“You’re just everything that we’re looking for in a model,” is probably a phrase that’s thrown around a lot in Los Angeles, but in the case of FX superhero series Legion, the context was quite different.
Spearheading special effects makeup on the ambitious series, department head Todd Masters and his collaborators, prosthetics designer Sarah Pickersgill and prosthetics makeup artist Lori Sandnes, needed an actor of particular stature—of enormous height and slender build—for some ambitious creature work.
Quinton Boisclair was a rare and lucky find—reminiscent of Bolaji Badejo, the actor Ridley Scott brought in to play his titular Alien—coming onto the project with no experience on camera and nailing the role of the Devil with the Yellow Eyes— a terrifying, obese monster that haunts Dan Stevens’ powerful mutant, David Halle.
Speaking with Deadline, the collaborators discuss this fluke discovery that became so critical to the series, and the varying and unusual makeup work that Legion demanded.
How did you and your team come to be involved with Legion?
Todd Masters: This came in to our Vancouver studios. Vancouver is certainly a nucleus of this kind of genre work lately, and our Vancouver studio has just been kicking butt, and really defining this.The project came in kind of curiously. We really didn’t know what to make of it, at least when I first read it. Just slowly through some meetings, it sort of came to light. But I gotta say, in a lot of cases, it revealed itself to us probably much like it did to its audience.
We didn’t know it was called Legion; we actually were working on a project called Clubhouse. We didn’t really know much about these characters, because it unveiled itself, right in front of our very eyes. It was an unusual project in that respect, a lot of secrecy and a lot of, “Are we doing this the right way? Is this good? What are we doing?” We kind of all held hands, and just went for it.
What was discussed in your early conversations with Noah Hawley?
Masters: I remember going into meetings, and we never really got the, “Hey, this is what I want” conversation. It was a lot of, “What don’t you want?” It was very odd, actually. We didn’t really get a lot of full on, “It looks like this.” It was more like we did detective work, and found it.
Lori Sandnes: He gave us some ideas of a disfigured character, and a look and a mood they were looking for. Sarah went in and did some drawings and Photoshops, and we slightly altered them from there.
That character—the Devil with the Yellow Eyes—actually felt like something that might have been conjured up through VFX. Can you expand on the process of bringing this menacing figure to life?
Sandnes: We had some concepts from production that they had given us, an idea and a feeling of this character, and Sarah took the notes and developed a character in Photoshop, with these long skinny legs, and a bigger body, and a bigger chin and cheeks.
Then, we took that to them, and they had some slight changes on it, but she nailed it pretty quick. She got it how they wanted it—they were pretty impressed with the first concept, so there wasn’t much changes to it.
And then we brought the actor in and started sculpting him.
What was the range of time you had actors in the chair for makeup application—particularly for Quinton Boisclair, who portrays the Devil?
Sandnes: In the chair, from the beginning of the build of the makeup, we had about four and a half hours for Quinton. He came in, and we put him in a bald cap, and then prosthetics.
Was there any contribution from the VFX department in shaping that character, in tandem with your work?
Masters: There’s a slight enhancing, but I think maybe we should explain Quinton a little more. He became this out-of-nowhere, really fascinating character that really became integral to the show. He came out of zero experience, actually. We actually just loved him for his body, in fact. He had such an interesting, tall, lean look that it just came together in such a magical way.
Sarah Pickersgill: It was kind of by fluke that we found him, and it was probably only a couple of weeks before this role came about. A guy that worked at our shop, he discovered him at a comic book store, or a toy store, where Quinton was working.
He noticed, obviously, his physique. He’s like six-foot-ten, roughly, and very slender. We’re always looking for people like that, because in what we do we’re always building onto somebody, so to start off with a smaller frame always works for us. And also for creatures and stuff, having a tall, slender [build] works really well.
This guy James that we work with, he basically said to him, “Hey, have you ever thought about doing creature suit work? You’d be perfect for it. You’re just everything that we’re always looking for in a model.” And then a couple weeks go by, and this role comes about, and we thought, “Well God, let’s get him in. He’d be perfect.”
Basically, it was just introducing him to production, see if they were willing to take on somebody that didn’t have any experience. They were interested, and the rest is history. He just worked out so well for us.
We didn’t know how he was going to take makeup, take direction. We didn’t know what his acting would be like, but he ended up being a natural on set. We put him in front of a camera, and he just kind of came alive.
The funny thing was, he actually was kind of a comic book nerd from way back, so he was feeding us info about the character. Honestly, we didn’t really know the background on the comic book, so he would fill us in while we were doing his makeup.
Sandnes: He had read the graphic novel prior to this, as well, so he was really happy to be playing the role.
Pickersgill: I don’t know if it impacts the way we approach the makeup, but it was interesting to learn, as we went, more about the character.
Do you imagine the excitement of this discovery is akin to what Ridley Scott must have felt, discovering seven-foot-two-inch Nigerian actor Bolaji Badejo for Alien?
Pickersgill: Exactly, yeah. Kevin Peter Hall played both the alien character and Harry, from Harry and the Hendersons. It was the same thing—he had that perfect build that we’re always looking for.
Masters: Kevin Peter Hall played the Predator, actually.
Who were some of the other actors you worked most closely with? Were you involved with the makeup for Aubrey Plaza’s Lenny?
Sandnes: No, we didn’t do too much with Aubrey. We made some feet with her. I know the makeup department did makeup on her, but for the first episode, we did Lenny in the wall. We made a copy of her—a silicone version of her, when she gets trapped in the wall.
On a project of this nature, requiring multiple makeup departments, it seems like the lines start to blur, in terms of who’s responsible for certain pieces—for instance, the bodies and body parts thrust through walls and concrete road by David.
Masters: That’s kind of the idea, actually, to keep the magic questionable for the audience. They don’t know how it’s done.
When it come to putting body parts through walls and stuff like that, a lot of that stuff that was done in the series was practical. They would enhance some of it, but a lot of times it was a practical piece, so it actually did feel grounded and physically there. The concern on a lot of these types of shows is their magic isn’t as powerful as it could be if it’s CG, so they opt to go for a practical solution to make it really impactful—and also cheaper, in a lot of cases.
Can you explain where the lines were on this project, in defining the responsibilities of your makeup department in relation to the others?
Masters: We’re effects makeup department, so we handle the Shadow King, or whatever you want to call him. We did the artificial bodies…
Sandnes: …Burn makeups.
Masters: Yeah, so anything that’s out of your usual pretty makeup usually ended up in our laps, as well as certain parts of these fused bodies, and partial bodies through walls and stairs, and all that.
Sandnes: We did the beat-up makeup on the male Cary character. Well, we did the makeup on both Cary and Kerry—we did the bruising and swollen faces for them.
What went into pulling off Cary’s bruised-up look?
Sandnes: We used a quick prosthetic and Pros-Aide transfer for swollen eyes and lips, and the makeup went over a series of days, where it started to heal. We started with heavier prosthetics that were more swollen and a heavier bruise, and just lightened it up over the next few days as he healed.
Colored contact lenses seem to become an important element as well, particularly with the Shadow King, and characters who have been blinded. Is that something that comes through your department?
Sandnes: They typically come to us to have us design lenses, but usually it’s an outside vendor that we work with a lot, that supplies the lenses. Then also, we take care of them on set—take them in and out of the actor, and what not. We don’t handle them directly, but a lot of times productions come to us to design the look of them, like with the Yellow-Eyed Devil.
Masters: [The vendor] is Contour Contact Lens, and it’s Marcine Peter. We’ve worked with them forever, and they’ve been supplying lenses with us for a lot of different shows.
Sandnes: She hand paints them, and she does a really nice job.
As far as burn makeup, can you explain the process of producing the shocking makeup we see with Hamish Linklater’s character, Clark, later in the season?
Sandnes: We had him come in for a face casting. One of our girls in the shop, Yukiyo Okajima, designed a burn makeup Photoshop for him, and we had it approved by Noah and his team, and then sculpted that.
It ended up quite a bigger makeup at one point—we had his whole chest and back covered, as well. But his face was about five pieces, face and neck. They wanted to have one side of his face clean, and we revealed his burn—which happens in the pilot, so you don’t really know what happens to him until you see him in the second episode—that he’s been living through, struggling with.
How was the collaboration with Linklater in what must have been an extensive, time-consuming process?
Pickersgill: We got really lucky with Hamish; he was a really good sport about the whole thing, and he actually played quite a few days in a row, so he was really put through the ringer. Usually with these kinds of makeups, he’ll play one day, and then a few days in between, but he was really back-to-back-to-back.
It would be us coming in at 3, 4 o’clock in the morning, and so would he, and we’d put some music on, and just let him relax as much as he could—but he still has to be present, take direction. “Open your eyes, close your eyes.” It’s not like you can completely relax in the chair, but you try as much as you can. He was really great in the chair, so we got really lucky with him.
Sandnes: All of our actors for this show were very patient with us. For Cary, his makeup, he was very particular about it looking exactly the same for each way, because he knew how he looked the day before, so he liked helping us along the way when we did his makeup, as well.