One of the most talked-about transformations of the year is in “Monster,” in which Charlize Theron gives an eerily convincing performance as Aileen Wournos, the hard-living Florida prostitute and serial killer.
Makeup artist Toni G was in the midst of building a high-profile career on studio projects in November 2002, when she got a call to do the independent film for a first-time director, Patti Jenkins.
“Charlize called Cinovation, Rick Baker’s shop, and they referred me,” G says. “I met with Charlize and Patti at the Chateau Marmont, and I was very impressed by the chemistry between them. They didn’t want to glamorize the character, which had been my biggest concern. They wanted to go for the gritty realism of someone who’s been very damaged by life.”
At the time, G had been hired as department head for Disney’s “Haunted Mansion,” which was just two months away. “I had to do a little soul-searching, and decided to go with my gut,” she says.
The indie project she decided, “had that special energy that you experience once in a blue moon. So even though it paid a lot less, I wanted to be a part of it.”
G’s first move was to hire sculptor Art Sakamoto, with whom she’d worked on “Planet of the Apes” and “The Nutty Professor,” to design prosthetic teeth for Theron.
“We had to get the protrusion and the crooked teeth, but contour it to her mouth so she could speak properly, and it would be effective but not distracting.”
The teeth were the only prosthetics used. G applied gelatin to create weight on Theron’s eyelids, so they drooped and made her look tired. She then removed about half the actress’ eyebrows and bleached them.
“We created a palette to move the brows into another area, for a more angry expression. Aileen had brows that angled up toward her forehead.”
Next was transforming Theron’s creamy complexion to resemble Wournos’ stressed and sun-damaged skin.
“I painted her face the way I would paint foam latex, in layers of color washes and patterns, with freckles, veins, broken capillaries, highlight and shadows,” says G. “I added a lot of reds and browns and blues and greens to her skin, about six layers of paint and sealer. Nothing was opaque, so the undertone colors could continue to read.”
The actress’ neck and hands got similar treatment. Then hairstylist Kathe Swanson went to work. “She spent hours stripping Charlize’s hair of any life it had.”
The day of the first makeup test on location in Orlando, Fla., Theron was also due on set for a camera test. That was when the look came together for the first time.
“She got up, popped her teeth in, lit a cigarette, and she was a different person,” recalls G. “Charlize was gone. All her mannerisms changed. It gave me goosebumps.”
Says producer Clark Peterson: “The individual effects were very subtle, but the result is extreme. I don’t think any of us expected the transformation Charlize and Toni G ultimately gave us.”
Given the time constraints of the low-budget film, G had to find a way to reproduce the look every day, but in a hurry.
“I wanted to hand-paint it all, but I quickly realized I needed to use my air-brush to speed things up,” she says. “I got it down to between 40 minutes and an hour.”
The shoot took place in February, which minimized the impact of Florida’s humidity.
Released Christmas week by Newmarket Films, “Monster” is emerging with mostly positive reviews from critics. Theron’s perf has garnered a Golden Globe nomination and recognition on numerous critics’ lists.
All this affords G’s work the kind of attention that rarely comes along.
“Without an amazing performance behind it, it would be empty,” she says of the look. ” She was so focused, as she had to be to achieve that performance.”
G also worked with Rick Baker as makeup department head on “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” for which they won a BAFTA award.
“Monster” is ineligible for Makeup Artist Guild awards Jan. 17, as members voted before it was ready. As for the Oscars, G says, “we’ll keep our fingers crossed.”