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Beards on film: How getting hairy will make you a better actor

17 August, 2015 — by Matt Owen0

bill and ted old men with beards

When you imagine classic leading men, names like Paul Newman, Cary Grant and Dirk Bogarde spring to mind.

These guys were intense, clean-cut and dependable. Their thrusting chins and fast-paced dialogue powering plenty of two-fisted detective tales and epics with casts of thousands. If there is a primeval essence that sums up classic Hollywood, then it probably smells like Clark Gable.

If you look really closely though, you’ll notice a dissenter in the ranks… Errol Flynn.

Errol Flynn

Despite a professional career that began with biting sheep on the balls, this Queensland native had one crucial advantage over his fellows that eventually gave rise to the phrase ‘In like Flynn’. What could it be? What was John Wayne missing that let our Errol slip between the sheets of a thousand starlets?

Answer: the ‘tache

Errol was just a forerunner though. It wasn’t until Hollywood started to grow up in the 70s that this sorely overlooked aspect of masculinity finally had the chance to sprout, manly face fungus filling our screens at every opportunity.

Of course it took a while to get it right, Dennis Hopper had nothing on Chewbacca. But these days if an actor wants to add gravitas to his performance, there’s only one way to go: hairy.

Look at Clooney (Syriana), Pitt (Jesse James) and even Christian Bale (Dark Knight and, erm… Reign of Fire. More of which later). So what, if anything, is this woolly monologue leading to?

Why, isn’t the answer obvious? Behold: The Greatest Facial Hair in Film!

Kurt Russell – The Thing (1982)

Kurt isn’t a shrinking violet and he’s not the type to hide his Goldie Hawn ensnaring chin behind a beard either. Stubble: sure, his Snake Plissken look gave rise to a whole generation of 80s anti-heroes who were too busy being badass to shave. You never know when you’ll need to blow up a weapons depot by striking a match on your face do you? But there is a (very) notable exception to Russell’s rule: The Thing.

I've been trying to shave with this for weeks.
I’ve been trying to shave with this for weeks

Trapped in the frozen north with only an AIDS allegory and a broken chess computer for company, Kurt does what any lone-wolf, alpha male chopper pilot would do… he grows a beard so impressive he can’t be replicated.

There’s nothing on Earth (or in this case, anywhere else), that could possibly imitate his magnificent face plumage. It looks like the result of an early atomic test on a ZZ Top concert. A hulking behemoth-beard capable of seeing off mutating dogs, crazed gunmen and sub-zero terrors from beyond the stars alike.

This beard should qualify ‘Mack’ as the bear in the film’s gay parable group, but it goes even further, emerging out the other side into a kind of hypermasculinity that just might save the world. It probably helps that it’s a great movie too.

Unicron – Transformers: The Movie (1984)

Ok, so he’s a cartoon character from a convoluted tale of toys that turn into things.

He’s also big enough to eat the moon, and his quite literally Earth-shaking baritone comes courtesy of Orson Welles – himself an obnoxiously hairy individual in his latter years.


Although having an animated beard may be an unfair advantage (look at Bill Nighy in Pirates of the Caribbean), this hairy apocalypse comes with numerous distinguishing features.

It’s the only Van Dyke on our list. A style more usually associated with the fop or regency dandy.

This one qualifies however, by being 13 miles long and made from solid titanium. Oh yes, and it can transform into a laser gun. Even our next candidate never managed that….

Burt Reynolds – Everything he’s ever been in

Burt Reynolds began his career in the 60s as a stuntman, but Burt’s ‘tache first shows up being worshipped by the Sumerians around 6000BC. We can argue about its most famous appearance, but it’s in the early 80s that this bad boy really comes alive,


Seducing Dolly Parton, outwitting the Tennessee highway patrol and slipping into Farah Fawcett’s good books at 200 miles an hour, there is literally nothing this facial hair cannot accomplish.

Its absence in Deliverance can only be attributed to the fact that it was on loan to John Guillermin, busy remaking King Kong on the lot next door at the time.

Charlton Heston  – The Ten Commandments (1956)

Old Chuck had a touch and go relationship with his beard. In Planet of the Apes he blends in well with his simian captors, but in Spartacus he remains resolutely clean shaven despite being imprisoned and tortured for months on end. This leads us to the conclusion that Chuck’s mutant super-power is the ability to spontaneously grow hair at will, and never was it used more wisely than in classic relig-o-thon The Ten Commandments.

Big beard, used a tablet before it was cool... fixie just out of shot.
Big beard, used a tablet before it was cool… fixie just out of shot.

Despite a cast of thousands, almost to a man sporting huge woolly Jewish face fuzz, Chuck is the only dude manly enough to grow a beard even MORE IMPRESSIVE THAN GOD’S! Jehovah may have forgotten to shave on the seventh day, but the erstwhile John Charles Carter managed to play the last man on Earth in The Omega Man and the manliest man on Earth in this. Carrying those commandments down a mountain and screaming “from my cold dead chin”, he shows Satan’s Goatee up for the girly bum-fluff it is..

Ryan Reynolds in Blade:Trinity (2004) /Amityville (2005)

A slightly leftfield entry here, as Van Wilder is usually another example of the media friendly waxed-chest wimp that often typifies the modern romcom. Deep down though, Reynolds knows that a shiny hairless boy face will be the mark of death in a real emergency, and only the bearded can stand strong in the face of Dracula. 


Admittedly, Blade: Trinity’s take on Drac looks more like a swimwear ad than a genuine vampire threat (and in Reynold’s other supernatural outing, the Amityville ghosts can’t even manage a face, let alone grow a roughly-hewn demon beard upon it), but Reynolds looks like a man used to dealing with evil, he knows that there’s no time to shave during an exorcism, and he emerges triumphant because of it.

Facial Hair as religious iconography!

Kris Kristofferson – Convoy (1978)

And so we find the Ying to the Reynold’s Yang. A fantastic example of the singer-turned-actor beard that for some reason didn’t feature in Neil Diamond’s take on The Jazz Singer (It also helps that Kris’s leonine mane doesn’t look like bits of fluff stuck to a light bulb). Here the beard is used as a reflection of the manly 70s soul, the great American Dreamer, rolling down the highway with the spirit of Bachman Turner Overdrive kept close to his chin.


Kris’s beard acts as both lady magnet and man-attractor, pulling in the disparate truckers who form the convoy, each of them with a dream of one day managing to maintain such a neatly trimmed chin warmer despite living in a truck and having no electric razors.

Razor burn? Like water off a rubber duck’s back, cementing Kris’s position as the smoovest ride on the highway. Beard as freedom allegory.

Matthew Mconaughey – Reign of Fire (2002)

Mr Mconaughey is perhaps best known for playing the bongos in his pants True Detective, although if the internet is to be believed (and when isn’t it?) he has turned to the diabolical Ted Danson Weave to save the hair on his head. But back in 2002 the realisation dawned that hair on top is for fools and little girls with pig tails. The chin is what matters. 


Here he goes bald, tattooed, and grows what appears to be a horse’s nose-bag on the front of his head. Using it’s terrible power to beat up a similarly woolly looking Christian Bale, leap from helicopters without a ‘chute, and take out a fucking big dinosaur with the words “come on big boy!”.

Truly, cinema’s finest example of beard as weapon.

Jason Statham – The Transporter (2002)

Technically this shouldn’t be here, Statham doesn’t have a beard in the true sense, but it’s testament to the sheer manliness of his stubble that it’s climbed so high in the list, even managing to nudge Ian McKellan’s Gandalf off the bottom.

Screen Shot 2015-08-16 at 14.29.36

Legend has it that the stubble sported by this cockney chancer in The Transporter is the only substance known to cut through both diamonds and sunlight (not to mention any remaining hopes you may have harboured about being able to sexually fulfil Kelly Brook). The facial hair that looks like the actor is an afterthought: Which came first? The stubble or the Stath?

It takes the rough hero moulded by Bruce Willis in Die Hard and utterly destroys it, double-teaming it with the Desperate Dan shadow-stubble as featured by Stallone in Cobra.

If they ever decide to build a space elevator, then this stubble will be what anchors it to the earth.

There’s plenty more stupid claptrap on the site, for instance you can find out the five incredible books that deserve a screen adaptation.

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