Flawed Film Star Face:

(Tie) Robert Redford "All is Lost" & Chiwetel Ejiofor "12 Years a Slave"

One doesn’t need perfect skin to be in the movies.  There are countless SAG members with acne scars, sun spots, injury scars and wrinkles.  They are consistently cast in minor roles, comedic parts and as villains or thugs.  Known as character actors, they lend some visual reality to screen stories.


But leading men?  Usually these handsome specimens are hired for their jut jaws, trim physiques and clear skin.  Movie stars like George Clooney and Leonardo DiCaprio exist to be desired and admired.  Audiences may put up with a small chicken pox scar or two, but otherwise like their beefcake blemish-free.

This awards season, two actors are making the awards show rounds.  Each carries his respective feature film, appearing in a majority of the movies’ scenes.  And both display facial skin issues nearly as dramatic as their performances.

Robert Redford is long past his days as a matinee idol, but in his 77th year, he is hanging in there.  Especially in the acclaimed “All Is Lost,” where he hangs on the riggings of a boat adrift at sea.  Looking at Redford’s grizzled visage, it doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to deduce what was “Lost”:  Sunscreen, my dear Watson.

As a star during the tan-happy 1970s, Redford had as much ultraviolet (UV) exposure as he did box office success. On the left he is battered by damaging sunlight yet seem unaware of any problem as "The Great Gatsby" (1974). Years later, his characters are still sun exposed. It pains us to think that Redford spent months under the hot sun filming this latest feature, right.  Aquatic activities markedly increase the sun’s power to damage the skin. The light's reflection off the water represents a double whammy. The photons are to be feared, not embraced, and Redford’s skin shows the results of years of exposure. 

Despite the claims of the tanning bed industry, one does not need to suffer blistering sun burns to accrue damage. Redford provides a veritable dermatology atlas of the effects of chronic sun exposure.


UV damages collagen causing both fine wrinkles and deeper furrows.
Sunlight causes sun spots, large blotchy freckles that few find fetching.
Superficial blood vessels dilate causing a ruddy appearance.

Redford has not gone on record to report precancerous changes or skin cancer. George Hamilton is another actor from Redford’s era who has promoted tanning as a lifestyle choice. Recently, "Hamil-tan" admitted that he had undergone treatments for precancerous skin lesions related to sun damage.

Fortunately for most fair-skinned movie-goers all is NOT lost.  Using sun protection, at least SPF 15, reapplying every few hours, avoiding the midday rays and shunning tanning beds has been proven limit these changes over time.


We are aware of a number of movie actors with traumatic scars, including Harrison Ford, Sandra Bullock and Tina Fey.  Yet British screen star Chiwetel Ejiofor has the most prominent and dramatic injury scarring that may have ever graced a leading man. 

The result of a tragic car crash when Ejiofor was only 11, the jagged, raised scars might have made Ejiofor avoid the spotlight.  In movies, this type of scarring would usually adorn an evil character. 

To Ejiofor’s credit, of his 30 or so major film roles, most were depicting heroic or sympathetic characters.  Of note, Ejiofor’s heartbreaking performance of a kidnapped and enslaved free black man in “12 Years A Slave” does not highlight or focus on his scars.

Runner up:  Flawed Film Star Face:

Joaquin Phoenix in “Her”

Though partially hidden by a 1970’s-style ‘stache, Phoenix has a prominent scar on his upper lip.  This has been present since birth, presumably a cleft lip defect that repaired itself in utero.  Much like Phoenix has salvaged his movie career in “Her.”


© 1996-2014 Vail Reese M.D.

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