Sometimes, as a viewing audience, it’s difficult to separate an actor from their previous roles. For many thespians, their acting ability alone is enough to convince the spectator that they are the character they have been hired to portray.
For actors that have risen to meteoric fame by way of one character in particular, it can be near impossible to rid themselves of that persona in the eyes of the viewer, and avoid the stagnant world of typecast roles. Near impossible yes, but thanks to a little something every makeup school grad learns to master – facial prosthetics – not completely impossible.
Take for example the dynamically comedic Steve Carell. Most of the world readily associates the American born actor as Michael Scott – the quasi-incompetent regional manager of a second tier paper company in NBC’s hit show The Office. While Carell’s portrayal of Scott helped to make things like Dunder Mifflin and Scranton, PA household terms in the early part of the new millennium (not to mention single handedly popularized the cheeky and versatile one liner, That’s what she said!, into the modern vernacular), it also helped to solidify Carell’s position as one of Hollywood’s comedic elite.
When Carell was approached to portray schizophrenic millionaire John du Pont in Sony Pictures Classics’ Foxcatcher, one can’t help but wonder the potential trepidation the studio had in casting Carell in the first place; not over any concern regarding the actor’s formidable acting prowess mind you, rather, whether or not the audience would be able to see Carell through a different lens as troubled industrialist John du Pont, and not the bumbling, naïve, well-intentioned Michael Scott.
Carell himself concedes that he was nervous about the role, admitting that bringing du Pont to life (and doing justice to the role at that) on the big screen was a challenge he had yet to pit his acting chops against.
One thing that did help to transform Carell, both internally and in the eyes of the movie going public, was, of all things, the subtle addition of a prosthetic nose. Facial prosthetics have long been a film industry go-to for creating both realistic and awe inspiring special effects makeup; many actors have attested over the years that the ability to transform the way they look physically can have a significant impact on channeling their performance in ways even they themselves could not expect.
It’s both creepy and fascinating to think how a subtle change of one’s features can play a role in enhancing the believability of a constructed alter ego – and yet, we see it time and again on the silver screen.
Carell, whose olfactory organ is already considered to be one of Hollywood’s most well endowed, felt that the prosthetic piece was crucial in capturing du Pont’s likeness (by all accounts, the millionaire’s mug hosted a formidable schnoz of it’s own), but it was also necessary to offset his normally kind and approachable features, throwing both his cast members and audiences off guard.
“It’s a jarring look. I think on set, it helped [to] isolate me in a way because, just based on my appearance, I was not very approachable. People kept their distance, which is good,” Carell stated at a luncheon hosted by Sony Pictures Classics.
The self-constructed isolation from the rest of the cast translated into a believably awkward repertoire between the characters on screen. Between takes, Carell and co-star Channing Tatum, who played Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz, agreed to spend their time apart from one another to further enhance the awkwardness between them. As a result (and not surprisingly), the film secured five Oscar nods including best actor and best supporting actor.
It’s easy to forget that when it comes to movie special effects makeups, there’s more to the art than creating the grotesque, the alien, and the bizarre. Subtly placed prosthetics can both enhance and transform characters in equal measure to those that are dynamic and unique. The key, it seems, is making the audience forget that the prosthetic is even there, that it is truly a part of the actor’s physiology. To many a moviegoer, those are the transformations that are the most impressive – the ones that you don’t even realize are there.