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Jan Sewell Supervises Bohemian Rhapsody’s Makeup

January 21, 2019 | By

When makeup supervisor and department head Jan Sewell was first offered Bohemian RhapsodyRami Malek had already been cast in the role of rock band Queen’s iconic lead singer, Freddie Mercury, so she began the project by concentrating on looks for him. “I thought Rami was a really good bet from our point-of-view,” Sewell said. “He was the right coloring and had a great jaw, but I quickly realized that nothing else was the same. There would be a little bit of prosthetics. One had to look at teeth. I quickly rang Mark Coulier, and we all brainstormed what was the best way to tackle this.”

Coulier, a prosthetics veteran, and Chris Lyons from Fang FX—who makes teeth for virtually every production in the United Kingdom—both came on board in Sewell’s department. Earlier, Lyons had provided Malek with oversize teeth so that the actor could practice with them when he was shooting Papillion, though new sets of custom teeth would be fashioned. “He would take on board anything I could offer him,” Sewell recalled of Malek. “I could push it further. ‘Can you make me teeth that would be a scale replica of Freddie Mercury’s teeth?’”

By reviewing photos, Sewell and Lyons worked out the size of the new teeth and compared them to Malek’s face, eventually settling on a larger set, a medium set, and a smaller set. “In the end, Chris did make me about 20 sets of teeth,” Sewell described. “We changed it — a millimeter shorter and a millimeter in. I knew that there would be closeups—Rami was very much part of this process. Once he’s starting to talk with them, he very much led it.”

On the prosthetic side, Coulier, a massive Queen fan, made the appliances. “I was delighted with what Mark made,” Sewell unveiled. “What is the smallest thing I could do that would have the biggest impact? How much live on stage work we were going to shoot? Every single day, he had a gelatin nose put on. It started just slightly higher than the bridge of his nose and finished just before the tip of his nose. We made a tip, but we just felt we were taking it too far.”

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Jane Sewell applying the finishing touches on Rami Malek

Since Malek’s cheekbones are much flatter than Mercury’s were, Sewell also enlisted Coulier to create cheek appliances.  “Mark lifecast [Malek], but we had him scanned so that we had an absolute replica of his face,” detailed Sewell. “What the cheek pieces did was not worth it. I needed Rami to own his Freddie—an essence of Freddie. His jawline was working so well. I knew I could achieve it by a bit of highlight and sculpting.”

To complete the Mercury look, Sewell had Alex Rouse make six wigs for Malek’s looks from the early-1970s to the mid-1980s. “We ended up using just five wigs,” Sewell explained. “Overall, I had 14 wigs made just for my top actors.”

In point, Sewell was responsible for 59 principal cast members plus 6750 extras. “One week, we shot all of the concerts that were going to be in the film,” she said, adding that Renata Gilbert supervised the makeup for background performers. “Each crowd had to represent a different country: Japan, Mexico, U.S., London. Most of them had wigs. If I didn’t have time or money, we were perming, coloring, and refronting.”

In hindsight, Sewell is proud of not only Malek’s final looks as Mercury, but also the overall film. “I had a fabulous team behind me; I was going to be doing Rami all the way through,” she said. “You feel like he’s really owned that part. You realize the amazing opportunities you’ve got with this film. How loved Freddie was comes to you.”

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