Transformation—an actor's best friend.
To better showcase the extravagant lifestyle of The Capitol citizens in this weekend's The Hunger Games, director Gary Ross decked his supporting actor Wes Bentley (who looks rather normal when he's filming floating plastic bags in movies like American Beauty) out in one of the strangest sets of facial hair ever committed to screen. The looks works, nailing the dystopian future society's hang up with all things fashion and image, but it also helps Bentley slip into his role as Games creator Seneca Crane, a dapper Dan of a fellow, who comes under heat when Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) starts messing with his grand plans. He's a bit twisted—and so are the curlycues in this 5 o'clock shadow.
Bentley isn't the only actor to ever undertake extensive beard work in order to bring a character to life. Here are a few of the wildest sets of facial hair ever to grace the silver screen.
Tom Cruise, Tropic Thunder
After a brush with insanity on Oprah's couch, Cruise practically reinvented himself by throwing on a fat suit, donning a bald cap and perfecting the Hollywood aging agent look with a scummy, trimmed beard. Les Grossman was the ultimate vile studio executive, and it wouldn't have worked so well without Cruise losing his clean cut image in favor of the wannabe-rugged look.
Tom Hanks, Cast Away
Hanks made a career in the '80s playing the baby-faced nice guy, segueing into the '90s playing…the baby-faced nice guy (albeit with bigger, Oscar-worthy issues at hand). In 2000's Cast Away, he cut loose with longtime collaborator Robert Zemeckis, playing a man stranded on a deserted island for three years. Without a Gilligan's Island-style makeshift clam razor, Hanks's character grew a straggly set of facial hair—which Hanks actually grew out in real life, thanks to a year-long delay in production.
Old Man White Beard
The old man white beard: a symbol of age and wisdom. In the last decade, the old man white beard has finally found its place in the world, thanks to special effect improvements that allow fantasy/action movies to get off the ground. Gandalf in Lord of the Rings, Richard Harris/Michael Gambon in the Harry Potter franchise and the underrated classic, Pai Mei in Tarantino's Kill Bill films, all sport incredibly lengthy beards that put most alabaster to shame. They immediately command our trust, because we know they've been around for a long, long time.
Zach Galifianakis, Anything
Here's a little cinematic logic for you: comedians are funny. Comedians with beards? Ultimately, funnier.
Whether it's the Hangover movies, the inspired faux-talk show Between Two Ferns or forgettable entires like Due Date, Galifianakis multiples the laughs induced by his mumbling comedic style thanks to his signature fluffy beard. There was a time when Galifianakis didn't sport the facial hair. Remember his short lived VH1 talk show? No. Logic proved.
Al Pacino, Serpico
Serpico wasn't an ordinary cop. He may have been all about protecting citizens, but he was an embodiment of '70s counterculture. That was the last thing anyone saw Pacino playing back in 1973, after he played a mobster's son in Godfather. Thankfully, he had wild beard support, which effectively turned the method actor into down-and-dirty cop with a rebellious side.
Salma Hayek, The Vampire's Assistant
Never underestimate the female quotient when tallying the wildest movie beards.
The stunning Salma Hayek remained faithful to her biopic subject, painter Frida Kahlo, in Julie Taymor's film Frida, sporting a deglamorizingly thin mustache/beard. But that's not even Hayek's greatest movie beard. For that, one must look to Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant, the actress little seen horror comedy. In the film, Hayek plays a bearded women, who doesn't take the position lightly.
Joaquin Phoenix, I'm Still Here
Phoenix's documentary I'm Still Here turned out to be a conscious effort on the actor's part to mess with Hollywood, audiences and anyone willing to give him the time. In return, Phoenix grew an enormous beard that became a symbol of his mentally unhinged state of being. The beard became a pop culture staple in 2006—solidified by Ben Stiller's spoof at the Oscars.