Norwegian writer Erik Fosnes Hansen’s 2006 novel Løvekvinnen (The Lion Woman in English) tells the story of Eva Arctander, who suffers from hypertrichosis, a rare syndrome causing abnormal hair growth on the body. Writer/director Vibeke Idsoe has adapted the book for the big screen, with special make-up by Oscar nominee Conor O’Sullivan (The Dark Knight, Saving Private Ryan).
As O’Sullivan recalls, “In January 2013, I got a call from [producer] John Jacobsen and Vibeke Idsøe to discuss an upcoming project … The story covered the period from birth through her early life around 8, through her early teens when she leaves her father at the age of 15 to join a freak show, finally leaving the show to become a student of mathematics in her mid-20s.
“This job would include probably the two most difficult things I could imagine doing: hairy prosthetics on children. … There was also a scene where a doctor was going to display the child naked to an audience, so we would also need a full-hair body suit.
“We discussed various possible methods, and I showed them samples of different hair types. … We life cast a 12-year-old girl, and made some prosthetic pieces in a traditional format to be punched with mohair and human hair: cheeks, chin, forehead, nose, etcetera. We also made lace pieces knotted with the same mix of hair, but I never felt happy as I looked at the prosthetic pieces. It didn’t feel possible to get them on in time, and overlapping edges had to be laid on. It didn’t appear to be any more promising using the lace pieces. The fine mohair was always temperamental in the presence of glue: the edges became rapidly messy, clogged up and ruined.
O’Sullivan decided to create a laid-on style of hair application using tattoo transfer paper.
“It was based on the old ‘flow and go’ system of making facial pieces on a redhead, where you Vaseline the head, paint cap plastic on it, lay on the beard, peel it off, clean the Vaseline off the back and glue the beard on to the face,” he said.
“I did some tests using some beautiful ultra-fine mohair that my coordinator, Viola Colditz, found from a doll-making company and became increasingly impressed with the results.”
In Oct. 2013, O’Sullivan did a make-up test. Once the pieces were on, it became clear that the hair would be difficult to control and uncomfortable for the actress. Additionally, Idsøe wanted a more idealized look, where the fur would be close and fine on the nose and face, longer around the edges of the face and forehead. It was time for a re-think.
“I got Rob [Trenton] to sculpt a neutral face that could be easily produced in encapsulated silicone, and I employed Spanish hair/prosthetics artist Raquel Guirro to flock the face with a combination of nylon and hand-cut real hair and then punch over it and around the edges with super-fine mohair, blending into fine human hair,” O’Sullivan said.
“Around the outer edges, where there was the planned gap between the piece and the skin, I wanted to use the transfer paper technique. We couldn’t rely on punched pieces running into the hairline, as we couldn’t punch into the thin edge. On the neck, we used lace pieces, and around the edges of the lips and eyes, we flocked. The test looked great and was quite quick, but the lace, as ever, wasn’t flexible, didn’t stay glued and needed constant attention and gradually got very messy. But we were on the right track at last.
“Vibeke began casting actresses to play the three ages of the girl, as well as other cast members relevant to us [including freak-show characters]. In the meantime, we decided to do another test and not use the transfer pieces in favor of lace. I had Gemma De Vecchi fabricate necks and outer face rings using the finest grade power netting we could get. She also showed me a thermoplastic film used for invisible straps and edging in costumes—polyurethane named Framilon. Very strong and flexible, it easily glued together or to skin with Telesis.
“We decided to edge the power netting with the Framilon wherever we wanted to use glue. If two sections of lace met, we used the Framilon to create overlaps which were stitched to the lace. The net rings encircling the face pieces could be recycled, and each was glued onto the silicone prior to flocking. Once flocked, the face pieces had extra punching to deregulate the flocking and graduate into the longer hair rings and ultimately, the girl’s own hair.”
In January 2015, O’Sullivan felt he could do the lion make-up application in 75 minutes. Production had cast 8-year-old Aurora Lindseth-Lokka as the young Eva. “By March, we had the ape woman,” says O’Sullivan. “The only gap was the Lizard Man. The producers and financiers were keen to find a well-known actor, but with a prosthetic requirement of near-full coverage of excessive psoriatic-like scales, time was running out. Everything was difficult; time, money, and logistics. The production was keen to get as much manufacturing done in Germany to qualify for the tax credit and reduce the size of the crew we brought with us, but in the end, I had knotters and a prosthetic crew in London, and another crew in Germany.”
“Karen O’Sullivan, Darren Robinson, Polly McKay and Nolwenn Caro were recycling and making new face pieces in London, while in Germany, Raquel organized the recycling of face pieces with the German crew.
“The Ape Girl was a lot of hair, teeth and a small forehead piece applied by Nicola Pandel and Bernadette Schett. The Lizard Man was lots of flat molds applied by me and Bernadette, as well as some interesting skin-cracking material supplied by Nicola. After the first three or four applications, I left Rob, Nelly Guimaras and Raquel to do the lion girl applications. And by week five of the eight-week shoot, it finally started to calm down!”
The Lion Woman opened Aug. 26 in Norway.