Hair & Makeup Artists Are Key To Believable Characters

Monica Corcoran Harel is an AwardsLine contributor. This article appeared in the Nov. 28 issue of AwardsLine.

Publicists, producers, personal trainers? Ha. Let’s face it: When it comes to nailing a role, a fantastic hairstylist and extraordinary makeup artist are an actor’s best friends. Where would Nicole Kidman be without her exuberant Virginia Woolf prosthetic nose? Oscarless. Ditto for Meryl Streep, who even name-checked her loyal hairstylist J. Roy Helland of 37 years at last year’s Academy Awards for her The Iron Lady victory. “I want to thank my other partner,” said the actress.

This year, the Academy tweaked the categories to include hairstyling in the makeup award for the 86th annual ceremony. It’s a smart inclusion, considering the two departments work incredibly closely, and the right period hair is essential to any film—even a post-apocalyptic one. Case in point: Hunger Games hairstylist Linda Flowers bleached 500 people’s eyebrows for the film and dyed the hair of 75 extras. With a team of 45 stylists, she also created 450 original wigs and hairpieces.

This year’s likely contenders for hair and makeup run the gamut in scope, from doctoring huge ensemble casts to refashioning lead actors into famous characters. For Hitchcock, hairstylist Martin Samuel had to recede Anthony Hopkins’ thick snowy mane with a partial shave and dye it brown at the sideburns. He also had a very sparse toupee made for the actor’s crown to simulate a balding man’s pate. “We kept it up every day for the 40 or so days of shooting, and Anthony was very patient,” says Samuel, who collaborated with Howard Berger on the prosthetics and makeup. It took 2½ hours each morning to turn handsome Hopkins into the homely, weak-chinned director.

Of course, it’s a tricky negotiation to conceal an actor’s most important means of expressing himself. Daniel Day-Lewis, in Lincoln, underwent just a scant hour and 15 minutes of cosmetic overhaul each morning to play the stately but physically craven 16th president of the United States. Instead of relying on prosthetics—which could easily encumber emoting—makeup artist and longtime Steven Spielberg collaborator Lois Burwell studied photos and casts of the president and then used a method called “stretch and stipple” to age the actor 10 years. She also dyed Day-Lewis’ natural beard darker and thinned it out.

“Lincoln had a soft chin and Daniel doesn’t, so we structured the beard to give that impression,” she says, adding that the Oscar-winning actor was new to the extreme makeup process. “You can’t just put one face on another. It’s not like you are working on a mannequin.”

The team working on the science-fiction epic Cloud Atlas, which wildly spans generations, had a Herculean undertaking in that they had to metamorphose dozens of actors into myriad characters. Consider Halle Berry as an elderly Korean man or Hugo Weaving playing a blonde, female nurse and you quickly get the idea. The film’s six storylines are directed by Tom Tykwer or the Wachowskis, and makeup artists Daniel Parker and Jeremy Woodhead worked with the directors, respectively. At the same time, the two had to constantly compare their sketches and visions to be sure that they weren’t repeating looks.

To transform Berry into an Asian elder, Woodhead used a wig, implants, contact lens, facial hair, and prosthetic teeth. “There was the added complication of an implanted eyepiece that covered the whole of one of Halle’s eyes and had to look like it was embedded in her skin,” says Woodhead. “Halle just sat there and laughed with delight as each layer went on and the character gelled together.”

Parker, who delighted in re-creating Weaving as the brutish, voluptuous Nurse Noakes, adds that last-minute directorial decisions to have an actor join another sequence as a different gender, age, or ethnicity intensified the workload. Still, he insists “this was a dream project for an artist.” He adds that the actors embraced the process and didn’t grouse about the marathon makeup sessions that took as much as four hours.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is Bill Murray’s portrayal of Franklin D. Roosevelt in Hyde Park on Hudson. In this case, the director Roger Michell instructed Morag Ross to employ a subtle touch in physically refashioning the actor as the jovial president. “The M.O. for the whole look was less is more. Nothing heavy-handed,” says makeup artist Ross, who added a mole to Murray’s right cheek and a swath of melanoma above his left eyebrow.

A 1939 Life magazine photo of FDR became the inspiration for Murray’s hairstyle. Norma Webb made an educated guess on the hair color, as her historical references were all in black and white. “I proceeded to cut the hair as for the period,” she says. “But the cut needed to reflect Roosevelt’s seeming disinterest in ‘conservative’ behavior and image.” The translucent actress Olivia Williams also plays Eleanor Roosevelt with a soft wink. She’s not nearly as equine-looking as the First Lady in the end, but Ross added prosthetic teeth that altered both her profile and the shape of her face. Webb added hair wefts and colored Williams’ mane to reflect the First Lady’s unruly tresses and disdain for vanity.

Channeling Russian high society of the 1800s for Anna Karenina required some artistic license. Back then, women didn’t wear makeup but relied on creams to enhance their looks, notes makeup artist Ivana Primorac. Still, she and director Joe Wright wanted “to appeal to the modern audience without looking wrong for the period.” Actress Keira Knightley underwent a minimal change with a slight darkening of her fair coloring and hair. Jude Law, however, needed to be aged and refashioned as a bit of an “egg head.” To do that, Primorac altered the shape of his temples, receded his hairline and lengthened his jaw with a beard.

The near 40-artist team that tackled the hair, makeup and prosthetics on The Hobbit probably needs a long vacation. With 13 lead characters and stunt and scale doubles often needed, the crew helmed by lead makeup and hair artist Peter King had to oversee the transformation of no less than 36 actors. Even more challenging was the need to distinguish characters of the same race—such as dwarves—in appearance as well as silhouette. “Audiences must be able to recognize them by the head and body shape as they’re walking up a mountain,” says Richard Taylor, cofounder of special effects company Weta Workshop.

Realizing the vision of director Peter Jackson before filming even began required about 800 illustrations and 1,000 sculptures. New characters like goblins required their own physical evolution, but it was the high-resolution camera that made fabrication and application an arduous endeavor. “It’s exponential how much more challenging prosthetics and makeup have become because of the clarity of this camera,” says Taylor. “It sees everything. Everything!”

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