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Influencers: Prosthetic Makeup Artist Kazu Hiro Is a Magician Who Transforms Actors

The "Bombshell" and "Darkest Hour" makeup effects designer is one of IndieWire's craftspeople shaping the art of cinema today.

Kazu Hiro turning John Lithgow into Roger Ailes for "Bombshell"

Kazu Hiro turning John Lithgow into Roger Ailes for “Bombshell”

Lionsgate

Kazu Hiro (formerly known as Kazuhiro Tsuji) is the master of special effects makeup, earning the Oscar in 2018 for his amazing transformation of Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill (a key component of the actor’s Oscar win). Hiro’s back again this season with “Bombshell,” the Roger Ailes sexual harassment drama at Fox News from Jay Roach, in which he provides multiple feats of makeup mastery for Charlize Theron’s anchor Megyn Kelly, Nicole Kidman’s news personality Gretchen Carlson, and John Lithgow’s Ailes, the late Fox honcho forced out for his predatory behavior. For Hiro, makeup is rooted in fine-art sculpting, which occupies most of his time these days because quality projects are so infrequent (but he accepted a stint on “Mindhunter” Season 2, designing the makeup for Damon Herriman’s Charles Manson and Oliver Cooper’s David Berkowitz.)

Lithgow, who donned a six-piece fat suit constructed by costume designer Colleen Atwood as part of the Ailes transformation, described the process at a Q&A in New York “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,” he said. “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.”

The challenge for Hiro is creating a likeness for a historical figure with subtle yet effective prosthetics. This requires careful artistic decision making and skill to fuse the actor’s face with the character’s. He analyzes the recognizable physical elements that people identify with, and then places them in the right position on the actor’s face. But, of course, the makeup needs to be invisible, believable, and comfortable for the actor to wear.

With Churchill, Hiro’s crowning achievement, the work was made harder by the fact that Oldman looked nothing like Churchill. So, after putting the essence of Churchill in a sculpture, he applied that on Oldman’s face without hiding him very much. Oldman’s acting disappeared inside Churchill — a first for Hiro, after previously working on “Men in Black,” “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” Tim Burton’s “Planet of the Apes,” “Hellboy,” “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” and the Oscar-nominated comedies “Norbit” and “Click.”

 

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