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Santa Claus, Captain Jack Sparrow, Mr. T, Hagrid, Gandalf, The Man with No Name…some characters are unimaginable without a beard. And it’s hard to look at a screen these days without seeing a Hollywood celebrity sporting some amount of facial hair: Brad Pitt, Russell Crowe, Will Smith, Ben Affleck, Sameul Jackson, Hugh Jackman, Jim Carrey, Joaquin Phoenix to name just a few. 

Research reveals that people associate beards with age, masculinity, maturity, and dominance. And studies suggest that women prefer men with light or heavy stubble over clean-shaven faces; and clean-shaven faces were preferable to fully bearded faces. So what kind of impact can facial hair have on an actor’s chances of getting cast? That all depends on the role, of course; but here are a couple of examples of how something as simple as facial hair can have the potential to make a difference in your career.

Criminal Minds‘ Matt Ryan was in the midst of doing Henry V in London when pilot season was in full force. He attended an audition for the role of John Constantine for the NBC series Constantine while still in the UK sporting very long hair and a big, bushy beard. After the audition, his agent called him saying, “Look, they really, really like you but I–they can’t really see past the beard, you know?” Being that his Shakespearean role required the facial hair, he wasn’t about to shave.

Still, he fought hard for the role of Constantine, creating several tapes to keep him in the running. “But I think they couldn’t see past my beard. So I think everyone–they went back to the drawing board and started looking again,” Ryan shared. He was even referred to as “Sasquatch” by writer David Goyer! As soon as Henry V ended, Ryan flew to America, arriving on a day when all the hair salons were closed. Fortunately, a friend helped cut his hair, and the following day he tested at the studio as well as with the network, and finally landed the gig.

Ultimate Fighting Championship welterweight Tyron Woodley’s beard led to a change of fate for his role in the NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton. In his case, he was initially cast for a small part, but thanks to his beard, he was able to secure a more substantial role. “They wanted me to be completely clean shaved [at first],” he said. “And you know, I don’t try to make a fuss because I’m honored and blessed to be on the show, but I’m sitting there like, ‘So…you want it all off?’”

But when he noticed the other actor in his fight scene was going to need an artificial beard glued onto his face whereas Woodley was required to shave his real beard off, he asked if they could just switch roles. “They’re like, ‘No, you can’t switch roles, he got picked off of his read, they’re different characters,’” Woodley shared. “So I said okay, I sat in the chair. Me and the barber shooting the breeze, right? He’s got the clippers on, about to get rid of my beard, and then somebody busts in the door like, ‘Hold on! Wait, wait, wait! They said they’re going to switch characters.’ So they switched us. Thank God, because I got double the amount of work, I got a lot of camera time, it was a completely different role than I went for, and then I got to keep just a little bit of the beard.”

To Beard or Not to Beard

You never know when a beard will help or hurt your chances for the next role. For this reason, many actors choose to get headshots taken with a beard, and then shave it off for a few more clean-shaven photos during the same session. If you’re only taking one kind of headshot, and you’re not sure which way to go, get shots taken in the way that best represents your look most of the time. And keep in mind, if you do supply casting with both bearded and clean-shaven looks, you’ll need to be willing to grow a beard or shave it at any given time when you land a role.

And in the event you can’t seem to grow a proper beard, you can rely on hair and make-up experts like Johnny Depp did for Jack Sparrow; or you can even get beard implants (What will they think of next?) It seems the authority and perceived virility of a full beard must have some significance. But you might want to heed Ashton Kutcher’s advice as he once said, “The scruffier your beard, the sharper you need to dress.”

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