In Issues 87 and 88 of Make-Up Artist magazine we took a look at some of the possible contenders for the 2011 Academy Award for Achievement in Makeup. On Jan. 10, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced the list of seven films, along with the artists, competing for a spot on the final ballot. We continue our Oscar Watch coverage below, with a spotlight on True Grit.
Grit was an actual issue for the make-up artists on True Grit, the Coen Brothers’ recent remake of the 1969 Western. As make-up department head Thomas Nellen described it, shooting outdoors across the Southwest offered a parade of environmental challenges.
In Las Vegas, New Mexico, the weather changed from hot and dry to snowy overnight. Santa Fe was dry, but the heat sucked moisture out of the actors’ skin. And after being on location, he said, “Everyone was one color head to toe, like adobe-colored zombies. You had to dust everything off the actors and reapply sweat and dirt, because overall, dust wouldn’t have told the story.”
Austin, Texas was lush, green, and humid, which was a welcome change for the crew, except for the make-up department: “Everyone had this glowing skin and looked beautiful and was sweating,” he said, “so we had to do powders and layers and dirt washes to keep them all on the same level.”
Nellen, who often works with True Grit star Jeff Bridges, designed the film’s make-up; Bridges’ hairdresser, Kay Georgiou, oversaw hair.
“Josh Brolin has facial hair he had to keep for another movie, but he didn’t have as much as we wanted, so I created ventilated pieces that would go over his own hair to blend, and give him a beard that we could style and cut accordingly,” Nellen said.
He did the same with Bridges’ beard, to show different periods within the story. Background performers let their own facial hair grow; the crew had facial-hair floaters that could be applied as needed.
“Prior to going to Austin, I contacted the casting person and asked how many mutton chops and sideburns we had, and how much more we needed of this or that,” Nellen said.
Then there were the teeth. “Jeff Bridges had his teeth stained by putting different paints on his teeth.” Nellen said. “We had a pre-stained tooth tray for Josh Brolin that he could pop it in. Barry Pepper had dentures for crooked teeth that could fit over his own teeth.”
Special make-up effects designer Christien Tinsley, who had done two films with the Coens and one with Pepper, personally handled Pepper’s make-up, which included bullet-scarred lips and a chipped tooth.
“We cleaned Barry’s face of any facial hair—for me, a clean palette was better,” Tinsley said. “We designed his hairstyle and gave him silicone upper and lower lip prosthetics, upper and lower dentures. We wanted to give him that living-off-the-land, dirty, bad- hygiene appearance of someone who doesn’t have a home necessarily.”
Pepper was sometimes as challenging as location shooting. “He loves make-up and loves to collaborate,” Tinsley said. “He loves what we do as artists, which makes my job easier and harder. And he loves to perform. He’s a bit Method, and for all the reasons that he’s a great actor, he can be a bit difficult.
“My biggest concern was that the lip pieces, the hair, everything’s fake all around his mouth. He goes out there screaming and stretching for six or seven different takes. He put the make-up through about six times the amount of abuse it normally would take.”
Tinsley also created a body that was hung 40 feet in the air, a dehydrated corpse and a bunch of cave-dwelling snakes. Nellen jumped in to do a hand-injury make-up, and created a stretch-and-stipple age make-up for a young girl.
“Altogether, it was about skin textures and making people look real,” Nellen said. “Life was tough then, so we wanted a real outdoor, weathered look.
“Because of weather, every day was like another story, so you had to try to do your best,” he added. “In hindsight, I think we did pretty well.”