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How a Hair & Makeup Team Transformed Al Pacino Into HBO’s ‘Paterno’

In HBO’s “Paterno,” director Barry Levinson tells the story of the Penn State pedophile scandal — in which assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was charged with a pattern of child molestation that stretched over 15 years — and its effect on Joe Paterno, the winningest head football coach in NCAA history. It was the job of makeup artist John Caglione Jr. and hairstylist Trish Almeida, first-time collaborators, to transform iconic actor Al Pacino into the bespectacled mentor whose legacy was called into question by events that rocked the region and shocked the nation.

Caglione has been working with Pacino since the 1990 film “Dick Tracy,” for which he won the Oscar for makeup. For “Paterno,” he studied the coach’s look and included a process that made the actor feel comfortable. “With Al, he likes to try on different noses. I don’t know if it’s part of his process in finding the character, but we’ve done it on almost every film short of ‘Donnie Brasco,’” Caglione says. He ended up sculpting six separate noses to find the right aesthetic. The artisan was careful to use makeup to give an impression of the character, and never to cover Pacino completely, he says. Texture created the weathered look of a coach who spent more than 45 years under the sun. Finer details details like a scar around Paterno’s lower left lip were added to increase authenticity.

To reflect the cancer treatments Paterno went through soon after he stepped down in the wake of the Sandusky scandal, Almeida commissioned effects artist Justin Stafford to create two wigs from real hair. One was lighter with more gray to reflect the treatments. “Each wig had three different components to them: a large base, then fill-ins to match the Joe Pa look,” says Almeida. Wide-framed yellow-tinted glasses were added to complete the look. The entire makeup process took about 30 minutes in order to keep pace with the fast TV schedule.

Though the film is set in late fall in central Pennsylvania, production shot in New York during the height of summer. Caglione credits DP Marcell Rév for making the look of Pacino as Paterno stand up on camera. “HD is very unforgiving, and Marcell beautifully shot the makeup, which helped us out tremendously,” Caglione says.

“Al likes to try on different noses. …We’ve done it on almost every film short of ‘Donnie Brasco.’ ”
John Caglione Jr.

Rév says he referenced the interiors of Danish painter Vilhelm Hammershoi to keep the film’s composition neutral yet avoid an overall coldness. “Those paintings defined our color palette from day one,” says the Hungarian cinematographer. Warmer tones in the highlights and color contrast in the lighting setups added depth to the frame to reflect the colder season.

A blend of digital cinema cameras along with 8mm and 16mm film formats added to a narrative that flashed back through time periods. The shooting style took an approach similar to the political dramas of the ’70s and ’80s. “This is an actor-driven drama,” says Rév, “and we embraced it by creating camera movements motivated by the tension of the scene.”

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