Makeup artist Arjen Tuiten’s transformation of Renée Zellweger for NBC’s “The Thing About Pam,” premiering March 8, has been the talk of the internet. Zellweger plays Pam Hupp in the new crime drama, based on the true story of a Missouri woman who is eventually jailed for the murder of her friend. Zellweger donned a padded suit for the role. At TCA last month, the actor mentioned she had opted not to gain weight for the part — as she had for “Bridget Jones’s Diary” — since it had negatively impacted her health. While she had used prosthetics in films before, this was the first time she wore a full suit.
The show raised an outcry for not casting an actor with the same body type as Pam, but Blumhouse Television’s Chris McCumber explained the producers’ reasoning: “In this era of peak TV, having an artist of Renée’s caliber is an incredible advantage. When a two-time Oscar winner calls and says, ‘I’m obsessed with this story, and I want to play Pam, and I want to produce,’ you say, ‘Yes, yes, yes and yes.’ And our job, at that point, is to provide Renée, and the rest of the cast, with all the tools that they need to embody these characters.”
Initially, due to the pandemic, Tuiten worked with Zellweger over Zoom to gauge how the actor would feel sitting for the extensive process. The makeup artist, who has more than 20 years of experience in prosthetics, finds that people often underestimate how much time they will be in the chair, but Zellweger wanted to play the character and said she would do whatever it took.
Tuiten watched videos of the real-life Hupp to see her expressions and how she would hold her arms. “I also looked at her nose and how it would look when she turned. Or I would see things like where she had plastic surgery.”
While the applications were extensive, Tuiten didn’t want to completely cover up Zellweger’s face; he aimed to give her enough room to feel comfortable to act. “We had cheek pieces that went all the way up to the temple,” he says. “There was the chin piece, the nose piece, a neck piece that went all the way around.” Forearm and even ankle pieces were applied daily. The prosthetics took an hour and 20 minutes to apply before Zellweger could move on to hair, wardrobe and makeup.
Makeup department head Carla Brenholtz wanted Pam to seem relatable and familiar: “She was a character that anybody could say, ‘That’s my daughter’s best friend’s mom.’ And that was how we created the other characters; we created them around her.”
For Judy Greer’s prosecutor Leah Askey, hair department head Lawrence Davis and Brenholtz used a light touch to collaborate on a look anchored in small-town Troy, Mo. A busy attorney, Leah was someone who did her makeup in the car. “She is a mover and a shaker, and she had five minutes. She uses a pencil on her lips in this dark color and a smear of eyeliner,” explains Brenholtz. The goal was to make it look as if she had not gone through a makeup trailer.
For Greer’s wig, Davis had a specific look in mind — the typical Midwestern ultrashort bob. “It was a look that has been going on for far too long, but it’s still so relevant,” he says.
The real-life Leah had brown eyes, and since Greer has blue eyes, she told Brenholtz that she wanted to wear brown contacts. But Brenholtz, too, had to work through COVID guidelines. “We went with that,” she says, “but typically, we’d have a lens tech. Since Judy wears contacts in real life, the studio approved for her to put her own contacts in daily.”
Katy Mixon also required prosthetics to turn her into eventual murder victim Betsy Faria. Once those had been applied, Davis worked on a curly wig. “It wasn’t just a perm,” he says of Betsy’s hairstyle. “She had a perm with straight bangs” — which he had seen in pictures and re-created for the series.
When it came to Betsy’s makeup, Brenholtz needed to mute Mixon’s naturally rosy complexion. “She didn’t need to look glamorous in the way Katy does,” Brenholtz says. “So, I airbrushed that to take it down with a little bit of [color-]correcting makeup. I combed her eyebrows, put a little clear mascara on and gave her some lip balm.”
Ultimately, all the actors embraced their looks, including Zellweger. “Every day I learned something new: How the pieces are built, how they have minds of their own and what they become during the day isn’t quite what they begin as.
“Also, I learned it’s a different kind of skill to work with your entire body covered in prosthetics.”