Hair presents new challenges to make-up artists

It’s one of the most macho things about being an actor. Robert Duvall has it in “Get Low.” So do Jon Hamm, Ben Affleck and Jeremy Renner in “The Town.”

It’s the stubble and beard growth in the movies. And a good onscreen bearded look requires a skilled makeup artist.

In “Get Low,” Duvall sports a wild and woolly look with crazy, mostly unkempt whiskers. “The Town” shows Renner, Hamm and Affleck in various stages of stubble and beard growth.

Whether it’s a 5 o’clock shadow, a two-day growth, stubble or a full beard, makeup artists often work feverishly to create just the right look.

For instance, Ken Diaz, the makeup artist on “Get Low,” bought books and studied America’s rural areas, including characters like Felix Bush, played by Duvall, a man who staged his own funeral in 1938 in Tennessee while he was still alive.

“Bush was a hermit, so he was different from most of the others in the film,” Diaz says. “I tried to keep him (as the only one) with a big bushy beard so he would be the oddity. Extras showed up at the funeral scene with bushy long beards — I think they were probably biker guys — and I shooed them away!”

Duvall’s beard gave Diaz’s makeup skills a real workout. He Photoshopped designs with different period looks onto Duvall’s image, and worked closely with the actor and helmer Aaron Schneider to give the look its final shape.

It helped that Diaz had worked on the first three “Pirates of the Caribbean” films, with “so many different ethnic beards for the pirates.”

The biggest challenge, says Diaz, was to keep the beard from shining. What looked fine in the makeup trailer sometimes turned out to look shiny in brighter light. “I would take a flashlight and shine it directly on the edge of the beard to make sure there was no shine at all,” says Diaz.

With “The Town,” there were many different looks to consider for the three male stars.

“When you start a movie, it’s always how actors see a character and how the director sees the character,” says John Jackson, head of the film’s makeup department. “(For example) with someone like Jeremy, who has a boyish face, you want to roughen him up. I think guys like the (bearded look) because it changes their appearance so quick and easy.”

To prepare for the film, Jackson and others took many pictures of people. Affleck did the same.

“The hardest thing is keeping it all in continuity,” says Jackson. “If the schedule changes and the actor shaves, I have to paint the stubble back on.”

Jackson uses a machine called a Flocker. “It’s time-consuming,” he says. “It uses static electricity to get the hair to stand up straight on an actor’s face.”

Applying a full beard can take a good 45 minutes. “It’s much easier if the actor grows his own,” say Jackson.

But when all is said and done, Jackson prefers his actors to be clean-shaved. “In the old days, you cleaned up, you shaved. I’m sure at some point the whole clean-shaven look will come back.”

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