A historical British royal drama. A biopic of an American vice president. A Swedish film about real-life trolls. All three of this year’s Academy Award nominees for hair and makeup showcase a wide range of visual effects on the faces and bodies of their stars, but there’s one subject everyone has an opinion on: the use of prosthetics, or not, in “Mary Queen of Scots,” “Vice,” and “Border.”
“Last year, prosthetics won the Oscar,” says hair and makeup designer Jenny Shircore, nominated with Marc Pilcher and Jessica Brooks for “Mary,” referring to the young boy’s headpiece in “Wonder.”
“Prosthetics are the modern way of changing a character’s look, but I felt heartened that we had used a simpler form of makeup, with brushes and sponges [in ‘Mary’], yet it was considered worthy of a nomination alongside major prosthetics,” adds the Oscar winner (1998’s “Elizabeth”).
Indeed, Shircore’s makeup is key to shaping the changing look of Queen Elizabeth (Margot Robbie), riddled first with facial smallpox blisters, then later scars — and heavy white makeup to cover them that created her iconic look. For that, Shircore and her team applied false skin, while shying away from actual appliances. Elizabeth’s collection of nine wigs (Mary, played by Saoirse Ronan, wore more natural makeup and two wigs) were created with wire frames wrapped with hair.
“It enabled us to get a good effect from a very simple method,” she adds. “The makeup, and the hair, tells you the story of these queens.”
Three-time Oscar winner Greg Cannom (nominated with Kate Biscoe and Patricia Dehaney) had no problem with complex appliances to transform Christian Bale into former VP Dick Cheney with an age range from 21 to 75. Bale wore bottom teeth, had his eyebrows bleached, shaved his head for wigs and — as an older Cheney — wore full-on prosthetics on his neck, cheeks, back of the head, eyes and nose.
“This was a very good year for prosthetics,” he says, noting that voters prefer transformational appliances to more extreme, bloody makeups.
“I learned a long time ago that they want to pick something that will represent them well in the future. They don’t want gore, which is why I wasn’t surprised ‘Suspiria’ didn’t make it, even though it did have beautiful makeup. They want stuff like age and character makeups. ‘Vice’ is quite a shocking makeup in its own way.”
Then there’s the indie “Border” from Sweden, a film shot in 38 days that gave its hair and makeup experts just six weeks to come up with realistic-looking troll humanoids.
“Things tend to be a little exaggerated in Hollywood movies, and I wanted to have it look a little more casual,” says makeup/prosthetic designer Göran Lundström, nominated with key makeup artist and hairstylist Pamela Goldammer.
They focused on the two lead characters Tina (Eva Melander) and Vore (Eero Milonoff), both trolls more or less passing in the real world as rather unattractive humans, who wore nine and six prosthetics each, including a forehead, cheeks, nose, chin, ears and eyelids. But not all at once: to save time, if a prosthetic wasn’t in a shot, it wasn’t always applied.
Yet despite their reliance on prosthetics, Lundström says: “I don’t think that [the nominees] represent the whole industry, especially hairstylists. There was almost an overrepresentation of that kind of work [at the bakeoff], so it makes sense that ‘Mary’ is one of the nominees. It makes sense to have more diversity; prosthetics can feel like a gimmick, which is why they get so much attention.”
In the end, though, all three films tell their story with both traditional and more advanced methods. And Shircore, at least, is pleased at the technological advances in her line of artistry: back in the day, skin eruptions required a whole different level of creativity. “The system has moved forward from the old days of using Rice Krispies,” she chuckles.