The first thing you’re likely to notice while watching Craig Brewer’s comedy sequel Coming 2 America, now streaming on Amazon Prime Video, is how young Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall look even when compared to their 30-years-younger selves in the original 1989 movie. You’re also likely to be impressed with some of the character makeup that revives some of their classic characters from the movie, including Sexual Chocolate and the old men at the Queens barbershop whose banter comes across as being even more un-PC than it was three decades ago.
As might be expected, some, much or all of that impressive process of making it seem like the original Coming to America that came out just yesterday can be attributed to Make-Up Department Heads Vera Steimberg and Merc Arceneux, as well as primary Character Make-Up and Prosthetics Specialist Mike Marino. As luck would have it, Below the Line spoke to all three talented artists a few weeks back.
Steimberg, who has worked with Murphy going back to 1999, admits that it’s good genes that keeps him looking so young as he nears his 60th birthday next month. She previously worked with Murphy and Brewer on the 2019 Netflix film, Dolemite is My Name.
“He’s such an amazing human being, so creative, and he also lets you be creative,” Steimberg told us about Murphy. “To get back to your question about Eddie and Arsenio looking incredible. 30 years later, that is 100% genes. The only prosthetic makeup they had to go through was through Mike Marino doing all the prosthetic makeups for them to revive all these beautiful scenes.”
Coming 2 America was Marino’s first time working with Brewer, but he was up for the challenge, because both of them wanted to pay tribute to the amazing make-up work done by Rick Baker in the first movie. “I love [Craig’s] films. Hustle and Flow, really cool movie. He really knew what to do with these makeups. He told me, ‘I’m such a fan of the original film. I can’t believe we’re here doing this film.’ So we were both super-geeks, and I was a geek of Rick Baker, who had done the original film makeups and all the characters for Coming to America.”
Arceneaux knew Carla and Stacy on the hair team, and though she’d met Steimberg, they had never worked together. “We talked and decided, ‘Hey, this sounds like it could be a good fit,’ so we all came together and collaborated and put it all together,” she said.
“I think that we always go with the main characters,” Steimberg elaborated on where they started when taking on such a vast project with so many characters. “We knew we had Wesley Snipes, who had a beard thing that had to be applied to him, so there were a few things we had to do prior that involved the wigmaker Justin [Stafford]. He measured everybody for whatever pieces we had to make. That was the preparation prior to going. We would concentrate on that, because those are more specific and require more timing and needs to be done before we start filming.”
“I would say just trying to recreate in a modern way now 30 years later, this legacy that we all know so well,” Arceneaux adds. “It’s still a classic movie, so that pressure was on. Then we had two groups of dancers — that was a little stressful trying to figure out – and then you have major characters. Eddie’s got three beautiful daughters now, so it’s like, ‘Okay, what are we going to do? How are we going to create these looks and make it work and make it believable?’ Not overdone, where it’s relatable, but still royal and regal and beautiful. That was probably the challenging part, to get all that together.”
“We always research, and we always go back, especially with a sequel. You want to watch the first one just to refresh on details you probably didn’t see before,” Steimberg points out.
Steimberg: “You definitely have new characters and new things happening, so we all got together, got some ideas, presented them to the director, so that kind of flow between Ruth Carter, the hair team, Carla [Farmer] and Stacey [Morris], Merc, and I, just to walk through the different groups of people that we’re going to see in the movie, like the dancers and the funeral and the celebration. There were so many things that we split everything, and tried to concentrate on each group and how they were gonna look.”
Even though some might think the denizens of that Queens barbershop haven’t aged a day, Marino disagrees, saying they created a very deliberate and specific progression. “The progression of the makeups were the differences in the original film and this. Eddie and Arsenio are physically older — they’re not 25 anymore. What kind of world are we in to where maybe they’re still sitting in that barbershop for 30 years? How would they have aged? Because if you do pull up a photograph of the old one and the new one, you’ll see that their hair is whiter, they’re saggier and older-looking then the original film, but the essence of their faces are still there.”
He elaborates on what that involved. “We really tried to duplicate Rick Baker’s work as close as possible, every wrinkle, every line, and then how would they have progressively aged? It’s funny, because I had all these pictures around in the makeup trailer with [Rick Baker] doing makeup on [Eddie], and he’s like, ‘Man, we were so young — Look how young I look in this picture!’ He was 25, and he goes, “How old did we think these people were in the barbershop… 60? Back when we were younger, we thought they looked so old, but now looking at them, they weren’t that old. NOW they’re old. I think they’re like 100 now. Back then maybe they were like 70 or something.’ I think that was really interesting. Because we did compare side by side, and yeah, they really look older, like as if they really naturally aged.”
“Mike, he’s his own entity. Mike is Mike, and his job was more challenging, to be able to go back 30 years earlier, and recreate what Rick Baker has done on the original Coming to America,” Steimberg said about Marino’s specialized work for the film. “I think that he didn’t want to disappoint Eddie or Rick Baker, or anybody. For any makeup artist, especially in that field, it’s a huge movie and accomplishment to recreate. With a new character, it’s a different story, because you’ll do whatever you want to do with a new character. When it comes to something that you have to go back 30 years later, it’s a different story. I’m a big fan of Mike Marino’s makeups and job and creativity and arts and also Rick Baker. I was waiting to see what he was gonna bring to the table, and he freakin’ nailed it. 100%.”
Arceneaux was also impressed and even made sure she was able to take a peek into Marino’s world. “I got a chance to go into his trailer because I always wanted to see what he’s doing. Like she said, he’s his own entity, so he’s got his own little world set up. I was able to go in there one day. I think Arsenio was in the chair, and it jut was fascinating to just watch him work. His team, it was hands down the best thing I’ve ever seen makeup wise.”
Marino spoke to us about how the make-up techniques used in Baker’s day has evolved and progressed. “Back in the day, it was foam latex that Rick Baker was using, which has advantages and also has disadvantages. The advantages are it’s really super soft, and you can glue makeup and then make sure the skin tones are really even and matched, because you’re painting everything. In the new materials, you’re dealing with all these materials, which are silicone and translucent. They still have a lot of paint on it, but it moves – it’s a lot softer and hangs and does all this weird stuff. Quite challenging in itself.”
“The hardest part of it all really was duplicating iconic characters,” he continued. “If you change the nose, or if you change something or someone, fans are gonna be like, ‘That’s wrong.’ We knew that because we are fans. So we basically analyzed every line, every wrinkle on every bit of the makeup, and we printed them out and really tried to duplicate every way that they were sculpted from the original and then enhance them and make them look older. So it was one, the aging makeup, which is super hard to do, two, a likeness makeup, which was like really, really hard to do, and then three, copying Rick Baker who was like Leonardo da Vinci in the make-up world to do these makeups and to duplicate it and to put it out there for the world, it was like the most challenging job we could have even thought of to do and then to work with Eddie Murphy and Arsenio, which is like our idols. It was just so, so challenging and difficult, but we were totally up for it. You know, we really wanted to do this job, and we were glad that we got it.”
Some of the biggest scenes in Coming 2 America required a very large hair and make-up team to work on literally hundreds of actors, dancers and extras. “When we did the funeral procession, because there were dancers and the procession as well as almost everybody in the movie was there,” Arceneaux told us. “Literally, everybody had to be dressed like they were a part of the royal family. I don’t even remember how many make-up people we hired. It’s also challenging to find people who can do the work that we needed done, because this is a heavy beauty movie, and we really needed strong make-up people. A lot of people are busy, so you have to really reach out and have that good network. But we found some good people to really help us, that came through and [we’re] really happy with everything. Everybody did a great job.”
“The whole makeup team on that job was incredible,” Marino said about collaborating with the other make-up and hair artists. “In the preparation of the film, we are in our own little bubble, just focusing on our characters alone. We built the wigs, we built the mustaches, and the eyebrows and everything, so it’s really the entire encompassing character. Eddie Murphy has his own hair person and a makeup person, and we were all like, ‘Hey, does this look okay? Can you help us with the hair? Is it cut right?’ It was just really a collaboration once you get to the set, because we all want to make the movie good.”
“Ask my nose,” Steimberg replied sarcastically when asked about working under COVID protocols. “We are getting tested literally every day, we get our nose poked, and we are following a lot of protocols. We had to wear our KN95 masks and shields, and it’ a little bit exhausting. It’s harder, but we are all trying our best and following the protocol, so we can actually work. We had to get tested every single day, and even though you get tested every single day, no matter what, everybody has to wear the KN95 masks and the shields when you’re working close to the actors, because obviously, they are not being covered when they’re on the scene. So you have to kind of double mask yourself. So you can approach the actress and set.”
“Hair and makeup, we have to wear our shields all the time. Not the other people on the set, just hair and make-up,” Arceneaux opined.
“I guess it’s because we’re just in such close contact with the actors who don’t have shields on all the time. I’m assuming that’s the logic, but it is very hard. You get claustrophobic sometimes, and I’m glad to be sitting in this little private room having a break from it for a minute.”
Since finishing the film, Arceneaux has been working on the new David Leitch action film, Bullet Train, while Steimberg is hard at work on David O. Russell’s new untitled film in L.A. Marino has been working on a very cool project, Matt Reeves’ The Batman with Robert Pattinson.
Obviously, he couldn’t say too much about it, but we were curious about what from his own Bat-fandom he was bringing to the project since he’s likely to be working on some of the Batman’s primary rogues’ gallery like The Penguin and The Riddler in their new incarnations. “I always was like an avid comic book collector. I had thousands and thousands of comic books as a kid, so I really knew the Batman world,” Marino said about what he’s bringing to the mix. “I also knew all of the Batman artists that I liked the most in particular Jim Lee, and even some of the new artists. I collected all the 70s and 80s and 90s stuff — Batman and Wolverine and all those things. I knew the artwork, since being an artist, I always admired those illustrators and comic book artists. I would always go to conventions, so I really knew the Batman world, and I knew the Batman films. So I was like, ‘Okay, well, I can’t copy any of it. I need to pick what I like, pick what Matt Reeves likes, and try to figure out what to do in his world, because his world has parameters. And those parameters are what I have to work with. That’s my canvas. Knowing and being a fan, ‘How do I take what I like, take what Matt likes and then bring it together and make the fans happy?’ Because I want to see something cool, I want to see something different, and I hope I can make the fans happy. I always try to do that, because being a fan, that’s what you try to strive for.”
Coming 2 America is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video. All photos courtesy Amazon Studio.