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For MGM/United Artists’ House of Gucci, Jared Leto plays Paolo Gucci, the middle-aged, overweight and balding cousin of Adam Driver’s Maurizio Gucci. For an actor who has grown accustomed to transformative work in films like 2013’s Dallas Buyers Club (which earned him an Oscar for best supporting actor) and this year’s The Little Things, one shouldn’t be surprised if Leto’s presence in the film’s cast goes unnoticed until the final credits roll.
Assisting Leto in his uncannily realistic portrayal of the onetime designer turned Gucci family black sheep was makeup artist Göran Lundström, who earned an Oscar nomination in 2019 for his work on the Swedish fantasy film Border. The pair reunited to speak with THR about the process of turning Leto into Paolo Gucci with the use of Lundström’s prosthetic design, which he put together at breakneck speed in just three weeks.
Jared, you’re known for disappearing into a role. How does the hair and makeup play a part in that process?
JARED LETO I’ve heard about actors who didn’t have the character until they put on the shoes. In this case, I was sent the script for another part; when I read the script, I really connected with this character and I saw a lot of opportunity for heart and humor. Once I started doing the research, I [knew] this was going to be a pretty intense transformation. And I love immersive work. I love the idea of a mask. In the earliest theater, actors would wear masks. It’s not only a disguise — a mask also reveals. My job is to create a life behind the mask, and Göran’s job is to find humanity in the mask. It’s not just about how well he puts together some chemicals or chooses the right colors. It’s really about creating an individual.
Göran, I read you first met with Jared before taking the job. Is that a typical process for you?
GöRAN LUNDSTRöM This job was unusual in so many ways. It was Jared who basically hired me — I didn’t even know it was a Ridley Scott project when [Jared reached out to] me. I tried to listen to Jared as much as possible, because he needs to wear [the prosthetics]. He needed to tell me what he wanted, because I couldn’t make something for him that he didn’t believe in. He was steering this makeup, and I was just trying to do it as believable as I could in the time we had. But usually it’s the producers [that I meet before] the actor. In this case, I had an interview with Jared, and I just tried to do my best to accommodate what he needed.
Jared, what sealed the deal for you?
LETO I watched Border, and you could tell there was the work of a master craftsman there — there’s a genius at work. Then I started asking around town, and everyone had wonderful things to say about Göran. If you got to look at every tiny liver spot, every bit of sun damage, every flake of skin, every mole that was put on the face, it’s quite astounding. If [Göran had] made it two-dimensional, he’d be painting an image every day, over and over again.
I said to Ridley, “I’m going to go absolutely fucking crazy.” Ridley’s genius is that he hires who he thinks is best and he doesn’t second-guess it. He expects you to have the answers, and that’s a beautiful burden he puts on you, that confidence. He trusted Göran and I to come up with something that works. What Göran did that was astounding was not just bring this character to life — and shocked the world, as evidenced by people’s reactions to not knowing I’m actually in the movie — he did it in the shortest amount of time. I think he had three weeks to do this.
What was the biggest challenge in those first three weeks?
LUNDSTRöM The first thing you have to do is try to figure out what you’re actually supposed to be building. The biggest problem here was the fact that it is a drama, not a fantasy movie. And not just any movie, but one with Al Pacino and Lady Gaga. I just couldn’t think about that, because the challenge is [already] so demanding. I’ve done similar makeup [jobs] before, but [the audience is] supposed to recognize that actor. [Jared] was supposed to be absolutely believable as Paolo, which was really, really difficult. All I could do was my best without any second guessing. I think that’s the problem.
We had pictures of Paolo that we used as a guide. But it took me a long time to understand that Jared didn’t want to be recognizable. That’s very rare. For me, most actors want to be noticed — and most producers don’t really want to pay for actors that you can’t recognize.
Three weeks sounds like it could be a lot of time, but what we had to do was not straightforward. I couldn’t just sculpt something, mold it, put silicone on and be done. You’re trying things out until you get it right — and we didn’t have that much time to get it right.
What were the conversations you had about Jared’s comfort when he wore the prosthetics? I’m sure part of the process is making something that doesn’t impede an actor’s performance.
LETO When you play a real person, it’s important to do your due diligence, to bring to life an impression of that person with as much dignity and grace as you can muster. Paolo Gucci was a public person, and it was important to have a representation of him — it’s never going to be Paulo Gucci. But in the same way that I would look at articles and talk to friends and family and do research, the same thing is happening externally as well as internally. You go on a journey, and you become a detective. You’re looking at someone’s earlobes, at their hairline, where he may be losing hair or when his hair went gray. You become an author, in a sense, and you try to write the best story that you can. I knew I was in really good hands, but I think both of us were probably losing our fucking minds as well, because the clock was ticking. We were like a runaway train headed straight for a solid steel wall. I remember saying to Göran, “This could be astounding, but it also could be maybe the worst thing that we’ve ever done.” There was really no middle ground — it was one or the other.
Did you also feel that pressure, Göran, since you were basically designing the look of a real person?
LUNDSTRöM It was more important to me that Jared looked believable — we didn’t get stuck too much on Paolo’s look, because Jared has completely different bone structure. I just tried to get the personality of Paolo in there. But I had no idea what Jared was going to do with this character. I told him, when I saw him last week after the London premiere, that he acted like he didn’t have any makeup on, which is really rare. Most people feel all this stuff on their face and just get restricted, and Jared seemed not bothered by it. He looked normal and relaxed, and it looked very expressive. I think when people saw the trailer, they weren’t just paying attention to the makeup — they saw his characteristics, which were really believable. I can’t do that with just makeup.
Al Pacino told an amazing story at a post-screening Q&A here in Los Angeles. He said when he arrived on set in Italy, he noticed he was being followed around by this old, chubby Italian guy that he thought was just some weird fan. Someone on set had to tell him it was actually Jared in character. That must make you feel like you both did your jobs fairly well!
LETO When I shot Dallas Buyers Club, I remember going somewhere and having people treat me completely differently. To not be recognized by your fellow actors was a whole other level — Jeremy Irons told me he didn’t realize it was me in our first scene.
When we were testing the makeup, I didn’t want anyone to see me — we didn’t want more voices in the room. But someone from wardrobe walked in on us, a beautiful and lovely Italian man. He saw me and was startled. He started crying. He was so moved that Paolo Gucci was standing in front of him. That was a really intense moment; I was shocked and didn’t know what to do. But he was the first witness to Göran’s work. This doesn’t happen too often, but there was a magical synergy that’s an example of Göran’s craft and artistry, and it proves how pivotal hair and makeup can be.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
This story first appeared in a December stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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Behind The Screen