This year's Oscar nominees for Best Makeup and Hairstyling – “Foxcatcher,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “Guardians of the Galaxy” – are a typically varied assortment. This is a branch, after all, whose choices often reflect consideration of the work itself above Best Picture-contending frontrunners. Just last year we got nominations for films like “Bad Grandpa” and “The Lone Ranger.” This time around, the cream of the crop just happened to come in critically acclaimed films.
Beginning with “Foxcatcher,” Bill Corso and his co-nominee, Dennis Liddiard, had a gargantuan task ahead of them: transforming well-known comedic actors Steve Carell and Channing Tatum, as well as Mark Ruffalo, into something approaching blue blood John du Pont, wrestling wunderkind Mark Schultz and his ill-fated brother Dave. They split duties, with Liddiard handling Tatum's transformation, Corso working on Carell and the two of them coming to Ruffalo when needed.
For both Tatum and Ruffalo, given that they were playing wrestlers, silicon cauliflower ears were crafted to display the look of cartilage being broken and crushed over the years. But more than that – and as a reprieve from having to 100% recreate the real-life figures, which wasn't something director Bennett Miller was interested in – there was an overall look that Liddiard was interested in trying to emulate.
“I looked at these guys who had been in that world of wrestling their entire lives, and in my research, what I kept noticing was their profiles are incredibly flat,” Liddiard says. “Their noses, the cartilage, their chins get really strong and they just have an appearance of having a very flat face. So what we did on Channing was he wore a prosthetic nose across the bridge of his nose to widen the bridge and make it look like his nose had been broken, like a bump on one side. And then I took little plugs that we pushed up his nostrils on the lower part of his nose to flare it out and push the tip down, which kind of flattened his nose out. Then he wore lower dental plumpers that pushed his lip out and lowered his jaw forward.”
For Ruffalo, they went with upper dental plumpers as opposed to lower because they pushed his top lip out to get the flattened face look. “We also made these little vacuu-formed tabs that went on the back of his ears to push his ears out, to try and make the brothers look more alike, because Mark's ears lay flat,” he says. “And we painted a little bit of a broken nose, because he already had a little bump. So we enhanced it.”
The trickiest part was dealing with the actor's hairline, which doesn't recede at all to the point Dave Schultz's did. They shaved it back, but then they were left with the “five o'clock shadow” to deal with. Ultimately, though, the work would have been all for naut if it was simply ruined in the wrestling sequences. They had to come up with applications that could take a hit.
“Billy and I both talked about it a lot,” Liddiard says. “We changed the designs of the ears a little bit. We talked about a full nose on Channing that was from the bridge all the way to the tip, but we didn't think that would hold up, so that's why we just did a smaller piece across his bridge. And then we ended up doing the plumpers up the nostril to flare out the bottom part, because we just didn't think it would stand up. And the wrestling you see in the movie is not even 1/16th of what we shot.”
For Carell, trepidation set in for Corso from the get-go. “When I had the conversation with Bennett, I said, blatantly, like, 'Why did you cast Steve in a part that's so against type?' And he goes, 'Well, it can't look like Steve. 'Steve Carell' cannot be in this movie.'”
Something else that had him worried was that Miller's filmmaking approach is to often hold on close-ups, which is terrifying for a film makeup artist who counts on the tricks of the medium to “hide” anything that might seem off. To say nothing of the kind of lighting this film was employing, which isn't necessarily flattering for film makeup.
“I immediately said, 'What's distinctive about Steve that we can get rid of,'” Corso recalls. “One was his eyebrows. So we had the prosthetic that covers his eyebrows and also I changed the anatomy of his eyes' shape and I added a little age around his eyes with that, so that makes a big difference. And then it allowed me to put the very pale, you know, thinning eyebrows on him, which was a huge change.”
Du Pont also had very distinctive, tiny teeth, so they made dentures for that and lowered Carell's gumline. They also decided to plump out Carell's whole mouth area and change its shape with plumpers on both the top and the bottom. But the biggest task, perhaps of the entire process on all the actors, was changing Carell's skin tone to the translucent blue-blooded look. “That was the lion's share of the work,” Corso says.
And of course, on top of all of that is the now-iconic “beak,” Corso says of Carell's nose appliance, which gives du Pont such a striking profile in the film. But the icing on the cake for him was simply the brown contact lenses to cover up Carell's lighter eyes. “That, to me, was when he became du Pont,” he says. “That's when he became almost, you know – I don't want to say soulless, because du Pont was actually a very entertaining, nice guy. But it puts the focus on his eyes and draws you right in.”
Unlike “Foxcatcher,” the success of which was deemed to be more about makeup and prosthetics by the branch than hair, the nominees for “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “Guardians of the Galaxy” each included hair designers. Beginning with the former, hairstylist Frances Hannon says the most difficult look to find was M. Gustave's, played by Ralph Fiennes.
“Wes is a perfectionist and Ralph Fiennes is an extreme perfectionist, as is the character,” she says. “He wore makeup, mascara and not one single hair on his head that was ever out of shape. Prepping his mustache every day would take half-an-hour! Wes wanted golden blonde hair and Ralph”s wig had to blend with Ralph”s own hair, which was very dark, and transforming that was difficult. Plus we needed a full head of hair. Ralph carried it extremely well.”
It wasn't as difficult as the drastically transformative work on Tilda Swinton because that, she says, “was a more contained achievement.” Others were as well because they had to be connected to a “young” and “old” version of the character, such as matching Tony Revolori to F. Murray Abraham and keeping something – their hair – to connect the two. “Similarly, Tom Wilkinson and Jude Law kept the same hair, same shape mustaches, and if you put them side-by-side, you could think that they may have been the young and the old,” she says.
But speaking of Swinton's Madame D, that was still, of course, a significant task. “Wes was looking at a much older woman originally,” she says. “He came to me very early when he was thinking of casting [Swinton] and said, 'What do you reckon? Could it work?' I was not thinking that he was going to cast a 50-year-old – much less such a striking 50-year-old – to play an 83-year-old woman. It took the whole family into a particular area that was new. It was an amazing concept and amazing of Wes for coming up with this idea.”
She worked with Mark Coulier a lot on this as he whipped up the prosthetics, but for the hair, she says she looked at hairstyles from the work of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec to Queen Mary. “But we didn”t want to lose Tilda,” she says. “The costume design was to give that extraordinary balance. You mustn't let the makeup ever outweigh the rest of the look. She became Madame D and she was just a whole presence. And then we followed through with Adrien [Brody]. I put his hair up very high, unusually high. He had mascara and a very precise look balanced with a very heavy costume. That in itself was sort of a nod to Madame D, too. He was emulating his mother.”
On the prosthetics side, Coulier says he had a glamorous, larger-than-life figure in mind. But he also married that to ideas of how someone like Madame D might age. “Depending on what someone”s done in their life, people age in a different manner,” he says. “A person who has lived healthily their whole life will age differently than someone who has spent their life in the sun and/or been a heavy smoker all their life. [Madame D] had lived an interesting life, been quite varied in her glamorous lifestyle, travelled a lot, and we put elements of that into our sculpture and then wrinkled everything up a little bit more than you normally would. We weren”t just aging an actress, we were creating a character. Julie Dartnell and Frances then put on the wig and applied the makeup in the same fashion as if Madame D had been applying it for years – hence, the lipstick was applied rather badly. That was a nice touch from Frances.”
Quite often, he says, if you get a glamorous leading lady, she doesn”t want to be aged as much as you normally would, so you'd rein it in. “This happens especially in aging young actors to their mid-40s or 50s,” he says. “They sometimes don”t look old enough. But this was a total opportunity. Tilda was really into it, Wes was really into it and we were really into it.”
There was work done on other characters, of course, from Harvey Keitel's bald cap and nose cap, to fake heads and fingers that are removed from bodies over the course of the story (boy does it sound like a different sort of film in that context). But these were the key challenges for the team.
Over in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, hairstylist Elizabeth Yianni-Georgiou and makeup artist David White were working in a whole different, well, universe. And it was an incredible opportunity. “I have a pink marker pen when reading the script to go through what has makeup,” Yianno-Georgiou says. “There was a lot of red on this script! I knew from the time I read it that it was going to be exciting.”
Unfortunately, White was not available to talk about his prosthetics work on the film, which is obviously quite extensive – from Dave Bautista's tatted-up Drax the Destroyer to Zoe Saldana's green-drenched Gamora. Though Gamora was a joint character between Yianni-Georgiou and White's teams, and she says Michael Rooker's Yondu was another example of a character they built together.
“There was a unity in that we needed all of the characters to work well together,” she says. “And we didn't have visual effects on any of our characters. I knew the visual effects team had a big job with the spaceships and a whole universe to create so it was never an option. Everyone had to come from the makeup chair to be ready to be seen on the screen.”
Drax's look largely fell to White's team and was achieved through the use of 18 separate prosthetics to depict the scarring which told the story of the character's life. But there was a delight in both teams immersing into the world of the comic book, which all involved felt obliged to honor.
“You have to please the Marvel fans, even though 'Guardians of the Galaxy' was not quite as well-known,” Yianni-Georgiou says. “If they weren”t on our side, it could have been a disaster, couldn”t it? With Ronan, when you see him, his tribal markings were taken from images of Ronan from the comic books. But we could do twists and changes and also had lots of characters that weren”t part of that comic world.”
Indeed, investing in the “history” of planets to know where characters were coming from was a particular creative adventure. “'Why would somebody have rigged nails,'” she would ask in brainstorming with the art department. “'Why would somebody's eyes be red instead of blue?' 'What are these planets like?' We used a lot of the lettering in Ronan's wall to make tattoos – if somebody looks into their world, they”d see their language. Yondu's also got metal in his teeth and that's because he goes to planets and collects trinkets, and I thought that that would be one of the things he'd collect.”
Her favorite character to create, however, was The Collector, an over-the-top specimen played by actor Benicio Del Toro. “I don't know, it was just sort of exciting to have someone like Benicio in the chair,” she says. “And Ronan – Lee Pace was amazing. We did lots of tribal research and painted his body in tribal makeup. He was so in on it, so part of his character.”
Ultimately, Academy voters couldn't ask for a more diverse assortment of work to choose from this year. “It's a great lineup,” says Corso, who is also serves on the Academy Board of Governors for the branch. “Look at what we got: We have a period comedy, we have a big fantasy and we have a really dark drama. That's awesome. We always have a very eclectic collection.”
Find out who wins the Oscar for Best Makeup and Hairstyling at the 87th annual Academy Awards on Sunday, Feb. 22.