'Border' Makeup and Hair Artists Reveal Secrets to Creating Trolls for a Dark Love Story

Courtesy of Neon
Eero Milonoff and Eva Melander star in 'Border,' which explores the treatment of immigrants through its troll-centered story.

For the Academy-shortlisted Swedish-language film, pros pulled from real-life inspiration (namely, a specific British actor) to create monsters that looked odd but "real enough that you'd believe these trolls could be human."

Veteran makeup artist and prosthetics designer Goran Lundstrom had worked on pure fantasy films before (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows), but for Ali Abbasi's genre-bending feature Border, a dark love story about two trolls living in modern-day Sweden, he was determined to avoid "the trap" of fantasy makeup. "When you're asked to do a troll, you immediately have The Hobbit in the back of your head, but I didn't want to end up in that realm. I wanted to create something that looked odd but was real enough that you'd believe these trolls could be human."

The Swedish-language film draws inspiration from Scandinavian folklore about baby-snatching monsters, but is firmly set in the real world. Border's trolls may be misfits with snaggleteeth, jutting foreheads and blotchy, bloated skin, but they are passing in a human world. Tina (played by Swedish actress Eva Melander) works as a customs officer in a coastal town.

To strike that balance between gritty realism and Gothic fantasy, Lundstrom looked to the real world, finding inspiration from — of all people — British actor Eddie Marsan. "He has a very cool, interesting face that for me has a kind of fairy tale feel to it," Lundstrom says of the Sherlock Holmes supporting player. "I took some of his features and adapted them for Tina, because there is sort of a gender swap thing in the story, where Tina is a bit masculine and Vero [played by Eero Milonoff] is a bit feminine." Combined with elements of Milonoff's distinctively blockish features — "I took his chin and put it on her and made his hair a bit more wavy, fuller" —the overall effect is uncanny: Vero and Tina look grotesque but just this side of fantasy. "My instinct was always to tone it down," says Lundstrom, "to do less, not more."

Abbasi initially told Lundstrom he wanted makeup that could be applied "within a hour" to accommodate Melander, who appears in virtually every shot. In the end, however, assembling Tina's face — with nine prosthetic elements including forehead, eyelids, ears and chin, along with a wig and asymmetrical yellowed dentures — took more than three times that. "We eventually got it down to two hours and 45 minutes, working with two makeup artists doing half the face each," says Pamela Goldammer, the key makeup artist on set. "We'd have to keep taking out the teeth so Eva could eat." (Melander was on a strict diet because she'd gained 40 pounds for the role).

Instead of using silicone to build a face for Melander's character, Lundstrom chose gelatin for a more natural look (the edges can get "wrinkly" with silicone, he says). "The only problem with gelatin is you need body heat to keep it soft," says Goldammer, "and we had a lot of scenes outside, in the forest. Once, it was so cold I had to hold hand warmers to Eva's cheeks to keep them from stiffening up."

This story first appeared in a January stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.