Working with Matthew McConaughey since 2001 romantic comedy The Wedding Planner, at a time when the actor was known primarily for a different kind of leading man, hair and makeup artist Felicity Bowring has found in the Oscar-winning actor a strong and involved collaborator on projects ranging from Bill Paxton’s Frailty to Cary Fukunaga’s True Detective. For Bowring, McConaughey is the ideal teammate, someone who goes to great lengths and takes pride in his ability to physically transform himself for a role.
In their latest tie-up Gold, the actor eschewed the fat suit in his portrayal of ambitious and eccentric gold prospector Kenny Wells, packing on the weight while weighing in on every choice for his character’s look from wigs to veneers. In an interview with AwardsLine, Bowring touches on her relationship with McConaughey, the challenges of shooting on location in Thailand, and her upcoming slate.
You’ve now worked with Matthew McConaughey on a number of projects. How did that working relationship come to be?
We worked together years ago on a romantic comedy with Jennifer Lopez, but he had his own person. We got to know each other, and then I worked with him again, where I did him on Bill Paxton’s film, Frailty. Cary Fukunaga called me for True Detective, and I’d not done a TV series, so I was like, “Ooh. Who’s in it?” I thought it was a great project, and that’s when Matthew and I connected. He was like, “Well, could you come and do this? Would you mind doing that?” It became a working relationship which was very good.
Is that typical of the way in which makeup artists develop relationships with actors?
It is. It’s one of those weird things, I think, with actors. It’s very hard sometimes for them to ask for people, but I understand the comfortability factor, because of people going in there, and next time around, a new person. They’re not sure of it. There’s so many factors…but also I think that you get on, and you have a certain amount of professionalism and respect for each other.
When you do that, then it becomes a working relationship. It’s not, as it were, friendship. It’s a very good working relationship. We work together well. He’s a good collaborator.
Do you find that actors are generally strong collaborators in your process, or does Matthew stand out in a different way?
Matthew cares. He cares about his characters, so every job becomes a different idea. We kind of brainstorm together. With Kenny Wells, he said, “You know, I kind of see him balding.” I said, “Ooh, right. What kind of varying degrees of balding?” He said, “You know, that kind of see-through balding.” I went, “Oh. How are we going to achieve that?” “I kind of see him fatter.” I was like, “Oh, hello. How much weight do you intend on putting on?” Sort of brainstorming.
What you do is he says, “I kind of see him balding.” Then, you do research, and you send him 50 emails with varying degrees of balding, and he’ll look at them all and narrow it down and say, “I like these and these.” It’s the same with a fat belly, or something like that. “This is what I see. Let’s have a look at the belly.”
It was the same with his teeth, because he wore veneers. He said, “You know how people had those bad caps in the ‘80s?” I said, yes. He said, “Well, what if we do something that the front looks a bit like a bad cap, and maybe some gold teeth?” You kind of go through every photograph in the world on the Internet so that you can give them the choice, so that they can choose. Then, you put the character together. Then you go, “Oh, God, I hope it works.”
The other thing is that, in your own mind, you go, “What are the director and the producers going to think of this?” You know damn well that they actually have to, a certain degree, leave him alone to do what he needs to do, and you hopefully hope that they’re going to say, “Oh, you know what? What a great idea. I think that’s really fantastic,” instead of going the other way and saying, “You know what? That’s so not what we want.” It’s all a very fine line, because Matthew is quite decisive as who he wants to be, and we create it together, which is a really good thing, and it’s a really good working process. I really like it, but it can test you; it’s all very well to say, “Oh, we’ll do this makeup, and we’ll do this toupee,” but then we’re going to Thailand in 99.9% humidity, in the middle of monsoon season.
Do you enjoy working with actors who take that kind of ownership in creating striking physical transformations with their characters?
I do. It gives me a challenge, and it means that you’ve got your creative juices going. It’s one of those weird things in the film industry, and I think for makeup and hair people, all of a sudden, you’re doing a film and it’s contemporary, you just sort of go, “You know what? I just don’t think I could do this again. Could you just give me another period one perhaps?” Then you turn around and you get the period one, and then that tests you and you suddenly go, “Oh God, I’m so tired. I’m just about done in. You know what, next time, could you just give me another contemporary one?”
With Matthew, it’s just a really clever process. Like I said, I have the utmost respect for his work and what he needs to go through to get to his character. That’s not just with his makeup, not just with his hair, but it’s with his actual character — who he is and whom he becomes.
Would you say there are stylistic or thematic through lines in the projects you choose?
By myself, I’m very attracted to drama. I’m not a comedy person in scripts. I am very much a drama, because they’re usually intelligently written. That gives me a good feeling of being able to read what’s on the page and being able to translate, because no matter what anybody says, for me anyway, I get invested in the character when I read it. I like to know who that character is, inside out.
In working on Gold, what was the mission with Matthew’s hair and makeup?
We were doing Free State Of Jones, and of course, Matthew was quite lean. When he said he was going to do Gold and he was going to go straight into it, it was Kenny Wells and he wanted to put on weight and all that sort of stuff, we actually got Matthew Mungle, and Matthew took a cast of his torso so that we could make him a belly. We literally had no time. I can honestly say we had no time to get things going. We even cast the body whilst we were in New Orleans doing Free State Of Jones.
We decided to go with it. We decided to go with a particular belly. Matthew sculpted it. We tried one on just five days before we were supposed to go to Thailand, and it was too big. Then, Matthew sculpted it down. We could only sculpt down, and I could only take one with me to Thailand, because that’s what was ready.
It’s kind of the same with his toupee. We couldn’t cut his hair, we couldn’t do anything, because everybody had to weigh in on it. The wig maker, Alex Rouse, made me this toupee and I thought, “I’ll just slip a bald cap on him and then pop it on.” Then I thought to myself, “This looks weird.” There was a seam in the middle of the toupee, and because the hair was so sparse, I was like, “Oh, my God, you can see the seam.” I had to send the wig back to London. I had to say to Alex, “You need to not put a seam.” She said, “but it means you will only have single lace, and you may very easily tear it.” I said, “That’s the chance I’m prepared to take.”
Literally on Sunday, he jumped on a plane and I two days later jumped on a plane, and we got to Thailand and I was just like, “Oh, God. How is this going to work? Oh, God.” I literally got a local person who had the same head measurements as Matthew who was prepared to have their head shaved. I shaved the guy’s head, slipped Matthew’s toupee on, and it looked fantastic. I just went, “Dear Jesus, this is going to work.”
We got that sorted out, but everybody, the producers were worried. One of them particularly came and saw me before we were about to shave Matthew’s head and said, “You know, I’m really worried about this. I’m really worried how it’s going to look or what’s going to happen.” I said, “Look, the worst case scenario is that you don’t like it and we’ve shaved Matthew’s head, you push your production by one week, and one week only, and we get Alex Rouse to make a full wig that looks like Matthew McConaughey.” I said, “That’s easy. That’s easy.”
They went with it, and then Matthew had put on a little bit more weight, and we decided not to use the belly. Matthew has some angular pieces to his face, so what we then had to do was highlight. You go opposite to what you would normally do—you highlight all the areas that are indented so that you can make them look bigger. We did all of that—his temples, under his chin—to make him look fatter. It kind of helped.
Then, of course, everybody said, “You know what? Because we’re going to film and it’s monsoon season, we need to test his toupee in monsoon rain.” I was like, “Oh, God. We’ll just get on a plane and go home right now.” As luck has it, they got the rain machines up, they gave me a monsoon pour-down, and it all worked. We never looked back. We just didn’t. It was like, OK, full steam ahead.
Were there other challenges posed by working on location in those conditions?
When he slides around in the mud, when he’s down in the mud and the mud splashes up into his face, not just his face, and they go, “Take 2.” It’s like, I have one hairpiece. I can clean his face off, and I’m going to have to try and flush with water because the red mud would stain the lace, so it’s just like, “Oh, God. Here we go again.” Every minute of every day was a trial, I must admit. It was a very big trial on how to do things. Everyday, it would be with the DP. “Robert, Robert, do you see any lace?” “No.” “Robert, Robert. What do you see?” Robert Elswit was such a great DP, and it was very hard, I must admit, because of the fact that I’m not really a hairdresser. I have a barber’s license from years ago, but I’m a makeup artist. When Matthew, on Free State of Jones and this, asked me to do hair, I was like, “What? Are you sure?” You just get it done.
What’s next for you? You re-teamed with McConaughey on The Dark Tower, the Stephen King adaptation?
We did that, and at the moment, I’m working on a film here, which is London and Rome, called American Assassin, with Michael Keaton and Dylan O’Brien. Then I’m going straight on to Robin Hood, which is really going to be very, very clever. It’s a modern adaptation—It’s called Hood, and it’s Jamie Foxx, Taron Egerton. It’s very, very clever because Otto Bathurst, who is directing it, was the inception of Peaky Blinders. He’s a very clever, creative man.