While the first glimpse of Anthony Hopkins as the Master of Suspense in “Hitchcock” is startling (how could it be otherwise?), SFX makeup wiz Howard Berger makes us believe in the illusion almost immediately. That’s because he goes for a less is more approach, creating a believable physical resemblance while at the same time allowing the actor to deliver a sly performance that has both of them in Oscar contention.
Berger calls it a portrait of Hitch and admits it took a lot of trial and error to get the right blend. “There’s definitely a fine line you don’t want to cross and we tried to transform the two people together so you have as much of Tony coming through,” suggests the Oscar-winning Berger (“The Chronicles of Narnia”).”
Berger did the work with his KNB EFX Group in collaboration with hair department head Martin Samuels. They performed elaborate pre-production tests for six weeks, coming up with six different looks, assisted by costume designer Julie Weiss. Naturally, the first attempt went for an exact replica of Hitch, but that proved to be too much of a cumbersome mask. The 75-year-old Hopkins originally wore dentures for all the tests and they ended up ditching those.
Reaching a consensus with the producers proved difficult during a series of screen tests, yet Berger prevailed with an old school approach of minimal prosthetics. They stripped away more and more: smaller nose, smaller ears, less of a center brow line. Then finally the night before shooting they lost the lower lip, once the wily Hopkins pushed his lip into a wonderful pout.
“The makeup consisted of four silicone appliances,” Berger explains. “The biggest was the horseshoe piece that included the chin, the neck, and the sides of the face that wrapped around under his ears and along the back of his hairline. Other appliances were earlobes, nose tip, and brown contact lenses. There was also makeup to blend Hopkins’ skin to the piece. Julie Weiss would dress him to complete the transformation with wardrobe and a fat undersuit. This gave Hopkins the tools to bring Hitchcock back to life [circa 1959/1960 for the notorious making of ‘Psycho’].”
Meanwhile, Samuels worked on the hair: “Anthony has a full head of white hair. I shaved his head and colored the hair in and left the white sides out and put a little lace hair piece on the top to give it a wispy, balding effect to complement the makeup that Howard did.”
Berger was apprehensive at first about “Hitchcock” being shot digitally. But this worked out well because cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth lit it for film with the Red Epic. They’d be watching on a monitor and asked for a light adjustment to make the makeup less apparent and Cronenweth accommodated them.
Interestingly, though, the application routine between Berger and lead makeup artist Peter Montagna was almost balletic, the way they simultaneously worked each side of Hopkins’ face. Berger maintains that the trick, of course, was not taking the viewer out of the movie. Hopkins played along by sneaking into his dressing room on the Paramount lot every day and emerging as Hitch when they were ready to shoot.
However, Hopkins occasionally broke character with Berger to do spot-on Jerry Lewis impressions in honor of shooting on the same backlot where the comedian/director made his movies.
But it is “Psycho” that remains near and dear to Berger’s heart as his favorite Hitchcock movie. “Through the course of the shooting, we had visitors that worked with Hitchcock on ‘Psycho,’ who thought we had gone back in time, and that was the greatest compliment we could get,” he regales.
Hitchcock Making of Featurette