actress who'd earned occasional Oscar buzz through the 1990s, but it wasn't until she donned a false honker to look like Virginia Woolf that she wound up winning her first Academy Award (with her second nomination in two years). On the one hand, a lot of reviews praising her performance noted the nose as benefiting, for it made viewers forget it was Kidman as the real-life author. On the other hand, much of the buzz, including all of the backlash, also cited the prosthetic for giving the perforamance a constant reminder of Kidman's self-effacing facial transformation for the sake of the part. The nose was easily and widely employed for headlines and puns about her chances, and therefore it also made for an easy target of cynical criticism of the awards.

 

OSCAR WIN: Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady (2011)

As far as we know, Kidman's The Hours costar went most of her career without having to change the shape of her schnoz. We're not counting its reddish coloration in Ironweed or her nasal vocals for A Cry in the Dark or the aging and distorting makeup of Death Becomes Her. For a true transformation of the central part of her face to look like the person she's portraying, it wasn't until this decade's turn as Margaret Thatcher that Meryl Streep technically took a new nose. And, hey, she won her first Oscar, after 12 losses, in almost 30 years. It should be noted that her whole nose wasn't altered by makeup artist Mark Coulier (who also won an Oscar, with J. Roy Helland), just the bridge, which was widened. There were reportedly 40 sets of noses made for her for the whole shoot, though.

 

OSCAR WIN: Lee Marvin in Cat Ballou (1965)

Maybe it was also the fact that he played dual roles in this Western, but it couldn't have hurt that one of Marvin's characters also had a fake nose. That's right, this one isn't just about the actor wearing a prosthetic, but the villain he played had one himself. A silvery schnoz strapped onto his face to cover up where his actual nose had been bitten off in a fight. When the actor was announced as winner of the Best Actor Oscar in 1966, with his one and only nomination, he should have thanked that nose piece, but instead he claimed it was his other character's horse who deserved credit for the honor.

 

OSCAR WIN: José Ferrer in Cyrano de Bergerac (1950)

When you think of characters with memorable noses, the most famous has to be the title protagonist of Edmond Rostand's play Cyrano de Bergerac. The first Hollywood adaptation of the French romantic drama was made for a very low budget, but they didn't cut costs in the makeup department by doing away with the iconic facial protuberance. And that may have helped the movie, which failed at the box office, to at least shine at the Oscars. Of course, Ferrer had already won the Tony for his stage portrayal, so it wasn't a big stretch to believe he'd be nominated for the screen version. He was named Best Actor by the Academy and won the Golden Globe, too.

 

OSCAR BUZZ: Steve Martin in Roxanne (1987)

We could potentially blame the Academy's reputation for not being receptive to comedy as the reason Steve Martin wasn't nominated for this hilarious modernization of Cyrano de Bergerac. But the same year, Robin Williams earned his first nomination for the partly comedic Good Morning, Vietnam, so... Williams also beat Martin for the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a comedy or musical. Still, the actor garnered rave reviews for his effort, was named Best Actor of the year by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association (in a three-way tie) and the National Society of Film Critics and has retroactively been marked as having been snubbed when it came to the Oscars. The beak he wore for the part, which was a perching spot for birds, should have brought him better luck, at least in the adapted screenplay category -- he won the WGA Award that year, after all, and was thought a sure thing for an Academy nod, as well.

 

OSCAR NOMINATION: Gérard Depardieu in Cyrano de Bergerac (1990)

Three years later, another take on the Cyrano character found favor with the Academy, this time again from a more serious effort. But it had some humor, and Depardieu, who was on a roll in the late 1990s with this and Green Card opening back-to-back with great success (he won a Golden Globe for the latter in the comedy acting category). Months earlier, the French actor was named Best Actor for his big-nosed performance at Cannes, but while reviews in the U.S. cited him as the best part of the movie, it was rare for a foreign film to be represented with acting nominations. Depardieu received one nonetheless -- as did the makeup artists who provided the proboscis -- yet he was then seen as the longshot in part because it wasn't a widely seen stint. The movie did win for costumes, at least.

 

OSCAR BUZZ: Jack Nicholson in Hoffa (1992)

Even though critics were mixed on Nicholson's performance as Jimmy Hoffa in the Danny DeVito-directed biopic of the Teamsters leader, he was still a part of the Oscar talk in early 1993 before the nominations were announced. Maybe the prosthetic nose he wore to look the part kept him in the running? Or maybe it was just the Golden Globe nomination the actor had just garnered. Ultimately he wasn't honored by the Academy but did receive a Razzie nomination instead. Meanwhile, the makeup artists behind his beak did get an Oscar nod, interestingly enough going up against DeVito's own prosthetic nose in Batman Returns (they both lost to Dracula). 

 

OSCAR BUZZ: Naomi Watts in Diana (2013)

A lot of Oscar buzz is generated long before anyone has seen a second of footage from the movies being hyped. Sometimes it comes with just the sort of movie, the awards-season release date and the casting. It helps, though, to get a first look at the last one when considering acting category contenders, and with the initial shots of Watts as Princess Diana the pundits saw promise. The actress made a slight transformation to play the icon of British royalty, one element of which was a prosthetic nose. In the end, once people actually watched Diana, the Oscar talk wore away, and the only nomination she received was a Razzie in part for the biopic performance. 

Now here are some memorable prosthetic nose performances that are exceptions to the rule: Alec Guinness in Oliver Twist (1948), Danny DeVito in Batman Returns (1992), Christina Ricci in Penelope (2006) and Orson Welles in just about everything.

 

 

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