Pacino as a mobster … Stallone as a biceps-bulging action hero … Mandy Moore as a singer. It’s safe to say that Hollywood isn’t famous for allowing actors to broaden their horizons when it comes to the types of roles they get, no matter how iconic they are.
Well, the same goes for many of the leading ladies that light up the screen both in TV and film in grandiose fashion. Usually a sultry vixen stays a sultry vixen. Just ask Raquel Welch or Jane Mansfield.
Yet, another category of actress is often typecast more than most: Very often the “plain Jane” actresses who play run of the mill characters and everyday women who are not at all larger than life—still extraordinary—just plain in every other way and are never or rarely allowed to leave that safe zone. Some have played witches, some have played princesses in galactic melodramas, and some have played mousy neighbors hiding under cardigans and sweater vests.
Here’s a list of actresses who have expertly played characters, yet have rarely been allowed to venture from the same category. Maybe out of fear of losing a particular demographic audience or maybe out of fear of losing a certain connection with part of the audience. Who knows?
Regardless, here’s a list of 20 overwhelmingly gorgeous actresses who keep getting used as “plain chicks.”
20 Natalie Portman
Was there any wonder that this queen of the screen would make this list? I dare any fan of Star Wars to say that they weren’t literally “in love” with Padmé! I know I was—and head over heels, at that. She brings herself to every role with an amazing elegance that many would argue has been lost amongst Hollywood starlets everywhere. And she does it all while being as real and down to earth as possible.
Other epic roles in her fantastic repertoire include: Mathilda in The Professional, V For Vendetta, Garden State (which incidentally was her plainest character to date, and yet one of her most beautiful), Black Swan and Alex Garland’s upcoming Annihilation.
Her public image is mostly serious and demure, but don’t let that fool you, she’s got an excellent sense of humor, as can be seen on her many appearances on Saturday Night Live.
19 Ellen Page
Most people were introduced to this talented young star in Hard Candy, a horrific film about a young 14 year old girl who traps and tortures a man she suspects of being a criminal. The films scenes are gruesome but poignant and her performance gave her some positive notoriety. She’s gone on to star in some seriously popular films, which include: Juno, X-Men: The Last Stand, Whip It and Inception.
She, as opposed to most of the women on this list, sees her beauty comes through in her subtlety and shyness. A beautiful young woman whose acting ability and beauty go hand in hand; she could definitely pull off some sexier roles. But, she’s still young and only time will tell.
18 Gillian Anderson
For years, we saw Gillian Anderson in only business suits as Special Agent Dana Scully in FOX’s The X-Files. Viewers followed her and Agent Fox Mulder (played by David Duchovny) as they searched the Earth for signs of alien life. Albeit there isn’t much room for a character like that to start wearing evening gowns and slow-walking to some heavy rock guitar, but still, Anderson’s beauty shone through all the plain power suits and young men of the 90s developed crushes for the Special Agent of their dreams.
She has starred in other work in recent years, like The Last King of Scotland, Shadow Dancer and Robot Overlords, to name a few.
She has since had a resurgence on television with a return to the character that brought her to audiences around the world and yes she’s donning power suits once again as Dana Scully in The X-Files once more.
But she wears them so well, doesn’t she?
17 Claire Danes
“… Oh Romeo … Where for art thou Romeo …?”
Yes, Claire Danes … the actress who played one of the greatest and one of literature’s most beloved lovers has mostly always been type-cast in her long and illustrious career. Even as Juliet Capulet, she was plain and simple, but audiences around the world fell in love with her regardless. Her beauty came through all the simple costumes and basic make-up. Of course her acting ability and conviction outclassed most of her contemporaries. Her simple beauty combined with her devotion to her craft made her absolutely gorgeous to viewers everywhere.
Getting her start in Little Women, moving onto such films as: To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday, The Hours, Terminator 3: Rise of The Machines and Me and Orson Welles.
Her beauty and her talent are everlasting and audiences will be enjoying her work for time to come, I’m sure.
16 Emma Watson
Hermione Granger herself.
I don’t think you could get any simpler. The world was introduced to this sweetheart in the Harry Potter franchise and throughout the eight part extravaganza, all we saw her in was the Hogwarts school uniform.
I guess what must be said here: True beauty can show through in even the simplest of circumstances. And such was the case for actress Emma Watson. She won over hearts and has indeed taken Hollywood by storm, yet tinsel town is reluctant to let her out of her shell, as she mostly plays simple characters and of course by simple we mean plain.
But don’t let the simplicity fool you. She is a gorgeous girl that can slow walk with the best of them. Her portrayal as Belle in the live action Beauty and The Beast is proof of that.
15 Alexis Bledel
The beautiful blue eyed Texan of Argentinean/Danish/German descent positively lit up the screen as one of the lead characters in the ever so popular WB drama, Gilmore Girls. Yet again, as opposed to the other TV characters of the time, the character of Rory was soft spoken and intelligent, yet she had the attention of all the young boys in the small town of Star’s Hollow, and why was that you think?
Need I ask?
In 2005, she played Lena Kaligaris in The Sisterhood of The Traveling Pants, once again a simple character. The film remains as being her biggest box office hit to date and, most recently, the character of Rory returned to little Star’s Hollow in Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life, a four part event on Netflix.
And as always, it was wonderful to see Bledel on screen once more, no matter how plainly she’s packaged.
14 Thandie Newton
Born in Westminster, London, England, Thandie Newton can probably be most considered as an actress’ actress. Her portrayal of Condoleezza Rice in the Oliver Stone directed W was perfect and garnered her positive critical attention.
Of course, most fan boys of the Mission Impossible series remember her most as Tom Cruise’s love interest in the second instalment of the popular franchise, yet she has found more steady work in serious roles.
The 45 year old actress is still gorgeous, most recently in HBO’s Westworld TV series. However, most reputedly, news amongst the Sci-Fi crowd was a flutter with anticipation when rumors of her involvement in Solo: A Star Wars Story was announced.
Regardless of which role she decides to pursue, Thandie Newton wows us with her skill and her ever-present beauty with every frame.
13 Rachel Weisz
In the 90s, Rachel Weisz first gained popular attention acting alongside Keanu Reeves in the thriller Chain Reaction. She played a physicist of all things, who in all of her scenes is wearing simple clothes that hid her figure and the smallest amount of make-up. Yet ever-present are her piercing eyes and subtle confidence that comes through with every exciting frame of the film.
She teamed up with Keanu once more in the horrific Constantine and once again played a vulnerable character that establishes pathos and has the viewer falling in love with her instantly.
Rachel Weisz shows the power of subtlety … so much can be accomplished by so little most times, and Rachel proves that to us every time out, with elegant beauty and a tactful approach to her craft. She no doubted makes this list.
12 Winona Ryder
James Mangold’s Girl interrupted is probably one of the greatest movies ever committed to film. The performances in that feature just jump out at you from scene to scene, demanding to be watched. Thus, the film’s star, Winona Ryder’s portrayal of Susanna Kaysen is nothing short of genius. The character is based on the real life author of the novel version of the film and other great books, and you couldn’t find a simpler character. Yet like most of the women on this list, her beauty shines through all the dramatic scenes.
In the early portion of the new millennium, she got a little bit of notoriety for some bad judgement—shoplifting some articles of clothing of all things—but none of that takes away from her years of portraying some of films most beloved characters.
I mean the woman played Spock’s mother in the Star Trek reboot.
11 Melissa McCarthy
These days, most people will recognize her from the multitude of comedic features she’s starred in. And as can be the case with comedy, a lot of the scenes can be a little less than flattering, leading many to wonder … what the hell?-- when they see her name on my list.
She's cousins with real life beauty cover girl Jenny McCarthy and if you look at the two faces, you can see the family resemblance. McCarthy who has starred in some of the more recent comedy blockbusters has had previous roles that shine a different light on the hilarious actress.
I dare anyone to watch episodes of Gilmore Girls and tell me that they can’t help but fall in love with adorable Sookie St. James in her chef’s outfits and hair bandanas driving the characters wild with her humour and antics.
She deserves different roles where her ability and her beauty can shine.
10 Diane Lane
The last time she played an actually glaring, straight-up sex symbol was probably in Francis Ford Copolla's Rumble Fish. But that was a while back indeed. Since then she's had far more simpler roles ... Judge Dredd (1995), Jack, The Perfect Storm, Killshot, and who could forget her portrayal as a bored housewife in Unfaithful?
Most recently she’s played Superman’s adoptive mother in the reboot of the franchise and even at 53 lights up the screen exuberantly with every frame. She is currently working on the Netflix series House of Cards.
For some actresses, time is nothing but minutes that pass over you as you make your way from day to day, and it does little to affect the beauty they once had. So is the case for Diane Lane. After all, for most, she’ll always be Judge Hershey in Judge Dredd, lighting up the screen and the somber mood of the film.
9 Kate Winslet
This next entry is an arguable one, I would suppose because she has been regarded as a sex symbol in the past. I mean, how could she not? Did you see Titanic? Did you see the scene where Leonardo DiCaprio is painting her … in the buff? And who can forget the scene in the car with the hand print on the steamy windows? However, it’s her work since James Cameron’s Titanic hit the bottom of the Atlantic that garners her a spot on this list.
Most notable is her performance as Clementine in Charlie Kauffman’s magnum opus Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind. Clementine, flawed and vulnerable, is as plain and simple as you can get, yet throughout the film, it’s just that that makes her beautiful. A performance to remember.
Lately, most of her roles are of plain women leading plain lives, but lest we forget her sultry ways of films past. This phenomenally talented Brit packs a punch and it scores extremely high on the Gorgeous Richter scale.
8 Zooey Deschanel
The quirky and the zany Zooey Deschanel has played a multitude of characters, but just one look into her icicle like eyes is enough to convince you of her everlasting beauty. This woman belongs on the screen whether she’s playing a sultry woman or a mousy librarian, as you want to see her on screen as scenes unfold and the plot thickens.
Appearances include: Almost Famous, The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, Failure To Launch and (500) Days of Summer. Also an accomplished musician, she has quite a few musical projects under her belt.
As for her role in (500) Days of Summer, the viewer is led to hate her, really hate her, but when the credits role and everything is said and done, you can’t help but still feel for her character regardless of her actions in the film. Now that takes talent.
7 Emily Deschanel
Yes indeed, you guessed it. Emily, sister of Zooey definitely has her place on this list and why not? Dr. Temperance Brennan from the iconic TV show Bones, expertly played by Emily, was a lesson in beauty behind the veil of professionalism. A character study, if you will, into the art of subtle beauty.
Horror fans will remember her from Stephen King’s Rose Red and her portrayal in The Alamo garnered her critical attention. Other performances include: Cold Mountain, Glory Road and My Sister’s Keeper.
Of course, it was her time on Bones that has left the biggest impression and why not? The show picked up a lot of awards and accolades and was a hit among fans of the forensic psychology genre everywhere.
6 Vera Farmiga
She was Leonardo DiCaprio’s psychoanalyst in Martin Scorsese’s The Departed, Paul Walker’s loving wife in the psychological thriller Running Scared and Robert Downey Jr.’s long lost love in The Judge.
Yet probably what most people will remember her as is the courageous ghost hunter Lorraine Warren in The Conjuring films. A period horror film taking place in the 1970s. In the film, Farmiga plays a paranormal investigator sent in to investigate severe hauntings and ghostly infestations. In real life, The Warrens were responsible for uncovering the infamous Annabelle doll. The character is religious, reserved and you wouldn’t expect her to be gorgeous, yet the minute she walks onto the scene, she overtakes you with her overwhelming beauty that shines off of her like a light.
Farmiga’s the real deal and she could pull off any roll that comes her way.
5 Rosamund Pike
She absolutely terrified audiences in her performance as Ben Affleck’s crazy wife in Gone Girl and yet she can still pull off playing Paul Giamatti’s wife in Barney’s Version. Sci-Fi fans will remember her as “Reaper’s” sister in the film version of Doom and she played a lawyer in Jack Reacher with Tom Cruise.
Of course … and then some.
She’s acted in theater and is a voice actor for Thunderbirds Are Go, a Sci-Fi animated series on ITV. Her voice is one of her greatest features and that’s saying something since her features are actually perfect. Born in London, she hides her beautiful British accent, yet just a smidge of it leaks through, urging you to listen further.
This is yet another actress on this list that can play any character she sets her mind to and she’s also one of the most attractive.
4 Andie MacDowell
Modern audiences can remember her from Magic Mike XXL as Nancy, an aging upper class woman, but even in that role, she comes across as an epic beauty and all without trying very hard.
Yes, her career started in the tumultuous 80s and many beautiful actresses got their start in that sultry era of film, but as time passed and the 80s turned to the 90s was there any room for the woman who played Jane in 1984’s Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of The Apes?
The truth was … yes, only her characters became plainer as the times did. What was referred to as grunge music had hit the scene and loose fitting jeans and plaid shirts were in … and tight pants and sweaters that tightly hugged the upper body were out. The stars in Hollywood had to adapt and this classic beauty adapted very well indeed.
3 Teresa Palmer
Zombies usually eat people.
I mean that’s just the way things go. Yet in Warm Bodies, Teresa Palmer had a Zombie fall in love with her. I mean she had the poor undead thing listening to love songs, daydreaming about her, and believe me, that’s saying something. And what makes this more amazing: The character she played was as plain as plain can be.
Furthermore, the young woman is starting to pile up an impressive resume of films. Some titles include: Wolf Creek, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, I Am Number Four and the Point Break remake.
So next time you want to judge that “plain Jane” walking down the street in runners, loose fitting jeans, and a plaid shirt, just remember that they may be hiding a beauty that runs real deep.
I mean after all, they have the power to change the age old temptations of the undead after all.
2 Candace Cameron Bure
Audiences were introduced to Candace Cameron Bure throughout the 90s as adorable D.J. Tanner, the eldest sister in a family of three in Television’s Full House. The show ran for a significant amount of years and Cameron warmed her way into our hearts as the lovable character.
Yet, when the show went off the air, so did Candace, concentrating on her personal life and marriage to hockey player Valeri Bure.
As time passed and the golden years of television nestled safely into the past, viewers everywhere got nostalgic to find out where the stars of TV were now, and internet searches proved fruitful when images of the 90s star surfaced and showed her to be a completely breathtaking woman in her own right. She did some work for ABC Spark, but not much else.
She is now enjoying a return to the screen once again as DJ Tanner in the reboot of the show that made her, Fuller House. I can’t speak for everyone, but it’s darn good to see Candace Cameron back on TV. Welcome back, DJ.
1 Emily Hampshire
Born in Montreal, Quebec, Emily Hampshire is the actress from such films as The Trotsky, Good Neighbors and The Returned. Viewers today probably recognize her more from her television work in Schitt$ Creek and 12 Monkeys.
Her beauty is often hidden well, playing secretive characters with serious psychological issues (as in Good Neighbors), or a demure schoolteacher (The Trotsky). Yet her beauty is most definitely apparent, and not only in her subtle features, but in her vulnerability and in her acting talent.
Overall, she’s absolutely gorgeous in every way.
And way beyond … her voice. She’s got a way of commanding your attention in a split second and that’s when she begins to speak. She has voice acting credits, and worked on Command and Conquer 4: Tiberian Twilight where she voices the character of Lillian Parker.