In Issue 110‘s tablet edition, we featured an article on the make-up in The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared. Make-up designers Love Larson and Eva von Bahr were called upon to create multiple stages of age make-up, period make-up looks and recreations of historical characters such as Ronald Reagan and Josef Stalin. We’re featuring the article here to mark the film’s Aug. 18 Blu-Ray and DVD release.
In this Swedish film, Allan Karlsson (played by Robert Gustafsson) walks away from his retirement home just before his 100th birthday party, and into a series of bizarre escapades. It’s not the first adventure for Allan, who has rubbed shoulders with every historical character from Stalin to Reagan over the course of a checkered, Forrest Gump-like existence.
Adapting Jonas Jonasson’s sprawling novel into a modestly budgeted feature presented major challenges for Swedish make-up designers Love Larson and Eva Von Bahr, who had to work with a small team on a relatively short schedule. “When you get that phone call,” Von Bahr admits, “you think this is the job that if you don’t do it well, you will never get another job, so that was very scary.”
“The first part of our shoot with all the flashbacks was done in Budapest,” continues Larson, “so we didn’t start with the 100-year-old stage until afterwards. Robert wanted to shoot it chronologically as much as possible, so he could experience everything that Allan experienced in the book.”
“We would sometimes have two make-up changes a day,” says von Bahr, “which could take up to four hours, so they had to find other things to shoot. Sometimes they would start running out of time, so we would get a knock on the door after three and a half hours saying, ‘Are you ready? We have to shoot him anyway!’ At one point, we were doing a heavy prosthetic make-up, and they couldn’t wait any more, so we said, ‘You’ll have to shoot him from one side, because he’s only half-done,’ so they said, ‘OK, let’s put him in a taxi and shoot him from that side!’”
Gustafsson was originally going to have a dozen different stages of aging taking him from mid-20s to 100, but that number was pared down to nine. “It got very confusing,” says von Bahr. “We had maps in the make-up trailer where we could look at them and say, ‘OK, we’re doing stage six and stage eight today.’ There were pieces everywhere!”
“I couldn’t spend too much time sculpting stage five … because I still had to make stages seven and eight,” Larson says, “so I would hand it off to [mold-shop supervisor] Oskar Wallroth to break down and start making molds, while I started working on the next stage.”
Larson mixed and matched materials, depending on which pieces a stage of aging required. “A lot of the middle stages were done with Bondo transfers for ease of application,” he says, “and we did a lot of old-age stippling. Some stages had silicone cheeks, transfer-piece eye bags, a transfer neck piece and stipple.”
“It became tricky when we had a mixture of those techniques,” adds von Bahr, “because it was difficult to paint, but all worked out. I really love the final neck piece, which was really thin and worked well for Robert’s neck.”
The final 100-year-old look consisted of 10 pieces. “We started with the back of his neck,” Larson says, “which included a hump to make his back look a bit older. There was a neck piece that wrapped over it, and then we had ears, a big head piece that included eyelids, a chin, upper lip, nose and cheek appliances.”
The actor also wore teeth, which were a Vac-U-Form shell that allowed him to speak without impediment. In the beginning, Robert didn’t want teeth, and absolutely did not want contact lenses, so we really had to talk him into it,” says von Bahr.
Because Gustafsson was such a recognizable actor in Sweden, known for wearing outlandish make-ups, the make-up team was nervous that movie-goers would accept him as a centenarian in this film. “The movie starts with a tight shot on his face while he’s sitting in the retirement home,” recalls von Bahr. “That was the shot that would make the audience believe he was 100 years old!”
In addition to the many stages of make-up required for its star, the film also called for a number of real-life historical characters that Allan encounters over the years, as well as the fictional Herbert Einstein, Albert’s intellectually-challenged half-brother. “We knew we had to do Reagan, Gorbachev and Oppenheimer,” says von Bahr, “and some spies that actually existed in real life. We also did Stalin, Stalin’s right-hand man, and the Swedish prime minister.”
“We didn’t put any prosthetics on them—” interjects Larson.
“Except for Reagan,” von Bahr continues. “That was really tricky, because it was impossible to find a Reagan double anywhere, and we didn’t have time to do the make-up ourselves, so we found a Danish company and said, ‘Do whatever you like, but Reagan has to show up on the day!’”
The film covers several periods. “While Love was prepping the next set of pieces,” says von Bahr, “we would discuss what the characters were going to look like in the 1940s, for example. After we did fittings on the extras, I would look at the pictures and say, ‘I don’t like number five’s hairstyle; we have to change that!’ So everybody knew exactly what they were going to do on the day.”
The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared may have turned out to be one of the top-grossing films in the history of Swedish cinema, but it was hardly smooth sailing for the make-up/hair team. “I was worried that it wasn’t going to be doable,” says von Bahr, “but I’m really happy that we did it and the audience bought it, so maybe it wasn’t the last job we ever did. I think our reward is when you look at the movie and think, ‘Can you believe we did this?’ It’s a great feeling to know you were part of it.
“I think one of the best things about the film is that the audience buys that this is Allan,” adds Larson, “and they’re not thinking this is Robert Gustafsson. They may think about the make-up at the beginning, but then they drop it, so that’s really great. When we saw it in a huge theater at the Berlin Film Festival, we actually started watching the film after a while—”
“We had seen it maybe 20 times,” says Von Bahr, “but we started laughing because everybody else was laughing. When you can trick the audience like that, it makes you want to do more movies!”
In this video, make-up, hair and prosthetic designers Love Larson and Eva von Bahr discuss the work involved in The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared. For more on the film, see our online article.
For more details, check out our interview with Love Larson and Eva von Bahr at IMATS New York 2015:
The 100-Year-Old Man Who Jumped Out the Window and Disappeared DVD is now available for purchase.