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John Lithgow on Suiting Up to Play Roger Ailes in ‘Bombshell’: ‘We Decided He Really Needed Man Boobs’

The makeup and costumes in the Fox News scandal drama are feats of mastery, and the film's star Lithgow was eager to jump in to play the disgraced, late CEO.

John Lithgow

John Lithgow in “Bombshell”


Jay Roach’s late-breaking awards-season hopeful “Bombshell” (December 20) boasts several feats of makeup and wardrobe mastery, from Charlize Theron’s Megyn Kelly to John Lithgow’s disgraced, late Fox News CEO Roger Ailes — jowls, bulbous nose, corpulence and all. During a recent Q&A for the film in New York moderated by journalist Lynn Hirschberg, Lithgow was joined by co-stars Theron and Nicole Kidman, who plays TV news personality Gretchen Carlson, as well as director Roach and screenwriter Charles Randolph, to discuss the making of the film.

The makeup team is led by Kazuhiro Tsuji, who won an Academy Award in 2018 for transforming Gary Oldman into Winston Churchill and also turned Eddie Murphy into “Norbit” in 2007. Lithgow himself played Winston Churchill on Netflix’s “The Crown,” but without any makeup, hairstyling, or wardrobe needed to abet his transformation.

“This is the greatest irony, that [Kazu] made Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill with all these extraordinary prosthetic devices, and as Winston Churchill [in “The Crown”], I didn’t have any prosthesis at all. I looked much more like Winston Churchill than I realized,” Lithgow said.

Regarding suiting up to play Roger Ailes, whose empire foundered in 2016 when Gretchen Carlson filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against the Fox chairman, Lithgow said, “I was effortlessly in character as soon as I put all that stuff on. [Costume designer] Colleen Atwood, she was my co-conspirator. We spent hours and hours getting that big fat body right. If you look very closely, halfway through the shooting we decided that he really needed man boobs. We said, it depends on his mood, in some scenes he has man boobs and in some scenes he doesn’t.”

Lithgow joked that he now uses the fat suit for pajamas, while Kidman added that Lithgow’s metamorphosis was so convincing and creepy. “Every time we saw him, it was like, he was after us,” she said.

“I was very skeptical,” Lithgow said of donning the six-piece fat suit. “I said, let’s give it an entire day. And I was just astonished by it. That prosthesis, there are six pieces put together: two jowls, one huge double chin, a different nose, and two fat earlobes, and it blends so completely with my own face … I would wrinkle my face and the wrinkles in the prosthetic would cohere with the wrinkles on my face. I don’t know how they do this magic.”

Tsuji is likely to earn another Oscar nomination for makeup for “Bombshell,” with Theron also expected to earn one for Best Actress.

Additional reporting by Eric Kohn.



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