Once upon time, in a far away land (called Hollywood), actors with piercings were a lot like fairy godmothers. We weren’t really sure that they existed, and those of us who thought they saw one only had a blurry photo or two and couldn’t prove it. But today, as more characters in film and literature are being written with piercings and tattoo art to reflect the changing social norm, modified movie actors and characters are finally coming into prominence. You can even track the change.
Although tattoo art has been seen among film characters of particular types earlier (sailors, mystics, societal outcasts), for the most part the real onset of both character and actor adapting body modifications didn’t begin until around the year 2000. One of the more notable examples of a character being reinvented for the modern era is Francis Dolarhyde, the title character in 2002’s Red Dragon. Originally seen on the big screen in the 1986 film adaptation of Thomas Harris’s novel of the same name, the Francis character is covered with an amazing dragon tattoo. His tattoo was later redesigned to a more modern monochrome version and features prominently in the 2002 movie version starring Ralph Fiennes.
Another film that lent its style to modern modification trending, adding to a growing fashion yearning for all things mystical and idiomatic was 2007’s 300, starring Scottish actor Girard Butler as the king of Sparta and Rodrigo Santoro as Persian god-king Xerxes. Along with stunning Grecian fashion and a barrage of pierced, tattooed, and implanted creatures, the character of Xerxes himself is shown with large, golden Middle Eastern style rings pierced through his nose, eyebrow, cheeks, and ear cartilage. This is a slight change from his original depiction in the Frank Miller comic book on which the film is based, as in the comics he also wears piercings in his bottom lip.
Perhaps the most prominent recent character to be shown with both piercings and tattoos is Stieg Larsson’s tough as nails female protagonist Lisbeth Salander of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. This character was first played on the big screen in 2009 by the lovely Noomi Rapace and then again just recently by Rooney Mara for the English version. (The original is in Swedish, as is its eponymous novel.) Both women got real piercings to play the role, including several in the ear cartilage and some in the nostril, septum, lip, eyebrow, and nipple. The Swedish original starring Rapace is even part of a trilogy; one movie for each of Larsson’s books, starting with Dragon Tattoo.
Other actors who have been pierced and tattooed, whether for a role or not, include Drew Barrymore, Johnny Depp, Ewan McGregor, Colin Farrell, Viggo Mortenson, Lenny Kravitz, Angelina Jolie, Keifer Sutherland, Asia Argento, Robert LaSardo, Eve Salvail, Katie Holmes, Leelee Sobieski, Scarlett Johansson, and countless others.