Black Mass

Johnny Depp looks like a ghost in Scott Cooper‘s Black Mass. Depp completely disappears into the role of Whitey Bulger, and while the actor’s physical and behavioral transformation is what makes him believable as one of Boston’s most notorious gangsters, the makeup certainly helps.

After the jump, find out how Black Mass makeup artists Gloria Casny and Joel Harlow turned Depp into Whitey Bulger.

Admittedly, we’re not all huge fans of Black Mass at the site. It was a film I was very much looking forward to, but to a degree, I ended up agreeing with Angie’s criticisms of Cooper’s picture. Black Mass is polished and well acted, but it feels like a half-finished story. Still, all but the film’s harshest critics must admit Depp’s performance is a nice return to form, and that his makeup is terrifying, not distracting.

In an interview with Indiewire, Harlow mentioned at one point the makeup was even more extreme, making the actor look even more like Bulger:

Initially, Johnny wanted to look exactly like Jimmy Bulger, so that’s what I started sculpting. And we went through five tests. What was interesting was, we planned two tests on the same day during our last round. The first test was the full transformation into Whitey, but the second actually showed more merit [revealing both Bulger and Depp] and that’s what we went with. Five days before they started filming, we did the camera test and got everyone on board. It was not a forgiving schedule, so we worked round the clock.

Eyebrows were punched, a prosthetic nose was made, and a forehead piece was made for the actor. According to Casny, this process took time:

While Joel was sculpting the head, I started figuring out the shape of the hairline, the size of the bald spot. We knew we were going to punch the hairline and the eyebrows, which was all punched strictly into silicone one hair at a time. We used one silicone piece a day and it took 22 hours a day to punch. And Johnny’s head shape is very different from Bulger’s. I had two wigs (for ’85 and ’95) and we shot it so dark that it was hard to see the difference.

All of this raises the question: how much does an actor really need to look like the person they’re portraying? We’ve seen plenty of actors deliver stellar performances as real-life figures, without sharing much of a resemblance. The intense makeup worked in favor of Black Mass, but that’s not always the case. The behavior is arguably far more important than the look, which is something some biopics forget.

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