Word got out ahead of the release of Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune” that Stellan Skarsgård spent a total of 80 hours in the makeup chair in order to transform into the villainous Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (that’s over 30 percent of the total time the actor was on set). Now more details about Skarsgård’s prosthetic-driven transformation have been revealed, courtesy of makeup artist Donald Mowat’s interview with The Wrap. Mowat said it took five hours of makeup for Stellan to become the Baron with clothes on, but it took “six-and-a-half or seven hours” of makeup for scenes when the Baron appeared nude. The total transformation included seven prosthetic pieces that were glued and painted onto Skarsgård.
“We added cheeks, jowls, a silicone bald cap, and eyebrow covers,” Mowat said. “I’m always looking to spot fake eyebrow covers in films, so we worked hard on those. Also, Stellan wore prosthetic hands and feet and ankles.”
Villeneuve made sure the makeup team left Skarsgård’s nose, eyes, and mouth alone because he did not want the actor’s performance to be hidden behind layers of prosthetics. The team worked on 15 different looks before settling on the what became the Baron’s final appearance.
“Honestly, the first couple versions we sketched out didn’t work,” Mowat said. “That’s often the case with villainous characters. Denis liked the idea of a smooth, alopecia-like appearance, but our initial designs make him look like a hairless bear. And we were aware, of course, of the history of using fat suits for comic effect. This was definitely not meant to be one of those performances.”
The whole body suit weighed 20 pounds. The Wrap adds in its report: “In engineering terms, the job was overwhelming, requiring seven months of design and building. The body suit, ordinarily a task of the costume department when worn under an actor’s wardrobe, was a pure prosthetic makeup effect here, carefully sculpted, fit, and painted for Skarsgård’s body. Inside his suit was a hydration vest, not dissimilar to the sci-fi desert-defying outfits worn by characters in the film, which would expel cold water to keep Skarsgård from overheating.”
It turns out Skarsgård loved the body suit so much that he advocated for more scenes where the Baron appeared naked so that his look can be seen onscreen in full. As Mowat told The Wrap, “Stellan just loved being naked as the Baron. We all used to kill ourselves laughing when Stellan would ask for more nude scenes. He felt, quite correctly, that the Baron appeared more frightening and dangerous unclothed than cloaked in robes or armor. So he was always asking for more nudity.”
“Dune” is now streaming on HBO Max and playing in theaters nationwide.