Based on J.D. Vance’s best-selling novel of the same name, Netflix’s upcoming The Hillbilly Elegy focuses on the author’s trip down childhood memory lane while juggling a present-day high-stakes job interview and his mother’s drug relapse. The film stars Amy Adams as Vance’s mother Bev, and Glenn Close as his grandmother Mawmaw.
Despite weak reviews, could this be the vehicle to finally deliver either star a long-sought Academy Award? It seems unlikely but if it does happen, the actors will have their makeup artists to thank, like so many before them have. Even without counting Nicole Kidman’s nose in The Hours, so many times award-winning cosmetics lead to acting Oscars, including for Gary Oldman, Meryl Streep, and Marion Cotillard. The makeup and hairstyling artists for those stars all took home trophies, too— Kazuhiro Tsuji, David Malinowski and Lucy Sibbick; Mark Coulier and J. Roy Helland; and Didier Lavergne & Jan Arhibald, respectively.
In The Hillbilly Elegy, the work involved Glenn Close’s long-time collaborator and prosthetics expert Matthew Mungle (Albert Nobbs, Bram Stoker’s Dracula) and Head of Makeup Eryn Krueger Mekash (makeup department head for TV’s American Horror Story). The two had to give Ms. Close the bulky-nosed, long-eared, tattered complexion of the elderly matriarch, and help Ms. Adams toggle between Bev’s flirtatious, younger nights and her drug-induced decaying setback.
The work of both stands out in this Ron Howard picture, and Below The Line recently spoke to them about their work on Hillbilly Elegy.
Below The Line: Eryn & Matthew, congratulations on the film. How did you first get involved?
Matthew Mungle: I got a call from Glenn in March of 2019. She said she had this role wanted me to help her design the character. She only wanted a nose at first, and then only the tip of a nose. But we looked at pictures of Mawmaw, we noticed she had quite a larger nose and larger ears. So we then decided I would make two variations of noses, and a larger ear appliance. We met at her house in New York, and did a test. She had a wig that was very similar to Mawmaw’s hair and some glasses. Luckily Ron [Howard] lived down the street from her, came the same day, and was just ecstatic about it.
Eryn Krueger Mekash: Diana Pokorny [Executive Producer] called me and told me that Patty Dehaney [Head of Hair] had put my name in, and I was so excited because I am a huge Ron Howard fan. All I knew was that Amy Adams was in it because Patty had worked with Amy many times [including in Vice]. They then said I’d be doing Amy and Glenn, who was wearing prosthetics. When I found out Matthew had done the work, and [with] his long history doing beautiful work with Glenn, I got even more excited. I ended up talking to Amy and told her I thought she should widen her nose, and we took it from there.
BTL: At the Q&A after the film’s screening, Glenn Close said she found the makeup to be very subtle and effective. Do you have any reaction to that?
EKM: That’s crazy. That makes me very happy.
MM: Working with Glenn, I tend to go to very subtle things, to the point people do not realize she is wearing prosthetics. That is very important to me, to make it subtle as opposed to flamboyant, as in Albert Nobbs. I love Glenn for that.
EKM: She’s a complete pro. She knows prosthetics and she knows materials very well. As you know, Mawmaw is a very flamboyant character, a sassy, crass lady that does not mince words. When characters are like that, you do not want to have something stand out in the middle of her face, or be too big. You want to accentuate so that the actor can step right into role.
BTL: Did any of the other actors have prosthetics like she did?
EKM: No, but we had extensive tattoos covered. We had some beard work with Gabe Basso who plays the grown-up J.D., and he has full sleeve tattoos and a neck tattoo, so we had to cover those. Jamie Hess did those and it took almost as long as the prosthetics. We also had a head-shaving scene with him. There was also beard work with one of J.D.’s uncles, we needed extensions. Ron really wanted him to have a much longer, mountainy looking gentleman. We did a sickness makeup for Mawmaw, an injury makeup for the younger J.D.
Then of course, Amy as Bev, she gets progressively more deteriorated as her drug abuse continues. So I did a stretch and aging makeup with W.M. Creations aging gel. Dry lips, etc. There was a lot of character work there as her character moved on, including different wigs.
MM: Sometimes prosthetic makeup artists tend to drag on application of a makeup, but Eryn you and Jamie had it down to what, forty-five minutes?
EKM: We had it down to an hour. I had to figure out how to do it—Jamie glued on one ear and worked on Glenn’s hands. I applied the other ear and did Glenn’s nose, and painted Glenn’s makeup. By the time I finished with Glenn, Amy was in ready to be worked on with her makeup, having had her hair done, and she would switch with Glenn. They are both very prompt people.
BTL: Were there any particular scenes that made the prosthetics more challenging?
EKM: I did not have any issues with Glenn’s makeup ever, and I don’t know why because it was 100 degrees every day, full humidity, in Ohio, with wigs and prosthetics. I had some issues with Amy’s nose — Amy wore these tiny little prosthetics on her nose that were transfers. It is almost how tattoo transfers work, but they are prosthetic. They were very small and went on the side of her nose. Sometimes I would have issues with that bubbling. I would have to go in and pop those—she wanted to pop those—and then smooth it out.
BTL: Tell us more about the wig you mentioned Glenn Close had ready.
MM: She had one in stock at her house and she used it as a proxy for what it would look like. When Ron came over we explained that this was not the wig and that Patti Dehaney was making the wig for her. He does a brilliant job with wigs. I also knew I had to re-sculpt the nose and the ears after the test. So it was all preliminary at first but served as a good guidepost.
EKM: Martial cut the wig several times—Glenn decided this part needs to be shorter this part needs to be longer. I love when actors want to be involved with that process, it is very important.
BTL: For Mawmaw you had footage and pictures. For Bev and others, did you meet them?
EKM: Oh yeah. I met Bev a little bit, in passing. But I talked to J.D. quite a bit. Their family was incredibly taken with Glenn as Mawmaw. His uncles were there, I think his aunts, and when they saw her, they were so taken one of them had to walk away. It was a very emotional thing to see her come to life again. Glenn had gotten down the mannerisms down, the way she walks, holds her head, holds her cigarette, and her accent. I remember that the family was very taken with Amy as well.
BTL: These are two actresses that are arguably overdue and many times they get recognized with good makeup work. Talk to me about awards. Is this something you would like to see?
EKM: They are 100% deserving.
MM: I would like to see it for Amy and Glenn. As far as Eryn and I are concerned, I am going to leave it up to the gods. We do our work, because we love what we do. To get noted for something that is subtle like this would be amazing. Usually the Academy goes for the over the top prosthetics. That is why it was so wonderful getting nominated for Albert Nobbs because it was subtle, but of course then they thought it was too subtle.
Hillbilly Elegy is now streaming on Netflix.
All photos courtesy Lacey Terrell/NETFLIX.