The Revenant
Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Among the 12 Oscar nominations for “The Revenant” is one for best makeup and hairstyling. Variety chatted with the trio that brought a startling reality to the hair and makeup. Makeup and prosthetic artists Sian Grigg and Duncan Jarman are nominated along with hair department head Robert A. Pandini for creating such effects as Tom Hardy’s partially scalped head, Leonardo DiCaprio’s wounds from the bear attack and the frost-bitten look of all the characters.

How did you come to be part of this project? What attracted you to it?

Grigg: I was working on “Suffragette” as the make-up, hair and prosthetics designer, when Leo emailed me to say he had just signed to “The Revenant,” a film he had talked to me about some time ago. The next day the script was sent to me and I soon realized it was going to be a huge make-up job. At the time I was heading a department with hundreds of extras all in period hair and make-up. Just doing Leo’s make-up on “The Revenant” was a much bigger job than designing the whole of “Suffragette.” I doubt I will ever get the chance to do such an epic, story-driven make-up again.

Jarman: Sian and I were working on “Suffragette” — we were actually doing the scene outside the Houses of Parliament at the time. She mentioned that she had been given the script for “The Revenant” and would I be interested in doing the prosthetics. She has been Leo’s make-up artist since “Titanic,” and I have made prosthetics for him since “The Aviator.” We flew out to L.A. a week or so later to have our first meeting with [director Alejandro G. Iñárritu]. I have done a lot of blood gags on films like “Saving Private Ryan” and “Band of Brothers.” But it was the idea of taking that out of the studio environment and into some really harsh terrain and temperatures that really interested me.

Pandini: I got a call early August 2014 and was told that this film was right up my alley. I met with the producers and got the script. After reading it I knew I had to do the film! I began testing looks for the trappers and Native Americans. I really wanted to be involved with a project like this that had never been done quite like this before. Totally outdoors in the rough environments was a huge draw.

What was the biggest challenge of working on the film? Either a particular effect, or the circumstances in which you were filming?

Pandini: Well, of course, the scale of the film was going to be a challenge. The huge vista shots into close-ups and 360-degree shots were particularly difficult due to the fact that there were no final touches on the actors, and we never knew exactly who was getting close-ups at any given moment. Another challenge was the weather. Rain, wind, freezing temperatures and remote locations added to the difficulty of this movie. Trying to keep the actors comfortable while maintaining their wigs and looks wasn’t easy. But it was a real team effort on the part of the entire cast and crew.

Grigg: I have to say the whole film was a huge challenge, knowing that the make-up was so integral to explaining (fur trapper Hugh Glass’) journey and recovery. If his make-up was not convincingly natural, then it could undermine the film. You have to believe he has been savagely attacked by the bear, that his wounds have turned gangrenous, that they recover in the sweat lodge and that he has real ice in his beard — not paraffin wax — and frost nip on his face and lips — not prosthetics pieces. If it starts to look like make-up at any time, you could take the audience out of the immersive quality of the film; it’s staggering how Alejandro and (D.P. Emmanuel Lubezki) manage to make you feel like you are there in the film with Glass, not just watching him on the screen. You even start to feel cold so the naturalism of the make-up is integral and essential.

Jarman: The biggest challenge had to be the bear attack reveal. We had Leo covered in prosthetics from the waist up, which took four-and-a-half hours to apply. All in the middle of a forest, in minus degrees temperature, all in one camera move, and we only had an hour-and-a-half of light to get the shot.

What achievement are you most proud of in the final film?

Grigg: I think I’m just proud that people don’t realize there is so much make-up on Leo. Poor Leo had to sit for hours in the make-up chair every day, even for the opening section when we had not started with the prosthetics on his face.  Even then, his make-up took over 45 minutes as I had to weather his skin and age him as well as paint individual grey hairs in his beard. The stages were so gradual and subtle.  For his neck alone we had seven different prosthetics to transition through each stage of recovery.

I have to say my favorite make-up was the look when he arrives at the fort; I have never had to do frost nip before. I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge. I’m so lucky that I love my job, and when I get to try something new and have a director like Alejandro, who is encouraging and not afraid of pushing the make-up to its limits. It was just a joy.

Pandini: It’s extremely satisfying to be able to work with an incredible director to help him achieve his vision. It was great to have so much artistic freedom to be able to create looks on the cast that were unique and not been seen quite like this before. The fact that we kept the looks as organic and true to the period, with emphasis on making them look as real as possible, is a true testament to all of the talented individuals that worked on “The Revenant.” It was a liberating challenge to make the actors look like they belonged in the environment, and not as if they had gone through the hair and makeup process. And I am very proud to have worked on this film.

Jarman: I’m proud of the fact that our work doesn’t necessarily stand out as looking like makeup. The actor’s face is our canvas, and it is our job as make-up artists to convince the cinema-going public that our actor is really enduring the experiences that Glass did. It takes many hours in the chair to turn a beautiful L.A. boy into a rugged, beaten, half-starved, frozen 18th century trapper. Fortunately, we also had an exceptional actor and consummate professional in Leo DiCaprio.

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