By Emily Rome
Updated July 31, 2012 at 12:00 PM EDT
T Charles Erickson

Everyone in the entertainment world seems to love a good physical transformation role, as Oscar winners like Charlize Theron (Monster) and Christian Bale (The Fighter) can attest. But what happens when the reigning Sexiest Man Alive takes on the role of one of history’s most famous deformed men — without the help of prosthetics?

Ticket-holders for the sold-out production of The Elephant Man at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Massachusetts have a chance to find out. Bradley Cooper is playing Joseph Merrick in the play, who became known as the Elephant Man when he was toured around England in the late 1880s when audiences shelled out a penny to see his deformed body on display.

Just as the cause of Merrick’s disfigurement has been a fascinating mystery to the medical world for decades, his story of longing for a place in a society that rejects him has captivated the film and theater world over the years.

In a 1980 film directed by David Lynch, John Hurt played the title role with the help of makeup made from casts of Merrick’s actual body. But Cooper is not the first to take on the challenge of using just his own (far from disfigured) body and voice to convey Merrick’s deformities. David Bowie, Mark Hamill and Billy Crudup are among the actors who have played the role on Broadway.

The Williamstown production started its run last Wednesday and continues thorough Aug. 5.

Check out a photo of Cooper in the play, modeled after the above 1889 photo of Merrick:

What do you think, PopWatchers? Does the Cooper have the acting chops to portray Merrick’s deformities without prosthetic makeup? Who else would you like to see follow in Cooper’s and Crudup’s footsteps and take on the role?

Read more:

Bradley Cooper declared ‘People’s Sexiest Man Alive

Bradley Cooper, Patricia Clarkson join ‘The Elephant Man’ in Williamstown

‘Hit and Run’ trailer: Bradley Cooper feels violated