Dour Actresses Cover Up in Pursuit of Oscars

Call it the "take me seriously" syndrome.

Almost every year, during the lead-up to the Academy Awards, a film comes out starring one of Hollywood's hottest, most sought-after actresses. But instead of strutting around onscreen in a ball gown, bikini or with a face full of feature-enhancing makeup, she's sullen. She's dour. Sometimes, she's flat-out ugly.

Why? She's probably trying to win an Oscar.

It's no secret that the movie industry insiders casting ballots for Hollywood's most coveted trophies salivate when actresses decimate their looks in the name of their craft. What better way to demonstrate commitment to a role than to chop off a head full of commercially endorsed hair and pack 20 pounds onto a to-die-for frame?

Below, see which actresses are hoping to score an award by smothering their looks this year, and check out who worked the technique to victory in the past.

Anne Hathaway, 'Rachel Getting Married'

For an actress who shot to fame as the ugly duckling turned budding beauty in 2001's "The Princess Diaries," it seems fitting that to enter into the realm of the acting elite, she would have to tuck away her signature grin and airy charm. Indeed, in "Rachel Getting Married" a limp-haired, sullen Hathaway hardly recalls the protagonists she played in "The Devil Wears Prada" and "Becoming Jane." As Kym, the dark, drug-addicted sister of bride-to-be Rachel, Hathaway twists her smile into a maniacal smirk, sleeping with the best man, spilling out painful family secrets during a speech at the rehearsal dinner and throwing punches with her mother. Critics praised Hathaway's turn; as she's up for the Best Actress award Sunday, Oscar voters may bow to her as well.

Meryl Streep, 'Doubt'

To be fair: Streep has been nominated for more Oscars (15) than any other actress. To say she must do much more at this point than show up onscreen to garner a nomination might be stretching it. So of the two films she starred in in 2008 -- "Mamma Mia!" and "Doubt" -- it's no surprise Academy Award voters decided to nominate her for her performance in the latter, in which she's clad in a nun's habit for the entire length of the film, than for the ABBA-inspired movie-musical, in which her blond locks flow and her behind shakes. As Sister Aloysius, the principal of an austere Catholic school out to oust a shady resident priest (Philip Seymour Hoffman) from the community, Streep is the antithesis of sexy -- though she told ABC News she found the costume "liberating." Her somber portrayal could earn Streep her third Oscar Sunday.

Amy Adams, 'Doubt'

For an up-and-coming actress, however, a nun's habit can work wonders. Amy Adams, Streep's "Doubt" co-star, is probably best known for playing an archetypical Disney princess in 2007's "Enchanted." Because of that role and others, like playing a bimbo nurse in "Catch Me if You Can," a perky congressional aide in "Charlie Wilson's War" and a bubbly mom-to-be in "Junebug," Adams earned a reputation for playing effervescent, un-complex characters. Donning a dour uniform for "Doubt" and playing Sister James, who attempts to impede the crusade started by Streep's character, was the perfect way for Adams to break out of that mold and earn her second Oscar nomination.

Kate Winslet, 'The Reader'

Winslet's been making the rounds on the red carpet this year, picking up a Golden Globe for "Revolutionary Road" and a BAFTA for "The Reader." But her breathless, glam awards show aura contradicts her somber persona in the latter film, the one that scored her a best actress nomination over "Revolutionary Road," which many expected would garner Oscar attention. Then again, the story of a former Nazi concentration camp guard responsible for the deaths of 300 prisoners is the kind of stuff the Academy falls for. Winslet's ability to bottle up her charm and furrow her brow surely helped. She's nominated for a best actress Oscar.

Charlize Theron, 'Monster'

Tall, blond and with legs that seem to go on for miles, Theron looks the part of the classic screen goddess. Which is why, when the former model-dancer gained 30 pounds, shaved off her eyebrows and put in a set of prosthetic teeth to play prostitute-serial killer Aileen Wuornos, the Academy took notice. Theron beat out Diane Keaton and Naomi Watts to win the best actress Oscar in 2004.

Hilary Swank, 'Boys Don't Cry'

Not only did Swank strip off her makeup and movie star-wardrobe for "Boys Don't Cry," she also subjugated her sex for the entire length of the film. Swank transformed from rising starlet to transexual teen to play Brandon Teena in the 1999 indie drama. Her moving performance led to a best actress Oscar, which Swank accepted in a ball gown, heels and a full face of makeup, belying the boy she played on-screen.