Make-Up Artist Howard Berger and Hair Department Head Martin Samuel Talk HITCHCOCK, THE WALKING DEAD, OZ: THE GREAT AND POWERFUL, and More

     December 17, 2012


With awards season in full swing and Hitchcock already earning nominations, Collider was invited to chat with make-up effects artist Howard Berger (co-founder of KNB Effects, along with Greg Nicotero) and hair department head Martin Samuel recently.  The film takes a look behind cinema icon Alfred Hitchcock’s camera to explore the little known romantic and creative relationship between the filmmaker (Anthony Hopkins) and his wife, Alma Reville (Helen Mirren).

During the interview, Howard Berger and Martin Samuel talked about the process for determining how Anthony Hopkins would look as Alfred Hitchcock, getting the make-up down to 90 minutes, the stress of working in such a competitive field, how great it is to do what they love for a living, working on bigger films with no limitations versus the restrictions of smaller films, and the projects that they’re most proud of.  Berger also talked about teaming up with Sam Raimi again for Oz: The Great and Powerful, and the challenge of producing a mini-movie every week for The Walking Dead.  Check out what they had to say after the jump.

hitchcock-posterHow did you come to be involved with this project?

MARTIN SAMUEL:  Well, I was asked to do the project by Sacha Gervasi, who is a friend of mine and a wonderful director.  I completely jumped at the chance to transform Anthony Hopkins into Hitchcock, and to work with him, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, and all the other wonderful characters in the movie.  Period movies are just always a wonderful thing to work on, and this one in particular, which was about the making of Psycho, was a classic history piece.  It was the most amazing opportunity to work on a period movie and transform Anthony Hopkins into Hitchcock. 

How did you determine the look for Anthony Hopkins?

SAMUEL:  I worked with Howard and his photoshopped drawings of him, originally, and all of the reference pictures that we had of Alfred Hitchcock, at the time.  We started off doing tests, about six weeks before production started, and on the first test, I shaved Anthony’s head and colored the rest of his hair in, leaving the sides out and adding in a hairless toupee to the top, to give that balding effect.  And Howard did the most wonderful make-up.

howard-berger-1HOWARD BERGER:  It was a process.  You have to find the happy medium between Hitchcock and Hopkins, and you don’t want to disguise.  It’s not a disguise.  It’s not caricature make-up.  It’s not a likeness.  It’s a portrait.  That’s really the word we keep using because it’s an interpretation of Alfred Hitchcock on Tony Hopkins.  So, we did a series of tests.  We did six tests within the pre-production period we had, until we fine-tuned it enough to figure out what was going to work best.  The very first test that we did, it was likeness make-up.  It looked like Hitchcock, but we lost Tony, so we scaled back.  Between Martin, myself and Julie Weiss, who was our costume designer, the undersuits, which created the body weight, changed.  It got smaller and shaped differently, and wardrobe altered.  We kept redefining and fine-tuning, until we came to the right mix.  That was really the big thing.  That’s what my big stress was on the film.  What I stressed to the production and to the producers before I signed on was that I needed to have testing.  You can’t do it right out of the gate.  It would have been a complete failure.  And they were great about backing us, supporting us and allowing us to do that. 

It was the night before shooting when we decided what the final make-up was going to be.  Myself and Peter Montagna, who is my key, applied the make-up together on the whole shoot.  Once the make-up was committed to film, I felt much, much better.  We were done trying to figure it out and nit-picking, and having everybody put their thoughts and ideas into it, and were good to go.  We bring a certain percentage to the table, to help create the character, and then the actor takes over from there.  We were very lucky that we had great actors, like Tony, Helen, Jessica [Biel], Scarlett and James [D’Arcy], who brought their A-game, as they always do.  We were just very lucky that we had fantastic people to work with because they took what we gave them and made it seamless.  Part of the stress of doing a film like this, which is a film that’s a period piece, in 1959 and 1960, we’re recreating people that existed and that are recognizable people.  For Martin and myself, it’s stressful because you want to do a great job and you’re expecting your peers to lambaste you, if it doesn’t look right.  We’ve been very lucky because our peers have been really supportive and in favor of the movie and of the work we did.  It’s always something that’s very, very scary.  This could have gone horribly, but it didn’t.  It ended up being really great, and something that we’re very proud of. 

martin-samuelKNB Effects has become so successful that there’s a certain level of expectation about what you’ll provide to a project.  Is that an added stress?

BERGER:  Oh, yeah, that’s stressful.  I’m always fearful. 

SAMUEL:  It’s a very competitive situation.  Everybody is ready to criticize and say, “Oh, my god, why did they do that?!  That doesn’t look good!”  That’s the whole thing.  You want to make it look as absolutely fantastic as you can, so that everybody says you did a good job.

BERGER:  That’s what you want to hear, and we were lucky enough that we did hear that. 

SAMUEL:  Everybody is enjoying the picture, enjoying the look of the picture and enjoying the content of the picture, so everyone is shining.

BERGER:  It’s not so much about our individual contribution to the film.  It’s that the entire film, as a whole, works successfully, as a whole, and that people are not taken out of the film experience.  The second that happens, you have failed.  I feel like the movie is paced really well.  It’s a fun movie to watch.  It’s entertaining.  It’s educational. 

SAMUEL:  It never gets boring, for a minute.

BERGER:  It’s fast.  It’s an hour and a half, and it’s over.  It feels like 20 minutes to me.  I’ve seen it a couple of times now.  The first time I saw it, I was very critical of the work that I did.  The second time, I just enjoyed it.  I was like, “This is a really super fun movie.”  I was clapping for Helen and feeling very heartfelt, at the end.  It’s nice.  It’s a good film.  I’ve done a lot of films, and I’m sure Martin will agree, and there’s a lot of movies that we’ve worked on that we have a hard time sitting through.  This is a film that I will purchase on DVD and watch, and be happy with.  

SAMUEL:  I’m so proud of it.

BERGER:  Out of all the years I’ve been at this and all the movies I’ve done, I think I have five films that I’ve worked on.  Now, I can add a sixth. 

howard-bergerCan you ever be completely happy with the work you’ve done on a project, or are you always seeing things you could have done differently?

BERGER:  Yeah, you’re always hitting yourself in the head.  You think about the day someone ate a cheeseburger, right before the close-up, or slept on their wig.  That’s always good.  It’s like, “What did you do?!”  “I fell asleep.” 

SAMUEL:  There were none of those mistakes in Hitchcock.

BERGER:  We had actors who were on board.  Tony was very careful with his make-up and everything, and he respect it because he’s an artist, as well, and a professional and a perfectionist.  It was great.  It just made our jobs that much easier and more enjoyable.  Sacha set the bar and made it a really fun, enjoyable project to work on.  I looked forward to going to the set, every day.  Even if it was four in the morning, it was still really super enjoyable. 

SAMUEL:  Yeah, it was a great shoot. 

BERGER:  I loved seeing everybody.  I looked forward to it, every day.  It was a big family.  It was one of those projects that was 35 days, but I wished it was 135 days because it was such a great family atmosphere.  It was lovely.  Everybody was great.  I couldn’t has asked for a better project.

What’s it like to do this for a living?

BERGER:  It’s a great job.  We get to do what we love, and that’s the most important thing.  I feel very thankful, every day that I get to wake up and do what I do because it’s a childhood dream.  I get to live my job, and it’s more than I could ever ask for.  There’s a business side to it that’s unpleasant, so you have to step out of being the kid and be the angry parent, but that comes with it.  There’s two sides to it all.  It’s not just, “This is great!,” and you’re floating through it.  We get in the muck, over and over.  Martin worked on the Pirates movies, and those were huge, monstrous movies. 

SAMUEL:  But then, this was just a lovely, small family-feeling movie.  It’s just so refreshing to do something like that.  It’s fantastic to do the other great big movies, like Howard just did Oz.

BERGER:  The big films are fun, too, but it’s nice to go to these tiny ones where it’s just yourself and one other person in your department, as opposed to 50 people. 

hitchcock-set-photo-makeup-anthony-hopkins-3There are horror stories about the length of time it can take to apply make-up.  Was everyone thrilled that you got this process down to 90 minutes?

BERGER:  Yeah, very thrilled.  I was, too.  I wanted to get out there and start shooting.  We had a lot of work to do and we had a very tight schedule with virtually no budget, but that’s what made it great.  It made us, and everyone else on the film, be very resourceful and figure out how to problem solve without the benefit of money.  That’s a trick. 

Howard, what was it like to work with Sam Raimi again, on Oz: The Great and Powerful?

BERGER:  It was great.  I started with Sam in the ‘80s, and we did a bunch of stuff, but then we didn’t do a bunch of stuff.  To do Oz, and then hop on Hitchcock was crazy.  I had to get my mind back into the mind-set of having no money and no time and no crew, as opposed to having all the money in the world and a giant crew and we could do whatever we wanted.  But, it’s good.  Sam is one of my favorite filmmakers, as Sacha is now. 

Does it feel extra daunting to take on the story of The Wizard of Oz?

BERGER:  No, everything is daunting.  Nothing is easy, everything is hard, and nothing is just or only.  It’s always difficult.  There’s always challenges to everything. 

Do you prefer having the extra time and budget that you get on bigger films, or do you like having to get more creative on smaller films?

SAMUEL:  I’ve worked on so many big production movies, so I can do it.  I know how to do it because I’ve done a lot of big productions.  It’s tremendously stressful, but nevertheless, I’ve learned how to cope with it.  There’s just so many different aspects to our work.  There’s the creativity, there’s the running of the show, there’s the production-friendly person that we have to be, there’s managing our crews.  There’s just so much stuff going on.  When you do a small picture like Hitchcock, where it’s you and maybe two other people in your department, it’s so comfortable, so cozy and so nice.  It was just a delight to do.  But, the great big productions are also great, in their way.  We really appreciate the fact that we can do them, we have done them and we’ll do more.  There are just many different avenues within the industry that are challenging and brilliant to work on.  Being asked to do something massive but small is also wonderful.

hitchcock-set-photo-makeup-anthony-hopkins-2Howard, are there unique challenges to being the company behind The Walking Dead and doing what is essentially a movie every week, on a TV budget?

BERGER:  Yeah.  My business partner, Greg Nicotero, handles The Walking Dead.  It is a constant.  It’s seven months of shooting, and you’re producing for every episode.  They are mini-movies, essentially, and it’s always a huge amount.  Greg’s got it down to a science, at this point, but the first season was tough.  We’ve done TV, but this was the biggest we’ve ever done, and it seems to be going on and on and on.  Every project has its own challenges and rewards, and we welcome that.  If it’s not challenging, why do it? 

You also have the extra pressure and expectation of bigger and better zombie kills, every week.

BERGER:  Oh, yeah, it’s huge!  But, it could be zombies, it could be pirates, it could be a bunch of extras for 1960, or anything.  You’re always trying to figure out how to make it work.

SAMUEL:  It’s all challenging. 

BERGER:  I like it all.  I’ll take whatever and do what I can with what I have.  It’s all part of the game.  It’s what we do.  Martin and I have such a huge amount of experience in the industry that that also lends a whole other aspect to filmmakers.  Sometimes people who make financial decisions will go, “This person is less money, so we’re going to go with them,” but the experience isn’t there and things will happen that normally wouldn’t happen, if Martin or myself or somebody like us was on the film.  There’s a wealth of information and knowledge and experience that comes with it.  You have our skill, but you have so much more.  Plus, we’re great people persons, and that has a lot to do with it, too.  You have to get along and you have to deal with a lot of different personalities, and that means a lot. 

hitchcock-set-photo-makeup-anthony-hopkins-4Are there projects that you’ve done, that you had no idea how they’d work out, but you ultimately ended up really proud of them?

BERGER:  Oh, yeah, every movie! 

SAMUEL:  No one ever knew that the first Pirates movie was going to be what they became, making a billion dollars, plus.  That’s an amazing thing.  I did the trilogy, and no one knew what that was going to be. 

BERGER:  You never know how it’s going to go, but you hope for the best. 

Howard, is there a creature that you’re most proud of having created?

BERGER:  I think my favorite creature is one of the Minotaurs from the first Narnia.  I really loved him.  That was my Where the Wild Things Are creature, and that made me really excited ‘cause I love that.  That was very fulfilling, and something that I had never done before.  That was a huge fantasy project with a bunch of crazy stuff.  There were 150 monsters running around, all day long.  That was an arduous task.  The Narnia films were my Pirates.  That was intense and mind-boggling. 

What led you both to this career?

BERGER:  You dream that you want to be a monster maker when you grow up, and that’s what happened.  I refused to take no for an answer.  I just was a very driven kid, who’s now a very driven semi-adult. 

SAMUEL:  I just wanted to do hair in the movies and in Hollywood, and made it work.

BERGER:  You have a dream and you follow it. 

Hitchcock is now playing in theaters.

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