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Challenges abounded for character makeup prosthetics designer Mike Marino. Not only was he tasked with re-creating Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall’s multiple character looks by makeup pioneer Rick Baker from 1988’s Coming to America, he also had to age them 33 years while contending with far less forgiving modern cameras.
Marino says his team watched the original “over and over and over again,” studying “all the patterns of wrinkles that every single character had,” capturing every nuance to age-ify. “It was a blessing that they had to look older, because I don’t think I could ever have gotten them to look like they did back then.”
Flashback sequences set in 1988 did require hair department co-head Stacey Morris to turn back the clock on Murphy and Hall. “I have some old molds from Rick Baker, and they are not Eddie’s measurements anymore,” says Morris, who strategically reshaped the actors’ hairpieces to create the illusion of their three-decades-ago proportions. “I haven’t seen them with that much hair since I was in high school,” she says with a laugh.
In addition to painstakingly touching up the prosthetics on set to conceal the tiniest flaws from hi-def cameras, Marino spent hours in digital postproduction after lensing and lighting changes altered the coloration of several creations. “If you take red out or you add green, everything changes,” he says. “The hair color changes, the skin tones change — and it’s not real skin, so it’s not exactly going to respond the same way that skin will.”
Problem-solving at every level, even after filming, is just part of the process, says Marino. “It’s never, ‘This isn’t working.’ It’s always, ‘This is going to work somehow, and at the maximum skill level that we all have [from] all of our years of doing this for film.’ “
Makeup department head and hair and makeup designer Donald Mowat says that his chief advantage in bringing the world of author Frank Herbert’s sprawling, seminal sci-fi saga to life onscreen was having worked on four previous films with director Denis Villeneuve. “I know what he doesn’t like, so it takes away a lot of the anxiety.”
One of the centerpieces of Mowat’s work was Baron Harkonnen, the hulking villain played by Stellan Skarsgard. As the designer aimed to imbue the Baron with an abundance of unsettling, pervasive menace, Marlon Brando was an initial reference point. “It wasn’t just Apocalypse Now. That was too easy,” says Mowat, who drew greater inspiration from Brando’s look in 1996’s The Island of Dr. Moreau. “It was darker and creepier, more dangerous, sinister, and Denis loved it.”
Mowat, prosthetics designer Love Larson, prosthetics makeup artist Eva Von Bahr and their team worked in concert with the art department, incorporating gorilla-like aspects into the design. After mock-ups and life-casts with Skarsgard, seven sculptors crafted the massive 24-pound bodysuit, thick neck and nine silicone facial appliances that transformed the actor. “It changed everything about him,” recalls Mowat.
At the first makeup test, “Denis was astounded — I’ve never seen him look like that,” recalls Mowat. “I knew that moment that we weren’t digitally fixing this makeup: It was a practical makeup in the truest sense of the word.”
The concern in transforming Jessica Chastain into the flamboyant televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker — who famously had no top to go over in terms of hair and makeup — was: How much Tammy Faye was too much?
“We didn’t want to completely obliterate Jessica in this process,” says Justin Raleigh, who created and applied the special prosthetic makeup effects. “You can lose the audience’s connection to the person under the prosthetics when you completely cover them.”
Raleigh’s team employed a computer-rendered amalgamation of both women’s features. “We took it to the most extreme coverage, then peeled away all those layers down to the hallmark elements,” says Raleigh.
Raleigh augmented the baseline look to reflect Bakker’s ’80s/’90s era with larger, fuller facial prosthetics to show weight gain, and an enhanced lip line; for her later years, that look was aged with stippled latex over stretched skin to create crepe-like wrinkles. From there, Chastain, her longtime collaborator and makeup department head Linda Dowds, and hair department head Stephanie Ingram formulated more specific looks.
“The look across the board was pretty intense,” says Ingram of Bakker’s ever-shifting, oft-stratospheric hairstyles. “It’s amazing how different she looked when you took her from the ’80s, when it was curly and dirty blond with roots, to when she had it short, and then at the end when she was red … The colors of the wigs that she wore in those times were showing how Tammy was actually feeling.”
This story first appeared in a January stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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Behind The Screen