Welcome to a captivating exploration of the mind behind some of cinema’s most awe-inspiring special effects makeup: the inimitable Rick Baker. If you’ve ever been enthralled by the lifelike creatures in ‘Men in Black’ or the transformative performances in ‘The Nutty Professor,’ you’ve witnessed the genius of Rick Baker’s Hollywood career firsthand. With a storied legacy that spans over four decades, Baker has redefined the boundaries of realism and creativity in the film industry. His Hollywood career serves as a shining beacon for artists and professionals alike, showing what’s possible when technical skill meets boundless imagination. Read on as we delve into an exclusive interview that uncovers the man behind the magic, shedding light on the highs, lows, and behind-the-scenes stories that have shaped the Rick Baker Hollywood career we know and admire today.
Early Beginnings: How a Young Rick Baker Found His Passion
(Originally Published September 1996). We caught up with Rick at his new 35,000 sq. ft. shop. He had just returned from New York shooting his latest project, “Men in Black.” Unfortunately, we will have to wait for next time to hear about it.
Make-up Artist Magazine: I’m starting to see a parallel between you and Eddie Murphy, and Jack Pierce and Boris Karloff.
Rick Baker: It’s funny, I kind of thought the same thing when I was watching The Nutty Professor. He is my Karloff and I’m his Jack Pierce. We have a really nice working relationship. I really think we complement each other. The funny thing was, when I first worked with Eddie, I wanted him to perform the char- acters for me so I could get some inspiration as to what they were going to be. He didn’t know. He said he’d have to wait to see the face to put the voice with it, which is kind of back- wards. But that’s the way we did them. What’s great about Eddie is he’s a makeup artist’s dream. He’s not like so many actors who don’t want to be covered up. The more stuff you put on them, the less happy they are and they give a lousy performance because they’re not happy. They’re afraid to move their face. Eddie is such a good character actor — to be able to look like somebody else gives him a thrill. He takes every second that we’re doing the makeup and stares at himself in the mirror. He’s looking at himself and getting into the character and thinking about what he’s going to do. When I did the old Jewish man in Coming to America it was the only makeup we did a test on. I forget how many pieces it was, 18 or something. With each piece I put on he would look at it in the mirror, and see how he could use it. He said, “Boy, this looks so real. The old Jew that I do is such a stereo- type, maybe I should do something else.” He went into this totally straight improv that was brilliant. He just blew me away. I didn’t know he was such a good actor. From that day I really came to respect his ability.
MA: But when you first met Eddie, you were apprehensive.
RB: Yes. My first experience was, “I can’t work with this guy.” When he came to the shop there were 30 people in his entourage. It was a party. It was that stage in his life where he was having fun, and that’s what he was all about. He showed up and I was trying to get his life mask while he was entertaining. I did the back half of his head was in plaster bandage and was mixing up the alginate. I looked up and he had actually pulled completely out of the plaster bandage and was leaning over saying something to Arsenio. So I shoved his head back in there and started slapping this stuff on. Afterwards, I said to [John] Landis, “I can’t do this.” I said, “The makeups you want me to do on this movie can’t be done on a guy who’s going to a party at the same time. You have to talk to him” Landis said, “I’m not going to talk to him, you talk to him.” And so I said alright. I wanted to do those makeups but I didn’t want to do them under those circumstances. So I told him, “Eddie, I really need your full attention when we do this. This is very tedious work. When I need you to look up or down, or close your mouth, you’ve got to do it. I can’t do this and have you in a room with 20 other people entertaining.” He said “okay,” like it was no big deal. He eventually asked, “Can I have one guy, named Fruity, come in maybe every once in a while?” I said, “Yeah, as long as when I say you can’t talk, you don’t talk.” I always found, even back then when he was a little more wild, he was incredibly professional. Eddie was very respectful of my work and my time.
MA: Does he try to chat with you when you’re doing the makeups?
RB: Sometimes, especially on Nutty Professor. We did 70 some odd days in the make-up. I personally am not one of those entertaining makeup artists. I’m so focused on what I’m doing and making sure I get that edge down right and stuff like that, the time whizzes by for me. I really don’t say much of anything. On Nutty he watched a lot of TV. On some days he would be real chatty. I really feel that anybody who does these kind of makeups should have to sit in the chair and get made-up, to see what its like. I have done it myself many times, and I’ve had other people make me up. It’s such a different perspective, being in that chair with a sore butt, having somebody else slopping glue. It’s so easy to forget that. Again, what’s great about Eddie is he’s not afraid to move the make-up. That’s a good thing, and it’s also a bad thing. When I did the old Jewish man, he was covered in rubber all the way to the inside of his lips. The first thing he did was eat two cheeseburgers. And he eats them in about three bites. I just recently saw someone interview him on TV about it. He said, “He doesn’t allow me to eat.” It’s a good story, but it’s not true. He’s real big on eating cheeseburgers right after the makeups. And he can really open his mouth up wide. In between takes on Coming to America and Nutty he does a lot of funny stuff and he would laugh hard with his mouth open wide. He really tested the limit of the material.
MA: This is such a great film for you. It’s your work that is selling this movie.
RB: When I was approached about this film, I thought, “This is the kind of film I’ve been waiting for, where I can really show what we can do. Most of the time you do a film with someone in a make-up, people never see what he looks like normally. It’s nice to have that comparison — here’s Eddie without makeup, and Eddie with make-up. And here’s another make-up, and another makeup, and so on. As you know, these make-ups are the most difficult kind, to do realistic people. I’ve made a career out of doing projects that aren’t necessarily realistic – a lot of monsters and the kind of work that first got me interested in makeup. You have a lot
more latitude and you can get away with a lot more, as opposed to an old age makeup. Believe me, I felt the pressure. This is the title character of this movie. During the majority of the movie he is in this make-up, and you’re not supposed to see it as make-up. You’re supposed to see this person. Because if it didn’t work, the whole movie character. It would be junk.
MA: Who first approached you to do the film? Did Eddie call you?
RB: Yeah, Eddie and John Landis. It was originally going to be a Landis film.
MA: It feels like a Landis type of project.
RB: Whenever Eddie has to do a make-up, Landis is the first person he talks to. So John and Eddie were the first to call. I don’t know exactly how John got off the film, but John was
responsible for me starting this. He’s educated enough to know it takes time to do this. He said “In order for these makeups to be right — and if this is going to work — we’re going to need as much time as possible. So we need to get Rick started right away with a life cast and a body cast”. We made a deal right away, even before there was a completed script. So we started the life cast procedure, made master molds and did conceptual designs.
MA: Were all the family character roles already in the script?
RB: Yes, but it was actually a very different script. In fact, he was to play even more characters. He was to play the night club guy, and the guy in the clothing store who sells Buddy
new clothes. We did a bunch of conceptual designs. The transformations were big, whacky stuff. What ended up in the movie is whacky, but this was really whacky. For some reason they got rid of Landis. Then all the executives involved started getting frightened about offending fat people. They were thinking maybe this is too much. Maybe it should more like Jerry Lewis with some fake teeth or something. I said, “Did you read the same script that I did? Because in the script that I read, the overweight guy is the good guy. And the whole point of the movie was, “It’s okay to be happy with who you are, what you are, as long as you’re a good person. You don’t have to be fit to be a good person.” It shows that the overweight guy was really a nice man and the fit guy with the cut muscles was the jerk. Brian Grazer, the producer, said, “Yeah, but we don’t even know if this is going to work. I want to see a test tomorrow.” And I said, I cant This is not an out of the kit makeup.” I said, “I cannot make Eddie 450 pounds with my makeup box. It’s going to take some time.” He said, “Well, how soon can you do it?” I told him we could probably have something in a week. We had already sculpted on his head cast and did designs for the Sherman character as well as the other ones. We actually molded one of the sculptures we had painted, got a piece out right away and knocked off a quick fat suit. We quickly sculpted a pair of hands and threw it together as fast as we
could. And they kept saying, “We’re not really judging the makeup, we’re just judging the concept.” Yeah, but if the makeup stinks, they’re going to say this doesn’t work. I didn’t like that whether this makeup was going to be in the movie was to be based on this test that we cranked out. To my surprise, we did some things I never would have done if the test hadn’t turned out to be really good. If left up to my own way of doing this, I would have made it more pieces. But all we had was the concept sculpture, which we do in one piece. To save time, we molded that. It wasn’t sculpted as an overlapping appliance, we just made a two-piece mold. We split it right down the middle. It was scary having a seam right down the middle of his face. It took about a week to seam each piece. I told my crew, “l don’t want to have a hint that there is a seam on this. There was one lady in the shop who could clean it up so well, I forgot it was there. People who work for me as seamers think it’s not a very great job. But I used to do all the seaming myself, because it’s so important. It doesn’t matter how great the sculpture or the makeup is — if the seam is bad, you’ve blown it.
MA: So it just slipped over his neck?
RB: All one piece. We did that just for the speed with which we had to do it, and it actually worked out quite nice. I thought maybe this is the way to do it. We did his makeup test. I was very happy with it for as quickly as we did it. Again, it was Eddie being hysterical for the video camera, and we just let him go. He was improvising and saying amazing, funny things. They saw that it was going to work. It was very close to how we made the final Sherman, with the exception that we used just Eddie’s hair and head. The piece comes halfway around
his head. We glued it right into his hair and laid hair over the rubber to match his. The hairstyle was too contemporary. I thought it would be nice to give him a little more of a fro, a kind of outdated hairstyle. I think that’s when the makeup really came together.
The Journey to Hollywood: Finding a Balance Between Passion and Paycheck
MA: Some people have the impression that a lot of the transformations you did in Nutty Professor were done by computer [visual effects].
RB: Yeah, I’ve come across that. It seems to be the digital age where everybody wants digital, digital, digital. And I kept saying, “We’ve done this stuff. We can do this. You don’t necessarily have to do this on the computer.” I had a nice collaboration with Jon Farhat, the visual effects guy. I suggested to Jon that we not do the transformations completely with the computer, but a marriage between makeup and 3-D computer stuff. Instead of just doing a standard morph between Buddy Baker cont. and Sherman, I suggested we do a morph from Eddie to Eddie wearing a very thin bladder covered by a small appliance real quick, just a few frames. And we’d swell the bladder up for the transformation. We could have done it without computers at all, but the majority of the transformations are in the climax of the film where he goes back and forth. I really didn’t want to have Eddie saying his lines in that thing wearing bladders on his face. So this allowed us to have Eddie without any makeup to lead into our makeup effect. We had whole body suits with bladders that were made, we had all
kinds of whacky stuff. I know a lot of people ask about all that computer stuff. That’s true, there was a lot of computer stuff in there, but a lot of the effects and the way they worked were actually designed by me. I said, “This is what we should do and this is how we should do it.” In fact, Jon Fahrat was very willing to collab- orate with me on this idea. He said, “You should have a couple of work stations yourself. You’ve designed and figured this out. You can have more control.” A few years back I had considered that, but I can’t compete with Il-M [Industrial Light and Magic]. I didn’t want to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in software and computers to stay in business. But Jon had a real good point, which was that on a film like this, it’s just a continuation of what you’re doing. You’re designing this effect for the makeup. Just use the computer to fill in the blanks.
MA: Did you use any of the new gelatinous materials?
RB: Well, it was pretty orthodox. We experimented a lot. We were really concerned about getting something that looked like fat flesh. And we experimented with silicones. We really wanted
to make this really heavy, fat suit. The only problem if you make a heavy fat suit is — it’s heavy. Eddie would then be carrying 300 pounds of excess weight. We couldn’t do this. So we experimented with silicone gel-filled appliances, which are cool because they change shape. But this was too scary. We weren’t there yet. The problem with foam rubber is that a sculpted wrinkle is always in one spot, like those two cords underneath the chin underneath the neck in an old age makeup. If you pull the chin in in real life, those cords go away and the flesh rounds out. But with foam, they’re still there. I had an idea when I was a kid. I thought it would be cool to have some kind of liquid filled appliances that would move and squish like flesh. When we did the first test, the piece under the chin was a giant chunk of foam. It didn’t move right. We added a piece to the core so that the rubber was very thin under the chin. We put a bladder in there half filled so that it would slosh around and get a bit of movement. He could put his head down and it would compress or he could bring his chin up and it would flatten out. It really moved a different way. I was really happy with that. It was a separate bladder. In fact, I’ll be real honest about this. Initially we made some really intricate bladders that even conformed to the shape of the core. We tried different liquids and different materials and all kinds of stuff. In the end we ended up filling up rubbers with water. In an attempt to try to determine how much air and how much water to put in there, instead of making all these bladders where it was hard to get a good seal on them and every- thing, we just put some rubbers in there. They actually worked really nicely. No need to get too complex if it works, we’ll go with it. So we had an assortment of different kinds of prophylactics filled with air and water tied in a knot. Something else that has always been a major problem with foam rubber pieces that big is the shrinkage. A piece went all the way down to his collar bone and chest to his shoulder and the back of the neck. We’d get the face glued and the part that’s supposed to be sitting on the chest would be floating in the air. So we took his head cast, cut the head off and added about an inch of material to make the neck that much longer. I wanted the neck wrinkle to compress on the chest, which would allow him to
stretch and look up. So we made a long neck version. We should have gone further because it still didn’t do quite what we wanted it to do.
MA: I know you can’t talk about the charecters in “Men in Black“, but can you tell us about the materials you are using?
RB: A lot of work went into translucent materials — silicones and gelatins — for these makeups or Men in Black. When putting foam rubber on again, it’s like, what is this opaque stuff?
MA: What about the edges on the silicone? I’ve heard they can be a problem.
RB: It is a problem, but we’ve designed the makeup in a way that the edges are in places where they won’t be obvious.
MA: Were you using Prosaide as the adhesive?
RB: We used Prosaide on the gelatin pieces, but for the silicone we used 355.
MA: On Nutty Professor, what kind of materials did you use for the paint job?
RB: PAX was kind of a base coat. We prepainted the appliances. What was also a difficult thing is the fact that Eddie worked something like 70 days in the makeup. They were big
molds, and big molds are really hard to get good edges on. And we could not think of a good way to duplicate this mechanically. Molds we’ve duplicated in the past were for smaller pieces. So we sculpted the makeup three times and molded them. We had gotten about 30 set of appliances already seamed and ready. We decided to prepaint them with PAX but we found problems with the foam. It was absorbing the PAX and sticking to itself [inter-cellular tack] and collapsing in spots that were obvious. So all of a sudden, our backlog of pieces was no good. We had to figure out what it was and start all over again. We were using epoxy molds, which are prone to moisture problems [steam lakes, etc.] It was doing something weird to the surface of the foam. It wasn’t skinning properly or something. The cell tack wasn’t so bad in the foam itself but the PAX soaked in. We rescued some of the pieces by injecting them with castor oil or hair treatment and squeezing them.
MA: Wow, that’s a lot of work.
RB: It was scary. We had been way ahead and all ready to go, now we were a week from shooting with no pieces.
MA: What was the application process?
RB: One of the hard things about it being all one piece — except for the chin — was to get it over his head. The neck is a lot smaller than the head. It’s a big stretch. We ended up putting a plastic bag over his head, powdering the piece and slipping it over. Then we pulled the bag off. I had a problem with PAX crinkling. We had pretty soft pieces. The PAX had to be very thin. We intrinsically colored the foam to match Eddie’s skin color. The rest was done with castor [rubber mask grease]. I like RCMA [AFI because it has more castor oil in
it. Tuttle’s was interesting but it was a little too dry and hard to put on. I had to add a lot of castor oil to it. The castor oil actually plasticized the PAX so that it didn’t crinkle up it would spring back.
The Changing Landscape: Competing in an Expanding Industry
MA: You used to be a big fan of the old Max Factor RMG.
RB: That’s what I learned on. They had too much castor. You would have a half inch of castor oil floating on top, and I would just pour all that off. But you still had your great looking makeup. But you had to put tons of powder on it. What’s nice with Tuttle is you don’t need much powder. I like the consistency of RCMA. That’s pretty much what I use.
MA: How were you blending the edges?
RB: I’m not a big fan of bondo. We try to make pieces that have edges that don’t need bondo. We would seal the edge with Prosaide with a Q-tip and taper off to the skin. We would rarely use bondo. I put edges in a places where nobody will look for them. But Sherman had glasses, which helped. The edges of the pieces were always lined up with the glasses. I thought it would be nice for the Professor to have glasses and it was a fluke where we ended up making the edge of the piece.
MA: I find it interesting that when I look at the individual elements here in the shop the sculpting, the molding, the materials, everything is very professional but not ground-breaking
(with the exception of the bladder). I think what has made these makeups brilliant are those small, individual choices that you’ve made in each character. I’m still very hands-on. I like what I do. I’ve been a fan of makeup since I was a kid. I learned a lot from Dick Smith. But initially, I learned by trial and error. It makes you think, “Why does this work?” I feel a lot of people who have gone to makeup school think, “This is how you do it, and this is the way you do it every single time.” I’m not rein- venting the wheel, but every show’s got its own set of problems. We figure out the best way to do it. Some people think I’m the guy who takes makeup and turns it into mechanical things all the time. I didn’t use a bunch of servos to control the Nutty Professor’s face. That would have been ridiculous. There’s no reason to. I only do that when it’s the best way. So I personally think I make the right choices on these things. Sometimes it’s not a popular choice with those makeup artists who say my work is not makeup. But you know what? That’s too bad.
MA: I think some of the old guard didn’t accept you because you were different- the first of your kind. Dick Smith and even John Chambers in the beginning were doing standard makeup, and only when special occasions came up did they have the opportunity to create the more elaborate 3-D makeups. But that was all that you did. Was that the plan, or when you were young did you see yourself carrying a makeup case and doing someone’s regular makeup?
RB: No. I wasn’t interested in that. I was told at a very early age that I was not going to be able to do this kind of work all the time. I accepted that. And I did learn straight makeup, and have done it on occasion, but I don’t really enjoy it. I don’t find it that challenging. Actors can be a pain in the butt. It’s not what I want to do. I don’t want to have to stroke their egos and stuff like that. I like making stuff. My first experience with the union was as a young guy. I went to the Local and got to meet Hank Vallardo, the business representative at that time. He told me to give it up, that I was never going to get in, because if you do this kind of work, these jobs are few and far between. The most you’re going to do is put some sweat on some actor. So you might as well find something else to do with your life.
MA: I’m so glad you didn’t.
RB: Well, I am, too. In a way, he kind of did me a favor, because it kind of gave me a “screw you” attitude. “Alright, I’ll show you. You say I’m not going to make it. I am going to make
it. This is what I’m going to do, and I’ll prove it. And I’m going to be good at it.”
MA: Sometimes it takes something like that to brings us to that resolve.
RB: From the time I was 10 this is all I ever wanted to do.
MA: Let’s talk about your shop. When you started you were a one-man operation. Now ou have a 35,000 square foot facility with a crew of up to 75 at times. A big part of your job has become administration, which I’m sure takes you away from the hands-on, creative part.
RB: Yeah, and that’s some- thing I don’t like. When I started out, I thought one day, if I was lucky, I’d run the lab at Universal. I’d be sculpting and making molds. Back then there was just John Chambers and Dick Smith doing this kind of work. When John wasn’t at Fox he did every- thing out of his garage. So I thought, “One day I’ll have a garage shop.” I started out gradually, beginning in my bedroom at my parents’ house using my mom’s kitchen oven. I did Jane Pittman that way. Those kind of films got more popular. Then I got my first assistant, Rob Bottin, who was this 13 year old kid who did these incredible pencil drawings. I told Rob, “If you want to do this kind of stuff, I’ll show you how and you can help me out.” I never trained anybody like I did Rob. I learned it’s very frustrating having an assistant, because no matter how good they are, it doesn’t come out the same as if you had done it. But I can’t do it all myself, so it’s still better than not having anyone. I kind of learned to accept that if I have someone doing something for me it’s not going to be what I would do. Then came American Werewolf. I had a crew of 6.
MA: You probably thought that was a lot of people back then.
RB: Yes I did, and I told them at the time. I said, you guys are so lucky that you’re coming into your first job and it’s the biggest thing I’ve ever done. This may be the only time in your life that you can do these kinds of things. In a way you’re lucky and in a way you’re not. You have nothing to look forward to because your first job is the coolest thing you’ll ever do.
MA: And now you have this huge shop. It must take a lot of time just to make sure everybody’s going in the right direction.
RB: It is difficult. Before I had kids, the way I kept my hands involved in it was during normal business hours I dealt with the administrative kind of stuff, babysitting all the people who worked for me. After 5:00 was when I would lock myself in my room and do the sculpting and designs. So I ended up working day and night. That’s the way my life always was. I wanted to have kids but I wanted to be a father to them. Then I did Gremlins which was not a make-up show at all. I came to a decision when my wife got pregnant. I had to give up hands on stuff and be a dad. So Gremlins was the first show where someone else did everything. I did some design sculptures and some computer stuff. I still had a lot of input, but it wasn’t hands-on.
And I kind of accepted that. After that I realized I still have to do certain parts. There are things I want to sculpt. I can’t totally walk away. I didn’t get into this business to do the least fun part of it, sitting at a desk and answering the phone, dealing with all the problems of the shop. I enjoy making things. I have a slightly different attitude now. I used to sculpt everything because I didn’t think anybody was going to do it better. But I have people now who are amazing, like Matt Rose, who started out as a kid looking at my stuff. I started out so young and did some interesting stuff at an early age, that inspired a lot of young people, because they were look- ing at a 20 year old guy instead of a 50 year old guy. I still have young people coming to me saying, “You inspired me. I saw American Werewolf in London when I was only five years old.” I hate it when they say that. Because all of a sudden now I’m not that far from 50 and it’s a different story. It’s very weird. I remember the days when I tried to do an old age stipple makeup on myself and it wouldn’t work. I thought I must be doing some- thing wrong because it wasn’t doing anything. I put it on now, and it works great. Same formula. I think this kind of stuff I do helps keep me young. A lot of my crew are young guys. And the funny thing is, I kind of think of myself as their peer. But the thing that really kind of slaps me back to reality is when their parents come to visit and I’m older than their parents.
MA: You started out in a bedroom and now you’ve got this huge facility that’s going to have a sound stage to shoot second unit or post production. Where do you see yourself 15 years from now?
RB: The stage area is really a small part and we rarely shoot that stuff here. I don’t know what the future is going to be like. The changes that I’ve seen in my lifetime are amazing. I thought I’d have a shop in a garage. Now I have 35,000 square feet, and 35,000 feet of parking, practically a ball park now. And it’s still not big enough. We’re running out of space already. It’s hard for me to believe. When I was young I never, ever in my wildest dreams would I have thought that it would turn out like this. Many times I’ve said the shop is the
biggest monster I’ve ever created. It’s very stressful. I’ve got a building to pay for and people who rely on me to make their living. That’s not really what I wanted. I went through a kind of soul searching period when I was thinking of buying this building, wondering, “Do I really want to do this?” What I really want to do is get smaller. Life is not as fun as when I had it in my garage. I just went in and sculpted, that’s it. Nobody bothered me. I didn’t have to deal with anybody else’s problems. I could say, “Today I’m making the mold,” and nobody would bother me. But I have to do this in order for me to get the kind of jobs that I want to do. I don’t necessarily have a long term plan. I like the people I have working for me. Now I’ve tried to set the business up where I have administrators so I can be more of an artist. Before, my business has always suffered when I wasn’t there. I would go to set and things wouldn’t get done. Now I try to divide it up more.
MA: It’s interesting that a lot of people who are going to read this are going to think “Why would he want to downsize”.
RB: People who work for guys like me think “I wish I was in Rick Baker’s shoes”, but they don’t realize all of the bullshit that goes on. I don’t want this big machine. I would like to get smaller, but there would be jobs I wouldn’t be able to do. I would be doing films no on could care less about. It’s not what I want to do for right now.
MA: The ante seems to be moving up, too. Everyone’s getting bigger shops. It may get to a point if you want to start a shop it would be like trying to compete with Detroit. You won’t be able to compete with the big boys unless you have a lot of money.
RB: I really came to this kind of fork in the road in my life where either I could get out of the business — and believe me, I considered it, because a lot of the business I don’t like — or I get bigger. Stan Winston has made it difficult for a lot of the smaller shops because he’s such a big operation. He’s an incredibly bright businessman. I think that’s where he gets his kicks, just playing around with this stuff. He’s great at it. Personally, I think Stan would be great at running a major motion picture studio. He’s a real showman. And the motion picture business is lacking true showmen. But he’s trying to get into a major business. Most of my life, I have fought it. I don’t want to be a businessman. I want to be an artist. I intentionally didn’t play that game. I don’t want to have a showplace shop in order to attract producers. “Look at the nice place you have.” But I still do it the Rick Baker way. My work is not going to change because I have this big building.
Crafting Iconic Characters: The Making of “The Nutty Professor”
MA: When I have seen the films you’ve done with character makeups, I’ve seen a signature there. I see your hand. That has to be the result of your effort to stay hands-on. I love the characters in Nutty because of the flaws that real people have that you put into them. What did you use for research on Nutty Professor?
RB: There were a lot Of scenes in the script originally where we saw the Professor naked. I was against it. I said nobody’s going to like it. I told them it’s going to be very difficult for us to do with a big rubber suit. So I suggested finding an overweight person that has the body that every- body agrees upon and a face that I can make look like Eddie Murphy’s face. Not too extreme, so that we can put a Professor Klump makeup on him. At first they wouldn’t listen to me and we had to make a big rubber suit. Then I was able to talk them into it. Casting had this big cattle call. Some of the people weren’t overweight and some of them weren’t black. so I asked the director, “Which one?” And he picked a guy whose head was much larger and stranger ,who I could never make look like Eddie. So later they found a guy who had the right body with a much smaller head that we put the double makeup on. We studied him, and they did use him for some shots.
MA: I don’t remember any shots in the film with the Professor running around in his underwear.
RB: Fortunately, they decided not to do anything unnecessary. The original script I read was really good. Then they changed it to this kind of Ace Ventura script. I said, “If you guys hadn’t already paid me to do this wonderful stuff, I wouldn’t have taken this job.” They started out with a tasteless script, but they cut a lot of that out and made an acceptable film. Another thing was I had to fight for the family scenes. When the director initially came on he wanted to cut all the family sequence. And I said, “You’re wrong.”
MA: That’s where Eddie’s gonna shine.
RB: Yeah. That’s what I said to him. This is where Eddie shines. If you cut this out of the movie it will be a big mistake. At that point I didn’t care if I offended this guy and he didn’t want me to do the movie. I actually did end up liking him because he was a real nice guy. But I wanted to do those characters. It would be good for Eddie, it would be good for me, and it would be fun. The studio wanted to cut it because of the cost. Jon Farhat, the visual effects guy, had planned really elaborate shots, a lot of motion control. They had to build the dining room area twice, one just for the motion control camera to move all the way around the table. The studio said, “Look at all this money you’re spending on makeup and special effects. Let’s cut that out.” We had just finished the molds for the mother and the grandmother makeup. I called Eddie and said, “They’re going to cut the family sequence. We’ve got to do a test to prove to them that they’ve got to have it.” So Eddie said okay. So he came out to the shop and we did the mother makeup. I didn’t even have it totally planned out at that point. I just stuck the stuff on and painted him up. One of the hardest things about all the makeups is that Eddie has a mustache that he refuses to shave off. As cooperative as he is, he would not shave off his mustache. I said, “We can give you a fake mustache.” He said no. He says he looks like J.J. Walker without a mustache. It’s a very wiry, very course mustache. But the mother, grandmother and Lance Perkins characters don’t have mustaches. So for every one of those makeups we had to flatten out his mustache. And it doesn’t want to stay down. We did the mother makeup. The camera was all set up and Eddie said, “l don’t know how I’m going to play the mother.” So we turned on the machine and I said, “Well, tell me about your son Sherman.” And that’s all it took. He started talking. And I would just throw him questions. In fact, my wife Sylvia showed up and she was talking to him. As long as Eddie had someone to bounce off of, he goes off on these amazing productions. It was hysterical. It was funnier than the movie.
MA: I loved the outtakes at the end of the film. I’m so glad they put those in there. Those were just priceless.
RB: So I got an hour’s worth of footage of Eddie being hysterical. He pretty much did the mother right off the bat the way it is in the film. But he would try different approaches that were really different. He would contort his face and he would become this whole other character. But then the next day we did grandmother and got two hours of tape. So we saved the scene. The director said, ” You singlehandedly saved this scene.” And I said, “It’s worth fighting for.”
MA: Oh, it certainly was. Those are the funniest scenes in the movie.
RB: And also, performance wise, I have so much respect for Eddie as an actor. That’s hard to do when you’re playing a scene with just yourself, with five other characters and they’re not there. And the first one you do, you’re there and you kind of set the pace for the whole scene. He was brilliant. The day he was doing the first character I wondered, ” What the hell is he doing there?” But he was reacting to what he was going to shoot five days down the line. He’s amazing. The first time I saw the film I was kind of looking at my work and saying, “l should have done that shot, I should have done this,” and picking myself apart to see if I can do better next time.
MA: Did you have anyone helping you with the application?
RB: Yeah, I had David Anderson assisting me on Nutty. He’s a nice person to work with, a real perfectionist in what he does. He’s a great assistant. When we were gluing the pieces
on, I’d be on one side, he’d be on the other. Then I’d do pretty much everything from there. David would sit and watch me do it. Then eventually I said, “Okay, you do it.” Just in case I got sick or something, he would know how. We had to hand lay hair on the back of his head every day.
MA: What kind of hair was it?
RB: The first time I crimped some hair but it wasn’t right. Then I tried to perm some hair. We wrapped it around little skewers. But we found a place that sells African hair that comes in a kind of a ball.
MA: Is it synthetic?
RB: No, it’s actually cut off of black people. It’s real easy to lay. You pull it out and take a big mat in the shape you want, slop some 355 on and shove it on his head. And then it’s just a matter of trimming it. Most of the time I would watch the makeup, but some days I would leave David there and go back to the shop. He’s better at gluing the pieces on than I am. I’m smart enough to see that. My eyes aren’t as good as they used to be, my hands are a little shaky. He would be doing one side and I was doing the other. I would look at my side and then look at his, and his looked better. I would say to him, “Can you put my side on, too, David?”
MA: Did you sculpt all the characters?
RB: No. I consciously made a decision on this film that all the characters should be different, but yet they should look related. I assigned characters to different artists in my shop and say, “Okay, you’re doing the grandmother. Put some of your own style into it. But this is what I want.” I’m really proud that if you look at a list of the top people doing this kind
of work, they all came through my shop. You’ve got Rob Bottin. I gave Greg Cannom his first job. Steve Johnson, Tony Gardner. I like seeing good work. And most of the good work I see now is from people I had something to do with.