Charlize Theron, master of metamorphosis, has relied on food and fake teeth for her signature onscreen transformations. She donned dramatic dentures as convicted serial killer Aileen Wuornos in Monster, and drank two (two!) milkshakes a day to gain 50 pounds ahead of Tully.
But the secret sauce to Theron’s chameleonic transformation in Bombshell, Jay Roach’s buzzy new drama about sexual harassment at Fox News, is Hollywood hyperrealist Kazu Hiro. The legendary prosthetist, best known for making a Winston Churchill doppelgänger out of Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour, spent seven weeks scanning, sketching, and sculpting eight fake facial features—from eyelids to jawline—to turn Theron into former Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly.
His cosmetic artistry, which picked up an Oscar nomination on Monday, is so true-to-life that theater-goers literally forgot they were watching Theron onscreen.
Hiro says he couldn’t have asked for a better reaction. “From the start, Charlize said ‘I don’t want people to think, This is Charlize acting as Megyn Kelly,'” Hiro tells ELLE.com. “She didn’t want to have to convince the audience of something.”
That kind of “likeness makeup,” as he calls it, for people still alive (as opposed to historical figures, like Churchill) is extremely challenging to perfect. “I had to create an illusion,” he says. “The goal was to get rid of any image from the mind [of Theron], so viewers can really be joined to the story. We wanted people to forget the actor and start to believe the story and really enter the film.”
Hiro spent hours studying photographs of Theron’s face, and then Kelly’s face. He determined Kelly’s most recognizable features to be her eyelids, nose, and cheeks—and created specific prosthetics for those parts. The trick, he says, was making the pieces stretchy enough to allow movement, and subtle enough for beauty makeup to be applied on top.
“Charlize has a really perfect face. It’s a great mixture of youth and maternity, a soft face,” he says. “Megyn has a more angular face, with a squarish jawline and a bigger chin and also a heavy eyelid. Charlize has deep set eyes, so I created an eyelid appliance to change her eyes. I created jaw pieces to make her jawline more of a square, and a chin piece and a mouth piece to make Charlize’s mouth look like Megyn’s mouth. Charlize has a really small nose, a really cute nose, and Megyn has bigger nostrils, so I had to enlarge [her nostrils], too.”
For that, he took a cast of the inside of Theron’s nose and created a 3D scan model. He made alterations on a computer, and printed out a new model to then create the nose plug. In addition to the plug, Theron wore mouth, eye, chin, and cheek pieces. Lead makeup artist Vivian Baker reportedly topped the prosthetics with heavy contouring and customized lashes from Lashify. Hair department head Anne Morgan created a wig with a widow’s peak hairline. Theron wore dark blue contact lenses to complete the look.
The result, Hiro says, was startling: “We walked on set and [director Jay Roach’s] eyes lit up when he saw her the first time. When that happened, we were like, ‘Okay, we did it! It’s working.’ Then everyone on set, from the cameraman to extras, were telling us it was amazing.”
Modifications to the prosthetics were made throughout filming. Hiro says because of their delicate nature, the eyelid pieces were especially hard to maintain. “We were gluing down pieces with prosthetic glue every day, and that required upkeep. It was a balance, because if we glued down too much, it would have hurt [Theron’s] skin and we couldn’t have shot the next day,” he says. “So, we had to keep [glue] to a minimum, while also being able to still be removable. I think I changed [the eyelid pieces] two or three times after we started filming.”
Hiro also developed makeup for John Lithgow, who plays Roger Ailes, and Nicole Kidman, who plays Gretchen Carlson. He was able to keep the application process under three hours for all the actors. While some stars get “antsy and tired” sitting for prosthetics, Hiro says the Bombshell cast was “just wonderful” to work with.
“It was pretty much the first time [working on a movie] that I didn’t feel any kind of weird pressure or weird vibe from other people. Everyone was so nice to each other, and I think that’s because of Charlize and Jay, who gather up the best people in the business,” he says. “The most important thing about this film is the story we’re telling. It’s not about the makeup or prosthetics—it’s a really important story to tell. I was really just happy to be a part of this important thing.”