Last year, Australian actor Damon Herriman did his spot-on performance of Charles Manson not once, but twice: the teasing cameo in Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” and the riveting interview with FBI agents Ford (Jonathan Groff) and Tench (Holt McCallany) in Season 2 of David Fincher’s “Mindhunter.” Although they were shot within weeks of each other, the more demanding portrayal in the Netflix crime drama came first.
And, thanks to the deft physical transformation applied by the multiple Oscar-winning special effects makeup wiz Kazu Hiro (“Bombshell,” “Darkest Hour”) — who first worked with Fincher on “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” — Herriman gave the definitive Manson portrayal for the streamer. But we’ve come to expect nothing less from Hiro, the master at reconstructing iconic historical figures. It’s all the more impressive when there’s no physical resemblance, which was the case here with Herriman nearly five inches taller than the diminutive Manson and possessing different facial traits.
“David wanted Damon as fast as possible to be Manson,” said Hiro, who first made a life cast by sculpting the likeness of Manson on the actor’s face. “He didn’t want him sitting in the makeup chair for five hours, so I had to figure out what would make Damon look like Manson in the most subtle way because it’s very easy to build up too much and make it look like a mask.” The shoot took four days and the actor spent three hours a day in makeup.
“When we did the makeup test, it was amazing how he acted like Manson,” Hiro added. “The funny thing was everyone’s reaction. Many people were excited but also scared to talk to him because everyone knows what Manson was like. And it looked like Manson walking around. The biggest difference was around the eyes. Charles Manson had deep-set eyes and Damon has heavy eyelids. It’s hard to change that part, but it’s great that [Manson] had long hair and a beard. That helped make the likeness better.”
Hiro tried to make his eyes more deep-set, but Herriman complained that it would detract from his performance. “So what I ended up doing was use glue to tack up the skin of his eyelids,” he said. “I also gave him an eyebrow bond and darkened his eyes with contact lenses to help deepen them.” Hiro also supplied a nose tip, cheek pieces, and hairpieces.
In addition, Hiro reproduced Manson’s infamous swastika tattoo on his forehead along with the tattoos on each forearm of an unidentified woman’s face. “After the test, Damon sent me a note that said he realized that Manson’s swastika tattoo was flipped because he did it himself while looking in the mirror. But we found out that [the photo] was a different time and [Manson himself later corrected] the tattoo.”
Since Herriman was shot mostly in closeup while manipulating the two FBI agents (provoking Tench and cajoling Ford), it was important for Hiro to use handmade individual hairs around the mouth and hairline. This benefited the actor’s appearance while allowing him to move around more freely. But the application of a denture was rejected by Herriman because it slightly altered his voice. (The actor did end up using the denture during “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” because he needed something to make him look more like Manson, with just a wig and his beard, according to Hiro. “He didn’t talk much so it wasn’t a concern,” he said.)
And what did Hiro think of Herriman’s transformation in “Manhunter”? “It was almost freaky…like he came back to life with his voice and mannerisms,” said..