This Oscar season Best Makeup and Hairstyling was all about dramatic transformations, making Rami Malek (“Bohemian Rhapsody”), Christian Bale (“Vice”), and Tilda Swinton (“Suspiria”) unrecognizable as Freddie Mercury, Dick Cheney, and an 85-year-old male psychotherapist and horrifying witch.
Likewise, Eva Melander was made unrecognizable as a troll in the fantastical “Border,” Sweden’s Best Foreign Language entry. And the sprawling cast of Marvel’s “Black Panther” undergo dramatic transformations to become the citizens of Wakanda.
20th Century Fox
Transforming Malek into Mercury for “Bohemian Rhapsody” required reverse aging on the part of makeup and hair designer Jan Sewell. That’s because the climactic Live Aid concert was shot first. The task required an assortment of wigs, eye makeup, and artificial nose to compensate for Malek’s smaller eyes (constructed by prosthetic effects specialist Mark Coulier, who oversaw both “Suspiria” and the shortlisted “Stan & Ollie”).
But the biggest challenge was re-creating Mercury’s legendary teeth because of his overbite. Sewell had three sets made to find the right fit for Malek. “I always aim to capture the essence of the character and then it’s up to the actor,” she said. “And we locked on one set and I had several made of them.”
However, in the battle of the biopics, three-time Oscar-winning makeup designer Greg Cannom (“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” “Mrs. Doubtfire,” “Dracula”) used every available tool to fully transform Bale into Vice President Cheney (from age 21 to mid-70s). Cannom fitted the actor with a comfortable wrap-around prosthetic for his neck, cheeks, and chin. This enabled Bale to better clench his jaw to convey strength in Cheney-like fashion.
Additionally, Cannom made two nose appliances, form-fitting grease makeup, and special wigs to make Bale’s head wider on top to complete the transformation. The actor did his part by gaining 45 pounds, shaving his head, bleaching his brows, and performing special exercises to tighten his face.
Two-time Oscar winner Coulier (“The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “The Iron Lady”) had already transformed Swinton into an elderly lady for “Grand Budapest,” which gave him a head start. However, he was unprepared for the complexity of Luca Guadagnino’s vision for remaking Dario Argento’s “Suspiria.” “It was the most time I had to think about a project and what we were going to do before we actually did it,” he said.
Courtesy of Amazon Studios
In addition to starring as Madame Blanc, who runs a dance studio for girls as a front for a witch’s haven, Swinton plays Josef Klemperer and Marcos, the hideous witch matriarch. For Klemperer, Coulier built up her jawline to accentuate the masculine face, and built a series of facial prosthetics for the forehead, cheeks, jaw, nose, and ears. He gave her special dentures and contact lenses to age Swinton, and covered her head in a wig that allowed her scalp to show through. And he crucially made use of translucent materials to paint the veins beneath the surface of her skin.
Making Swinton even more unrecognizable as the obese Marcos (sporting tiny black sunglasses), Coulier and his team created an immense body suit covered with children’s appendages and boils, at the director’s request. This was to depict the total corruption and distortion of her body through disease and acts of evil, in a nod to David Cronenberg.
For Ali Abbasi’s “Border,” about an unusual-looking custom’s agent, makeup effects artist Göran Lundström and Pamela Goldammer, the on-set key makeup artist, transformed Melander into a troll with animalistic and feminine qualities. But the application had to be quick and simple. They created nine pieces: forehead, nose, chin, cheeks, eyelids, and ears. And he focused on asymmetrical features.
They gave the actress a protruding forehead, broad nose, and pudgy cheeks. He also lengthened her ears but spent the most time on the forehead. Yet when the chin didn’t move well with the other silicone pieces, he experimented with a gel to get the most natural look.
Oscar-winning makeup artist Joel Harlow (J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek”) teamed up with hair department head Camille Friend on “Black Panther” to create a special look for the people of Wakanda, the hidden Afrofuturist nation founded on vibranium. At the request of director Ryan Coogler, though, their work reflected the diversity and beauty of hair styles and facial and body art found throughout the African continent.
What they achieved was a remarkable symbiosis of African ancestry and contemporary Afropunk, in which each of the five Wakanda tribes exhibited its own look that was defined by its region. For example, facial painting designs took inspiration from the people of the Sudan, Ethiopia, and Kenya.
Meanwhile, the hair was tied to mud, grasses, and beads, based on eclectic influences, including the Zulu tribes. But there was innovation as well: “The Wakanda knot” was a fresh take on the African Bantu knot (in the shape of a donut) for Lupita Nyong’o’s undercover spy, Nakia.