SPOILER ALERT: Do not read unless you have watched “The Barbarian,” playing in theaters now.
Actor Matthew Patrick Davis was flying blind when he signed on to play the monstrous Mother in 20th Century Studios’ horror hit, “Barbarian.”
“There are usually renderings that you can see, but I was not shown anything,” he explained, having auditioned for the role over Zoom. “I was on a plane to Bulgaria and crossing my fingers, hoping it would be convincing.”
Tests to perfect the look of the mutated matriarch in writer-director Zach Cregger’s suburban nightmare continued until the last minute. According to the actor, the first iteration was “a little cartoony” due to her
teeth and head being too big and breasts that “looked like she had cosmetic surgery.” The process involved feedback from both the director and Davis himself. Happy with the result, he admitted, “it was touch and go, but the effects team in Bulgaria was excellent.”
Rather than Mother being a one-piece body suit with other prosthetics added, the creation involved the actor being essentially naked with some applications, or, as Cregger described it to him, being “ass out.”
“They did experiment with making a cast of my butt during one of the makeup tests,” he recalled. “I had a weird plastic fake ass but it looked so bad it was just like, ‘We’re just going to have it with a thong.'”
The film’s director asked Davis to shave his legs, arms and eyebrows, but that was where the performer drew the line. “I did Veet my entire body, which was a fun experience that I had never had before, but I asked if I could not shave my eyebrows because he was going to cover them with prosthetics,” he explained.
Mother’s look consisted of a headpiece with the wig attached to it and facial prosthetics, but “her nose is my nose, and her mouth is my mouth.”
The effects teams used false teeth to push Davis’ mouth out and change the shape of his face. Mother’s look was enhanced by body paint, adding scars, making the actor’s body pale and covering it in dirt — including under his toenails, which Davis says he “could never get out.” Davis also got prescription contact lenses, a tweak suggested by fellow actor Doug Jones, to change the color of his eyes.
However, some of the prosthetics proved more problematic, namely Mother’s pendulous breasts and a “weird merkin thing that covered the front of my crotch.”
All of these factors, and the very nature of the prosthetics, influenced when Cregger and his team could shoot specific sequences. “They knew they’d be the most convincing right at the beginning of the day when I’m stepping out of the makeup trailer,” Davis remembered. “As soon as I start moving or sweating, that’s when you’ll start to see the seams, so for any close-up work, they would make sure to do that first and all the wide shots at the end of the day.”
“They did learn that maybe the crotch piece was the least convincing,” he laughed. “They’d be like, ‘Matthew, if when you jump into the pit, you can use your arm to cover your crotch, that would be great.'”