When Swedish husband-and-wife team Love Larson and Eva Von Bahr had their names called at the Oscar nominations announcement for their make-up work on The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared, they weren’t the only ones who were surprised. “It was funny,” Von Bahr says, “we saw it on the television and you saw it was completely quiet and everybody starts to pick up their mobile phones and thinks, ‘what is this movie?’ You could see everyone Googling, thinking, ‘what the hell?’” But the accolade for the make-up designers’ work was certainly well-deserved. Larson and Von Bahr successfully morphed the then 47-year-old Robert Gustafsson into not only a 100 year-old, but into nine stages of aging in total. Plus, they recreated well-known historical figures—all without any help in post-production. “You really, really had to stay on it all the time,” Von Bahr says, “because we knew that they did not have the money to do any digital things.”
When you were first approached for this job, what was your reaction?
Larson: It was actually the producer who called us. We had worked with him on another film, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by David Fincher. He was the Swedish co-producer for that, and he called us and asked us if we were interested, and at first, we thought, “thank you but no.” We immediately understood what kind of huge undertaking this would be because, I mean, it’s not only a guy playing 100, you have nine different stages, and on top of that, you have other characters—the lookalikes like Stalin, Gorbachev, Franco, Oppenheimer, Harry S. Truman—and also other characters of the film that aged with the main character. So when they asked us, we felt really grateful that they asked, but it was just like, “OK, but no thanks.” If this kind of film would have failed, if our work wasn’t good enough, especially here in Sweden, because the actor, Robert Gustafsson, is such a well-known actor, everyone knows what he looks like, and all his makeup is really difficult, so if our job would fail, the whole movie would’ve failed, and we would never be able to work again.
How do you approach making someone look 100? What kind of research did you do?
Larson: We looked a lot in restaurants, in books and also, all around us. We have older people everywhere and everyday where we were working this project, when we went to lunch or just went out shopping or anything, you’re constantly looking at things that you were working on at the moment, so if you were for example sculpting the ears, you were studying ears in the supermarket line.
Von Bahr: We started with the age 100 because we were called in to do test makeup on Robert, so that’s where we started, and then we worked backwards, trying to figure out what we would do.
Larson: We didn’t have time to test it. We just went over to Budapest, unpacked a lot of boxes with a lot of prosthetic pieces and hair pieces. I mean we had a plan of how to do it within our heads, but we hadn’t tried it, so every time we applied a new stage we were like, ‘yes, this works.’
How long did this aging process take every day on set?
Larson: The application took about four-and-a-half hours every morning, The back of the neck was one piece and then we had an overlapping piece that was the front of the neck, then we put on his nose and ears and then we put on his headpiece that covered his forehead and back to the end of his skullcap at the back. That silicone bald head piece with the forehead was made by Eva. She punched in hair, individual hair strands. That took a lot of time. Then we applied his chin and his cheeks. He also had dentures, contact lenses, brows and the sideburns, and then we did some old-age stipple on top of his hands. Then we had an hour to just paint it, to tie it all together.
In Sweden, make-up artists are also required to do hair. Does it seems a little unfair that you’re up against people who only had to tackle make-up?
Von Bahr: I think that the other movies are all American or English movies or they’re from Australia in Mad Max. I think they all have the same way of working in the film industry in those countries, and I think that our movie is just a small movie in a country very far away and no one has ever seen it. I think everybody’s a bit amazed that we even got nominated.
How did you manage to be so consistent without any digital help?
Von Bahr: In Sweden we cannot afford to do digital cleanup, it’s very expensive and the budget is really, really tight, so we had to really stay with Robert all the time on set, and we also had to adjust the paintwork that we did in the trailer, then we took him out in the daylight because we shot him a lot in daylight, and we had to adjust the paintwork, so it worked in that light that we were actually shooting in. We had to be really on our toes because we knew that if we would come to the producer later on and say, ‘hey guys, do you think that we can fix this edge? They would say ‘no,’ so we were really, really trying to look after him all day long, so it would look perfect all the time. Eventually, it is difficult because if you apply it at two o’clock in the morning it looks not as good as at six o’clock at night.
The hands are a giveaway when people are fake-aged. How did you tackle that?
Larson: They have like a liquid latex material that you stipple on top of them. It’s called Stretch and Pull or Old-Age Stipple. You stretch the skin of the hand and you apply this little stippling thing on it to dry, and then when you release the stretch it, it kind of wrinkles. It takes a while to apply it, then it’s really hard to get it off, but it works.
We actually made the hand prosthetics for Robert to begin with for the first shooting day, but he didn’t like them because he was eating a lot and doing things with his hands, and he felt it was kind of annoying to have something on them, so we just ended up doing this more old school technique instead.
How will it change things for you if you win the Oscar – is there a dream job you’re aiming at?
Von Bahr: I think that if we would win an Academy Award, we wouldn’t get another job in Sweden ever because everybody would be really intimidated by that, so that would be the end of it. I don’t know, I feel that I would like to do more period work combined with some sort of fantasy thing.
Larson: Circus, you like the circus.
Von Bahr: Yeah, you know period circus stuff. That’s my thing. You know with freak shows and things like that. It has been done recently, but that’s fantastic to do that.
Perhaps you need to work on American Horror Story?
Von Bahr: Yes, that is a fantastic make-up job and it really looks great.