Set in the world of 1970s Formula 1 racing, Rush follows the real-life rivalry between charismatic English driver James Hunt (played by Chris Hemsworth) and his brilliant competitor, Austrian Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl), encompassing Lauda’s near-fatal 1976 crash.
Notes make-up/hair designer Fae Hammond, “Rush really does capture the era, with the quality of the lenses and grading, which makes it feel so ’70s with its heightened reds and everything else. It has the textures and feeling of the ’70s, but at the same time, somebody like Chris Hemsworth is a difficult figure, because he has such a contemporary quality, but he’s very good. His accent is great, and he’s very handsome, which of course is what we needed, in order to have that feeling of hero worship towards him. I actually lived through that era—I was 18, so it was my heyday, really—so for me it’s still as clear as day, and it was great to do something where I really knew the period so well.”
One of Hammond’s biggest challenges on the film was following director Ron Howard’s dictate to make everything as real as possible. “You only have to go to YouTube, where you can still watch those races,” she says. “When I saw the movie for the first time a few weeks ago, during the first few minutes, I kept thinking, ‘I can’t believe how hairy it is!’ … You tend to forget that people were really hairy in those days. But I’m happy to say I got used to it, and I’m really pleased with what we did. The main actors didn’t come like that, so that’s where a lot of our work was. But we were able to find a lot of extras who looked like they literally stepped out of the ’70s!”
First on Hammond’s list of priorities was to turn the two leads into their real-life counterparts. “Chris Hemsworth is blond and attractive and so was Hunt, so that worked really well,” she says, “but we also tried to break him down a bit to get rid of that glorious golden boy look. Daniel was interesting, because once we made a set of teeth for him, he really had the essence of Lauda, but Lauda was really pale with icy blue eyes and his hair was much fairer, so we chose to keep certain qualities of Lauda’s hairline and teeth. Daniel is a darker version, but he plays it so brilliantly and his accent is amazing, so he’s incredibly convincing.
“If we really wanted to change him, he would have had to wear contact lenses and so much more, but he already had to wear all the prosthetics later in the film. And he also had to wear a wig full-time, so I didn’t want to push it any further, so we stuck with Daniel’s own brown eyes. Once you get that racing suit on and put him in a car that says Niki Lauda, it’s fine.”
For Hammond, hair played a huge role in creating the right look. “The styling of the hair in the 1970s was so opposite to what we do today,” she notes. “It’s so heavy over the face, and the way of cutting hair is also very different. It’s such a strange look that we’re now quite appalled by it. I have hundreds of pairs of sideburns, and I think we used them over and over again, so that was great fun. And amongst the racing fraternity, you would have people who looked very ’50s and ’60s.” (continued below)
Oscar winner Mark Coulier was brought in to oversee the prosthetics for Lauda’s post-accident burn make-up. “There were primarily six stages of the healing process,” explains Coulier. “Six weeks after the crash, he was racing again, so we did stages up until he gets back in the car, with a three-week break before he does the Japanese Grand Prix at Mount Fuji. We see him at the end of the movie, several months later, where his wounds have healed considerably.
“We researched what a burn would look like 12 hours after the burn happens, so the first time you see Niki Lauda in his full burn make-up, it’s pretty intense. And then we’ve got several stages of pretty intense third-degree burns that he suffered, and we stuck absolutely as closely as we could to the real thing. We sourced pictures of Lauda’s burns and got loads of reference, so we slavishly copied every single wrinkle.”
One of Coulier’s biggest challenges was to create a realistic burn make-up that didn’t look like an actor wearing prosthetics. “We tested every single stage,” he says, “for color, for texture; we used a lot of make-up materials to dress the burns on the surface of the prosthetics, so we used gelatin and Bondo appliances, rubber dust; we used all sorts of little tricks to give the make-up that organic quality, otherwise it just looks like a sculpted prosthetic make-up, whereas we had a lot of other stuff dressed on top of it.”
The final make-up broke down to roughly eight pieces. “We had three pieces just to get around the ear, just so you could film the ear full screen and not see any edges,” he says. “There were two forehead pieces, a delicate prosthetic that went under the eye to create the stretched, burned skin around Niki Lauda’s right eye, which was quite damaged. The cheek piece on the right was flat-molded, so I could get the best edge we could possibly get. There were also a couple of little mixed silicone and Bondo pieces on the lips.”
While Coulier and his team concentrated on Brühl’s make-up, Hammond designed the hairpieces that she would add and dress after the make-up was applied. “It was a long procedure,” says Hammond, “but beautifully applied. I think Ron found it very exciting that he could get the camera in so close.”
Reflecting on Rush, Hammond says, “I think it’s a joy working with a director who trusts and believes in you. When someone gives you that trust, you can go much further with it, given that space and that confidence. I think we rose to the challenge, and I hope young audiences will enjoy the drama of the story but also get a flavor of the ’70s, a flavor that it wasn’t just rock ‘n’ roll bands, but that these racing drivers were true gods—bigger than they are today.” (continued below)
“When you’re endlessly sticking make-ups on,” adds Coulier, “you usually can’t wait until the last day, because it becomes a bit of a chore, so we were always pretty keen to get through to the last day of make-up and so are the actors. But in this instance, we sensed that even Daniel Brühl would have been quite happy to do another 10 applications. He enjoyed the process and the character, and Duncan Jarman and I who applied the make-up together both agreed it was a job we would have loved to carry on doing, because it was such a nice one to apply.”
Rush opened Sept. 27.