Oscar Makeup Nominees: Masters of Transformation

Extreme alterations to the human body pushed three films to the top of Academy's list

Turning Johnny Depp into a 120-year-old Tonto was the most daunting challenge faced by makeup department head Joel Harlow on “The Lone Ranger,” requiring eight hours each day to apply 17 silicon appliances, plus fingernails and two contact lenses per eye (one to push down the lower lid). But over the course of the entire eight-month shoot Harlow and fellow Oscar nominee, hair department head Gloria Pasqua Casny, executed scores of other more subtle transformations that were just as vital to selling the film’s reality.

“We had 86 speaking parts and hundreds of background (players) in special makeups,” says Harlow. “Even the young Tonto is wearing seven prosthetics on his face and another four on his body.”

Pasqua-Casny had to create more than 200 wigs for scraggly headed cowboys, frontier prostitutes and a gaggle of hirsute sideshow characters. But her biggest challenge was keeping the hair out of actors’ faces during the train-top fight sequences. “I have hair that’s 20 inches long and a director saying, ‘Can you keep that out of their face?’” She did so by weaving a thread through Depp’s wig and sewing it to his breastplate.

The efforts of the Oscar-nommed hair and makeup team on “Dallas Buyers Club” were similarly subtle. Stars Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto each lost about 40 pounds to play characters who are wasting away from AIDS, but the script was filmed wildly out of sequence over the course of a whirlwind 23-day shoot. So for the early scenes in which McConaughey’s character is healthier, makeup department head Robin Mathews gave him a slight tan and put plumpers in his mouth to make his cheeks look fuller.

Hair department head Adruitha Lee employed a less-obvious fattening technique. “I lightened his roots,” Lee says. When Leto’s transgender character was sick, “I put scarves on her to expose her and make her more vulnerable and thinner.” Mathews’ thinning process involved highlighting all the bones, tendons and veins she could find on their bodies, from their heads down to their feet, and sometimes shading in ones she couldn’t.

On the third of this season’s makeup nominees, “Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa,” it typically took lead makeup effects artist Stephen Prouty three hours each day to turn 42-year-old Johnny Knoxville into the 86-year-old title character.

The 11 silicon prosthetics on his head carried the bulk of the transformational load, but the key to making Knoxville believable as an octogenarian to the unsuspecting non-pros he pranked was the quality of the hairpieces applied to his face and scalp. “If people see the lace (of the wig) and the adhesive that we use is too shiny, that’s an easy giveaway,” Prouty says. “Every day, we had to fool people who were literally inches from his face. The film depended on that.”

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