What would you do if you could change history by stepping back in time? That’s the premise of 11.22.63, Hulu’s new miniseries about high school teacher Jake Epping (played by James Franco) who journeys back to the 1960s to stop Lee Harvey Oswald from assassinating John F. Kennedy. Produced by J.J. Abrams, the series is adapted from the best-selling novel by Stephen King.
For make-up department head Colin Penman, 11.22.63 presented multiple challenges, starting with Al Templeton (Chris Cooper) who provides Jake with the means of time travel but develops a devastating illness while traveling back in time himself. As Penman explains, “He’s been back there for years, but only a short time in the story frame. During that time, he’s contracted some form of cancer and is dying.
“Apart from Chris, we knew we weren’t going to be shooting in sequence, so James Franco had to jump from a present-day look to his 1960s look. We decided to give him facial hair for a modern look, and then [jumped] back and forth. We didn’t get James until the night before we started filming, so he came straight to my chair still covered in blood, glue and muck from the last gig, so we didn’t have a lot of time to organize fittings or have pieces made.
“The bigger challenge was our period look, because the producers wanted everything to look as real as possible. I had worked on Hairspray, which was over-the-top 1962, and The Kennedys, which had a lot of character work, but this series had to look like pages from a documentary. … fortunately I found some yearbooks from North Dallas High School, which provided some great reference.
“Jake first arrives in 1960, and everything looks very Pleasantville and happy, but as we progress and the story gets a bit darker, we let some of the people break down a little bit, with the occasional character who really had to shine.
“For the most part, people were very receptive to the changes we wanted to make, whether it was a short haircut or shaving sideburns or whatever. Daniel Webber plays Lee Harvey Oswald, and while Daniel looks very young, people probably don’t realize that Oswald was only 24 but looked much older because of his receding hairline. Daniel is a young Australian surfer boy with a strong hairline, so he actually let us shave into it. I remember Dick Smith talking about shaving back into the hairline and maintaining it with a facial razor that only cut the stubble, so Daniel let us do that to him.”
While Penman didn’t have to do much on the Kennedys, who are largely seen from behind, there are real-life characters in the series, including Oswald’s wife and his mother.
“We would also look at the [real-life] characters and see what we could use,” Penman notes. “With Cherry Jones, for example, who plays Lee Harvey’s mother, there were some specific things about Marguerite Oswald. She had eyebrows that really arced up in the center of her forehead, almost theatrical in a way, and we added some shape-changing to Cherry, with a little bit of shading here and there to give her face more plumpness, but not too much.
“When I’m watching a show, if somebody is playing a historical character, you look at them for a couple of seconds and think, ‘Oh, there’s so and so playing this character!’ but then you forget about it as the actor takes you on that journey. Instead of going with a heavy character make-up, I’m definitely for letting the actors have their way with it.”
Penman also took Cooper from looking healthy to looking ill. “I said, ‘Why don’t we give him a little wattle on his neck, to make his skin look looser?’ and the more we talked about it, I thought maybe we could accentuate his bone structure and make it look like something was going on there.
Chris Cooper in test make-up
“We did the first test on Chris and everybody liked the way it looked, but it was still missing something, so that’s when we decided to add the flocked stubble, which gave his character that extra unkempt look. Al is ex-military, so we made a point of making him look very clean-cut at first, so when he comes back, he hasn’t even bothered to shave anymore. Chris also had pretty good eye bags of his own, so I let the pieces tuck right under his own eye bags, which pushed them a little bit more.”
Penman says he’s happy with the entire look of the series, and with Cooper’s look specifically.
“I don’t get a chance to do a make-up like that very often. I like the scope of the whole thing; not just the make-up, but everything from wardrobe to the cars to the way they shot everything. I know the series is being well-received, and it’s nice to work on something that has J.J. Abrams’ and Stephen King’s names on it. That makes people automatically start talking about it!”
11.22.63 debuted on Hulu Feb. 15 and airs Mondays through April 4.