See exclusive video clips from the panel discussion (link to full video of panel at bottom of article)
Kazuhiro Tsuji and Gary Oldman burst onto the stage.
They were so excited to talk about their Darkest Hour collaboration that they couldn’t wait for Michael Key to formally introduce them. With perfect comedic timing, Oldman capitalized on the moment when Tsuji entered the stage too early. After Tsuji ducked back behind a door, Oldman shimmied out with the eager anticipation of a child about to rush for the prize at the word “go.” Tsuji, David Malinowski and Lucy Sibbick joined the fun at the stage door until Key finally gave the word to come out.
Key, publisher of Make-Up Artist magazine, hosted Tsuji, Oldman, Malinowski and Sibbick for one night only in a panel discussion that has the make-up artistry community buzzing. At 5:30 p.m. on Nov. 7 at the SilverScreen Theater in Los Angeles’ Pacific Design Center, Focus Features, Official Make-up Partner – M.A.C. and Make-Up Artist welcomed 200 make-up artists, actors and make-up industry insiders to hear a panel discussion and see a screening of Darkest Hour. Before the panel, the attendees’ anticipation matched that of the stars’.
“I’m just interested to see how they put everything together,” said Richard Redlefsen. “I mean I saw some of the make-ups in their prosthetic forms at Vincent [Van Dyke’s] shop and they looked amazing. … It’s always great to see different techniques from around the world. They used airbrushes or chip brushes or you know toothbrushes.”
Academy governor Leonard Engelman said, “I’m anxious to see it again and to hear the input from the make-up artists, hair stylist. I think it will always be looked at as one of the great make-ups. I can’t imagine it would not be nominated for an Academy Award for make-up. And Kazu is just brilliant. That’s it. Capital B.”
Other attendees included a who’s who of the make-up artistry community: Ve Neill, Rick and Silvia Baker, M.A.C. Cosmetics’ Karen Reddy-Medeiros and Monique Boyer, Nix Herrera, Chloe Sens, Kevin Haney, Steve Johnson, Bill Corso, Melissa Street, Dominique D’Angelo, Cheri Minns, Craig Reardon and more.
On the red carpet, Tsuji—make-up designer for the Churchill make-up—was asked how he felt about celebrating the make-up: “It’s great. It’s a pleasure to be here with everybody, and the crews too. I think all of the crew will be here. So it’s great to get together and watch the movie.”
Malinowski, make-up supervisor for the Churchill look, agreed. “Yeah, I’m pleased for my peers in the industry to be able to see the work that we’ve done—a year ago almost to the day. So yeah I hope everybody likes it.”
When asked if there was anything surprising or unique about this project, Vanessa Lee, the Churchill fat-suit fabricator, said, “Yes actually I built a totally new way of building the suit. It’s a little bit different than old traditional fat-suit way. And I was approaching Kazu first, like, ‘Hey, can I try this new trick?’ And he’s very open to it. … Actually, this fat suit moves better, lighter. … It worked great, and I can’t wait to see it on the screen.”
For Oscar winner Christopher Nelson, an event like this carries a strong message. “I think it’s really good for our industry in that it reminds the audience and also the business that great things can be achieved practically. It harkens back to what make-up and character make-up is all about and what it’s for, what it’s supposed to embellish—which is, make-up lends itself to creating characters for film. Actors such as Gary Oldman, a great actor like that who loves make-up, they work hand in hand much like Lon Chaney did back in the day to create a character that embodies film.”
As a frontrunner for Oscar nominations, this film naturally drew academy officials looking for answers.
“Well I’m very interested to find out the hair process. Because it looked like Kazu designed the hair into the piece, but we’re kind of not sure how he did it,” said academy member Minns. “So there are questions to be asked about that. It’s flawless! It’s just amazing! The make-up itself is amazing, but the integration of the hair, also. It looks like it’s punched and has a piece as well. And Kazu’s so brilliant. You can’t see where the brilliance stops. … It looks so realistic. It would be one to beat this year.”
When asked if she had any dream collaborators such as Oldman, KC Mussman replied, “I actually collaborated with Gary on a project before, and it’s definitely a dream team when you work with someone who has so much passion for the art, for everything. You know? He’s got respect for make-up, for hair, for the acting, for the writing, for the cinematography. It’s just so good to see these amazing strong art pieces come around.”
Key and the panelists began the conversation by talking about how they were each drawn to the film. For Oldman, it was the chance to play “arguably the greatest Britain that ever lived.” While he acknowledged that, yes, he doesn’t look anything like Churchill, he was open to the possibility.
“For me it was trying to put all of that aside. Slay that dragon, you know, of fear and apprehension and just sort of step out onto the wire,” Oldman said. “My playing Winston was really contingent on Kazu and he had retired from the movie industry. … So it was my job to seduce him out of retirement to come and do this. And he did.”
Key then asked Tsuji why he said yes to Oldman after turning down other projects.
“Because he [Oldman] said, ‘You were the only one,’” said Tsuji. “I felt really honored. This kind of movie with a great actor and great character and great movie stories, I really wanted to do even like once in a lifetime. …. Rick gave me great opportunity, and I worked on many great shows. But my greatest inspiration was Dick Smith’s make-up on Hal Holbrook as Abraham Lincoln. So I felt like, ‘OK, well, if I miss this I will regret.’ … I felt like I can contribute back to the industry and pay back to the people who inspired me, like Dick and Rick. So I thought, ‘OK, well, I should take this job.’”
Malinowski had just wrapped The Hitman’s Bodyguard with Oldman when he received a text from the actor saying, “‘Fancy doing Churchill?’ When you kind of get a message like that from somebody you just think, ‘Yeah, why not,’” said Malinowski.
The artist said he really considered how he would do it because it was such a big job. Also, Malinowski was told by more that one artist that he could be the one to mess up Tsuji’s make-up and it could make or break his career.
Sibbick and Malinowski worked together as art finishers at Coulier Creatures and then Malinowski asked her to join this project. At the time, she told him, “It’s either going to go really well or we might have to change our names.”
“I think also the apprehension that you’re hearing, it’s 48 days consecutively,” said Oldman. “I had the make-up on with tests 63 times. [His wife, Gisele Schmidt, corrected him off stage, “61 times.”] “61, thank you. By the end of the shoot I had carried around over half my bodyweight in prosthetics. So you’ve got two people who are going to apply the make-up and paint the make-up on a daily basis. And I’m in virtually every scene in the movie.”
And what were Oldman’s tricks for getting through the application process?
“You have to know what you’re getting into and then you have to surrender completely to the process,” he said. “I think I’m make-up friendly?” The artists agreed he is.
“David said to me, ‘As wonderful as this make-up is and as good as we are at putting this on, if you weren’t so patient, this wonderful make-up could look like shit,” Oldman continued. “I think what gets you through it, it’s like a kid going through the year looking forward to Christmas. Because you know that when it’s all done—you’re in the hands of Kazu, David and Lucy—that you can see Churchill looking back at you.”
The team did three preliminary test make-ups. “The last one was the closest because it had a good balance. It looked like Churchill but still had Gary,” explained Tsuji. “I also didn’t want it to cover him up too much because he has a lot of really subtle amazing expressions. I didn’t want to make him look like a mask, like an actor wearing a mask.”
Wrapping up the discussion, Key complimented Oldman on being a champion for make-up artistry. Using it as a teaching moment for the audience, he asked the acclaimed actor what would he like every make-up artist to know about working with actors.
“It’s a metaphysical thing,” Oldman said. “How you react to a person, above and beyond the artistry, makes that relationship … They [make-up artists] are the first people that you meet. If you arrive and you’re a bit grumpy, they can put you in a good mood. Or if you arrive in a good mood they could put you in a bad mood. … I mean talk about the stars lining up.”
He continued to describe his process. “I know that at some point they’re going to say, ‘Quiet on the set. And rolling. Action.’ And I’m gonna get my time to do my job. I think it’s very very disrespectful to come in and just fuck around in the chair and not give them their time to do their work.” Loud applause followed.
The night ended with a screening of Darkest Hour; attendees lingered afterward in the reception area to praise the film, the acting and the make-up. One make-up artist appreciated how the film was specifically lit for the make-up.
Many observed that the excitement for the make-up achievement will surely carry the film to the Academy Awards on March 4.
To see the full video of the panel, visit our YouTube page HERE.