Time plays a major role in the new season of True Detective.
There’s an old quote that insists, “Time heals all wounds,” but that adage sadly proves to be untrue in the new season of HBO’s True Detective. Playing out over three different time periods, the story opens with the 1980 disappearance of a young Arkansas boy and his sister, which is investigated by police detective Wayne Hays (Mahershala Ali) and partner Roland West (Stephen Dorff). Ten years later, the two detectives are subpoenaed following a break in the still-unsolved case, but in 2015, an aging Hays, his memory slipping away, is still trying to put together the final pieces of the puzzle.
With a story spanning three and a half decades, it was important that 2015 looks for Hays and West were totally convincing. With that in mind, the producers enlisted Mike Marino and his team at Prosthetic Renaissance to tackle the old-age make-ups for the characters now in their 70s. Marino’s involvement largely came about thanks to an endorsement from director Jeremy Saulnier, with whom he’d previously worked on Hold the Dark and Green Room. “Jeremy was a big fan of ours, and he said, ‘Mike Marino really needs to do this make-up; he’s the only one I trust!’ so I got a call from HBO saying, ‘The director has insisted on hiring you!’
“We broke the script down, and it came to a point where a couple of other studios had numbers that were a little lower, so I made a few compromises, because I really wanted to work with Jeremy, and HBO seemed really cool, so we worked something out. I’d also worked with Mahershala before on A Place Beyond the Pines, and he said, ‘Oh, Marino is great, and I feel comfortable with him!’ so that was all good for me.
“I did the lifecasts at Vincent Van Dyke’s studio, because both actors were in L.A. at the time, and I came home with the heads and started sculpting based on the script requirements. I sculpted both make-ups more or less simultaneously just to get them to pair up and make sure they looked correct together, and when they finished, I sent the photos to Stephen, Ali and the producers to show what they were going to look like. Once they were approved, I started breaking down the make-ups.”
“I also started looking at reference photos of older African-Americans and the way their skin worked, and Ali explained they had more oils in their skin than Caucasian skin, so that was a good note. I also looked at the make-ups in The Nutty Professor, which were so successful, but why were they good? They all had this nice oily quality to the skin, and I looked at some real reference to see what worked in the past and between them found a good medium.
“Stephen looked more like a cowboy, with weathered, tanned skin, so it was a totally different look, which really started me off in the right direction. As far as my approach to the sculpture, I take every make-up as an individual challenge, so everything has to be individually engineered. Even though my approach to Ali and Stephen’s make-ups was different, they still had to look similar enough so that they could play next to each other.”
One element that helped link the characters visually was the amount of stress they had been under since the original 1980 investigation. “If you notice, Ali’s character drinks a lot in the show,” notes Marino, “so I accelerated his age even further than a normal person would look. He was a detective, who was stressed out and smoked and drank, and in fact, both of them did. I thought about that early on, so if Ali looked a bit older, that was the reason, although I ended up pulling that back a bit.
“Ali’s character is obsessed with this murder and finding out what happened to these kids, and while Stephen’s character isn’t as obsessed, he’s been through the wringer as well. He’s basically had his fill with life, so it’s a little bleak for both of them.”
Each episode was shot out of sequence between the 1980, 1990 and 2015 scenes, which presented a number of challenges for the cast and crew. “It was mostly because of actor and location availability,” Marino elaborates, “but it was a real testament to our actors that they could pick up where they had been before.
“We engineered the schedule to give their skin a break, because they would be in a make-up that took three hours to put on, film all day long and then have to come in the next day and do it all over again, so we arranged the schedule in order that they were in prosthetics no more than three days a week. I knew from the start it was going to be an issue, so I suggested we break things up, so they didn’t have a chance to freak out, maybe like Jim Carrey did on The Grinch with so many shooting days, so let’s give them a break not only for their skin but for their own sanity.
“For the first two weeks, I did Ali’s make-up, because Stephen wasn’t playing yet, so I did that make-up with Kevin Kirkpatrick and an assistant from my studio, Crystal Jurado. When the schedule finally combined both actors getting ready at the same time, I felt Kevin was comfortable enough to take the lead with Ali’s make-up. I jumped over to Stephen, whose make-up was actually a little more difficult, because I had to flatten his hair and bald-cap it, so there were all these extra pieces to deal with.
“And with Kevin already familiar with Ali’s make-up, I had Göran Lundström help him during the final period, so for two weeks it was me and Kevin on Ali, and then it went to Kevin and Göran while I took over Stephen’s make-up with two assistants, Crystal Jurado and David Woodruff.”
Although Ali and Dorff looked quite different, the breakdown of their respective make-ups wasn’t all that different. “They both had neck and cheek pieces,” offers Marino, “but Stephen already had quite a wrinkly forehead while Ali had no wrinkles at all on his forehead, so we made a micro-thin piece that followed his own wrinkle structure that I could see when he raised his brows. That was a real challenge, so I did one test on Ali and then scaled back the eye area a bit.”
“Ali’s make-up was nine pieces and Stephen’s was 10,” he elaborates, “including a neck, cheeks, upper chin, a set of eye bags and a brow in the center. They both had a brow in the center that connected to two little puffy eye bags, or ‘puffs’ as I called them. I wanted them to look older in the eye area, because it’s always a dead giveaway when an actor’s eye looks so young, so I made a piece for the center of the forehead right where the furrow is and connected it to these puffy little pieces on the eyes. It’s a tricky little piece, but it moved really well.
“For Stephen’s beard, we used chopped-up yak and human hair that was flocked on, and I would lay tiny pieces wherever it was missing or where I wanted it a little longer. I also flattened his hair and put a bald cap on with a silicone piece over that. I really wanted to see through to his scalp, so I did a half bald pate and added the wig that Diana Choi made, which was really sparse and combed into his own hair in the back.”
Although Ali and Dorff don’t appear together in old-age make-up until midway through episode five, that sequence was shot early in the schedule and provided a real boost for the cast and crew. As Marino recalls, “The director and producers all said, ‘Wow, this is great!’ and our DP was really happy on the first day we tested the make-ups and said, ‘I was planning to light everything in shadow, so we didn’t see much, but you can shoot this in close-up; I’m going to change the lighting around!’ He literally hugged me, so that was a great compliment; that he didn’t have to hide the make-up in any way.
“Since that scene was early in the schedule, I had Mike Fontaine with me for the initial make-up tests and the first round of shooting, just to make sure everything looked good. As it turned out, I had another job going on simultaneously, so Mike headed up the department for me in New York on that other movie while I was in Arkansas, but luckily, I got Göran to fill Mike’s place. Mike also helped me refine and texture each appliance after the initial rough sculpts were floated off the lifecast.”
With the success of the Ali and Dorff old-age make-ups, it wasn’t long before the production came to Marino about working on some additional characters for them. “Our primary responsibility was those two make-ups, but we also had Carmen Ejogo, who plays Amelia; there was a scene in episode eight where she’s in bed dying, and we did a neck, cheeks and eye pieces for her.
“There’s another character who is a suspect that we see getting older, and we added cheeks and a neck for him; and another character for whom we did cheeks and a neck wattle. We also built a dummy version of Will Purcell [played by Phoenix Elkin], who Ali finds in a cave at the end of episode one. That was a completely fake body we did without much of a turnaround; the production said, ‘We need this thing in three weeks!’ but we did it in three weeks, and it turned out pretty well.”
As it was, the entire third season of True Detective turned out pretty well, with the show’s make-up in particular singled out for praise. “I’m really proud of Stephen Dorff and Mahershala Ali,” claims Marino, “because they really made those make-ups come to life. If they didn’t feel comfortable, they wouldn’t have been able to act at that top level, so I’m glad they were both happy.
“I’m also happy that my crew pulled it off, because it was definitely a difficult task. There were a lot of challenges, not only the fact that everything had to be hyper-realistic, but I was really hard on everyone in the studio as well. I’m a perfectionist, so there were many times when the pieces were made and I would say, ‘There’s a little bubble here!’ and it would go in the garbage, so it was very difficult to produce those pieces, but I had a really strong crew including Mike, Diana, Kevin and Göran. … I’m really proud of them.”