If you’ve seen Darkest Hour, you know Gary Oldman’s incredible portrayal of Winston Churchill. It’s a jawdropping transformation and a commanding performance of the British leader. To recreate that familiar Churchill profile, Oldman spent up to three hours in hair and makeup each morning, and the maestro responsible for the wizardry is Kazuhiro Tsuji who Oldman coaxed out of retirement.
I caught up with Tsuji for a few minutes to talk about his process.
How did Gary Oldman lure you back into doing hair and makeup?
I left the industry in 2012. I actually met Gary in 2000 when we started Planet of The Apes. We met briefly to do a cast, but he turned that down.
He had seen my personal sculpture and I guess he wanted to work with me one day. I wanted to work with him.
Gary contacted me in 2016 saying this project about Winston Churchill was happening and he wanted to know if I was available. We had a meeting and he asked me if I could do the film. He actually said if I could do the makeup he would take the role. It wasn’t done in a threatening way. He talked about how important the makeup was for the film. I asked him to give me a week to think about it because I had left the industry for a reason. If I just went back it would be betraying my life decision.
I thought about my inspiration to become a makeup artist and I thought about Dick Smith who worked on Lincoln and I had actually wanted to work on a film like that. I hadn’t had that opportunity to do a film like that and finally, Gary had presented me with that opportunity so I said yes.
When you’re transforming Gary Oldman into Winston Churchill, where do you begin?
I start with a lifecast of Gary. We also did a body scan because we would need a body suit to alter his shape. I also took a lot of photographs of his face and different expressions. I also took a look at a lot of photographs of Churchill, watching his documentaries. I was watching and comparing his face with Gary’s and I started creating a clay sculpture on his life cast.
Was it daunting to create a historical figure?
Everyone knows what Churchill looked like. There’s a huge difference between Gary’s facial structure. I didn’t have a clear answer as to whether it would be good or not.
Joe Wright wanted to see three different test versions and I did that, so it gave us an idea of where we needed to go with the makeup. I did a further two versions and the fifth one ended up being the final design.
I told Joe and Gary that it wouldn’t be an exact copy of Churchill. It would be the makeup that would give the essence of who Churchill was through Gary’s face. It wasn’t meant to be a mask. I could have created that on his face, but I wanted everything to move. The challenging part was deciding what I needed to put on and where I needed Gary’s own features to show so he had the freedom to act through the makeup.
I was at the Santa Barbara Film Festival Women’s Panel last weekend and Lucy Sibbick touched on the baby hair you used. Talk about using that as a material for creating Churchill’s look?
When I designed the wig. Churchill had really fine white hair. He had ginger hair, but as he got older the hair turned white. There are different types of hair. There’s fine hair that comes from Europe. It’s blonde, rare and expensive. There’s dark Asian hair which is cheap and readily available. So, for the choice for the final hair was European, but there’s also baby European hair which is the finest. Babies, as you know only grown hair a certain length and we couldn’t get two feet of it. It’s a limited length. So, we mixed it with angora hair which is finer than baby hair, so that’s what the wig was made of.
What was hard was we had to make five copies of that wig for shooting and we couldn’t use the same hair from one baby. To make one wig, we probably had hair from five babies. The color was different so we had to color match each one. After a wig was made, I would cut and dress it in LA and ship it to London. Lucy would match the color because she had those wigs and had to maintain it.