When Charlize Theron, producer and star of director Jay Roach’s Bombshell, was preparing to play former Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly, she knew that she would need to physically transform herself to deliver the most accurate onscreen portrayal possible. Moreover, Bombshell’s other main characters, notably Fox News chief Roger Ailes and host Gretchen Carlson, were going to require major transformations for actors John Lithgow and Nicole Kidman, respectively. As such, Theron contacted special makeup effects phenomenon Kazu Hiro regarding his handling of prosthetic makeup designs for the aforementioned actors in the creation of likeness makeups. Brought in first, Hiro then needed to secure a makeup department head and hair department head, critical roles given to makeup veteran Vivian Baker and hairstyling expert Anne Morgan.
Fundamental to Theron’s preparation to play Kelly was to facially resemble the television star, so it was natural for the actress to turn to Hiro, who was already an Oscar winner for his work on Darkest Hour. “She didn’t want to see herself in the mirror and create the voice and mannerisms of Megyn without looking like her,” Hiro said of Theron, noting that the makeups for Lithgow and Kidman were just as relevant as Theron’s makeup concept.
After meeting with Roach, Hiro had the director’s approval to create prosthetic makeups for the trio of stars to emulate their Fox News counterparts. “I started the sculpture of Gretchen’s likeness on Nicole’s lifecast,” Hiro recalled of Kidman’s makeup. “She didn’t want cheeks. I had to cut down the size of the nose and chin.”
Using photographs and videos discovered on the internet, Hiro had the character reference material he needed. “We only had less than two months to prepare—because of the time issue, I had less than a week to sculpt each character,” Hiro revealed of blocking out each makeup in clay, refining it, and making molds which can then be injected with various materials to create prosthetic appliances. “After the test makeup, we found so many things that can be improved; I re-sculpted once all facial pieces.”
The first two times Kidman’s makeup was applied, Hiro and Baker did her prosthetic application. Following that, Bill Corso took over Kidman’s application. Additionally, the Gretchen Carlson wigs were created and cut by Kim D’Santantonio who ordered their manufacture from wigmaker Peter Owen.
To begin the process, Hiro took lifecasts and created 3D scans of both Theron and Lithgow; he had a lifecast for Kidman from seven years ago but created new 3D scans of the actress. From that, he began his sculptures for Theron which would result in a nose plug, nose tip, chin, and jaw piece to re-create Kelly’s angular face. “I used Charlize’s 3D scans to sculpt eyelids, and I took an impression of the inside of her nostril to make noseplugs,” Hiro detailed. “From that nose cast, I made a 3D model of a noseplug and printed a clear 3D plastic piece. I dyed it with a dark grayish color, so it wouldn’t be visible if [production filmed] up her nose. I tried a softer material, but I ended up using a rigid material.”
Per Hiro’s wishes, Theron’s appliances were realized in silicone, courtesy of prosthetic lab technician Vincent Van Dyke and his laboratory, Vincent Van Dyke Effects. “It looks better,” said Hiro of the inherent qualities of silicone, as opposed to other prosthetic materials, including foam latex and gelatin, “[due to its] translucency, and it’s easy to change the thickness. Every time I get a job, I sculpt and cast pieces of the face and bring [the sculpture] to Vincent to make a positive and negative mold and run silicone.”
In the case of Theron’s makeup, applied by Hiro and Kelly Golden in an hour-and-twenty-minutes, the prosthetic appliances skewed towards being smaller than they might have been on dissimilar projects. “I really tried to minimize the pieces, so that she has the freedom to act,” Hiro explained. “I didn’t want to cover her too much. The application was really difficult because the pieces were so small. After the pieces were on, Vivian did a beauty makeup, and Charlize did makeup on her [own] lips and eyebrows.”
Initially, during pre-production, Theron wanted to do a full beauty makeup on herself after the prosthetics were glued on, but it proved to be too much work and responsibility for her to go through the whole process on a daily basis. Another hour plus was required for Baker to create Theron’s beauty makeup and Oscar winner Adruitha Lee to apply and dress the wig.
Supervised by Anne Morgan, Theron’s looks in the film made us of four wigs and used wefts, fake hair. One of the four wigs is a ‘flashback wig’ for a scene set in the film’s past. “It was more natural, thin, more soft in its color, so that she would look more fresh-faced,” said Morgan.
Finishing up Theron’s makeup were eyelids—that went through six iterations—and dark blue contact lenses. “Lens tech Jessica Nelson I have been working with Charlize for a while,” said Hiro. For nearly 40 times on Bombshell, Hiro, Golden, Baker, Lee, and Nelson created the Megyn Kelly look for Theron, including two preliminary tests, one film test, and another test shortly before filming.
In addition to working on Theron, department head Baker also created the makeup for Margot Robbie, playing a new Fox News employee, plus oversaw the makeup for 100 additional cast members in some form of a lookalike makeup. “I like any challenge, as long as it’s one where someone gives you enough tools to do what you need,” said Baker. “I also think that, any time you have well-known people playing well-known people, it’s always scary.”
An amalgamation of various characters, Robbie plays Kayla Pospisil, a young upstart at Fox News. “She starts out sweet and more natural,” Morgan conveyed, “like she’s done her hair at home. She gets a makeover, and I used 24 wefts and curled her hair and made it big, like a Barbie doll. It’s more natural looking by the end. Peter Owen made the wigs for all three of the lead women. Victoria Wood and Wigmaker Associates made our Rudy Giuliani wig for us and anything that needed to be adjusted.”
With regards to Lithgow’s makeup, Roach told Hiro that Lithgow was not enthusiastic about prosthetic makeups because he had a bad experience wearing them in the past. “Jay convinced John to try it,” Hiro stated. “I had a meeting with John; we did the lifecast and 3D scan the same day. He brought in a dental plumper that he used on The Crown [to play] Winston Churchill.”
After a makeup test at Hiro’s studio, Lithgow became more positive about donning a prosthetic makeup on Bombshell. “As soon as the nose went on, he started to see what the possibility was,” described Hiro. “As I finished the makeup, he was really happy about it.”
One definitive problem in creating the Roger Ailes makeup was that Lithgow does not resemble Ailes in most any respect. “Roger has bug eyes [which] stick out more than John’s,” Hiro said, adding that the two men’s head shapes are very different. “When I was sculpting, the producers insisted to cut the makeup time down less than three hours [of] application. When I sculpt, I started to apply the makeup in my head. I was trying to simplify the application, and the hairstyle and headshape is quite different.”
Soon, Hiro realized that if he added a full headpiece to Lithgow’s makeup concept, it would add 25 minutes application time to an already complex procedure, so Hiro convinced Lithgow to shave back his natural hairline. “I shaved the hairline, and Anne Morgan recreated the [Ailes] hairline,” Hiro related. “She thinned out the whole hair and did extensions on him.”
To create a facsimile of Ailes’ round head, Morgan not only took his hairline back off of his face, she also took out some 50% of his hair with a clipper, in stripes. “I added some wefts to make it look stringy,” Morgan noted. “I colored it that weird white-gray in the front, and darker gray streaks in the side and in the back.”
Eventually, Hiro’s final Ailes makeup included a nose piece, teeth, cheeks, a neck piece, and earlobes—the daily application was handled by Richard Redlefsen and Hiro Yada after Kazu Hiro created an initial test makeup and a film test. “I was supervising for a week-and-a-half,” he said. “It looks simple, but it was really tricky. He had a lot of interesting lines on his face—they have to line up well to make it work. I sculpted the line that would connect to his own line, so when he changed his expression, it would follow the natural lines in his face. The neck piece covers the front part of his neck. The cheek pieces were quite bigger than normal and came down to the sides of his neck. John is not that heavy compared to Roger.”
During his observational period, Hiro carefully watched Redlefsen and Yada apply the makeup. “When I had to design the makeup in a short time, [with] someone else doing it, I had to prove that it could be done under three hours,” Hiro divulged.
In a scene between Lithgow and Theron where they are supposed to be younger, Kazu Hiro made a lower-lip piece for Lithgow so that his lips were fuller, and a more youthful complexion was applied over the prosthetics, while Anne Morgan changed Lithgow’s hair colors.
For Baker, Bombshell represented the culmination of her significant experience in makeup and a unique chance to recreate iconic characters for the screen. “To be distracted by makeup is the worst thing that you could ever do,” she said. “Between the prosthetics and the beauty makeups and character makeups, it was [akin to] a union test on a daily basis. We brought the transformation of characters to a level not done before.”
Additionally, Morgan asserted that her work on Bombshell helped tell a story vital to the landscape of American arts and media. “We paid respect to the women who did come forth and start this vocal movement in a place where you’d never expect that,” she said.
In retrospect, Hiro noted that his makeup designs for Theron resonate as especially singular in the annals of makeup history. “It’s a really important makeup because I believe that extensive of a change has never been done on a female character,” Hiro communicated. “She was brave to decide to go through that change. It works well to tell the story of the film. Likeness [makeup] is an important balance—it has to be the right amount of likeness to make it believable and maintain the quality, so that people don’t believe that they are looking at a makeup. I’m glad that I had a great opportunity.”