The Makeup Process For Seven's 'Sloth' Was Torture

Note: This article will contain spoilers for the film "Seven."

David Fincher's 1995 serial killer tragedy "Seven" is one of the more bleak and nihilistic films to emerge from the post-"The Silence of the Lambs" crime boom. Taking place in a city overrun with filth and brown haze (the actual city is never explicitly stated), "Seven" is about a pair of police detectives (Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt) who are on the trail of a murderer who has been committing  a string of carefully constructed kills, each one modeled after one of the Seven Deadly Sins. 

For instance, Gluttony (Bob Mack) was forcefed to death. Greed (Gene Borkan) was forced to re-enact a particularly grim ultimatum laid down in Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice." Pride (Heidi Schanz) was asked to choose between her life and her vanity. Lust (Cat Mueller) suffered a fate that is better left undescribed here. To reveal the details of the kills related to Envy and Wrath would be to reveal too much about the film's plot, but suffice to say, things do not work out for the best in the world of "Seven." People die at the hands of a madman, the world seems to have gone insane, there is no order, and our worst impulses will get the better of us. The fact that "Seven" was an enormous hit certainly speaks loudly to the national mood in 1995. 

The fate of Sloth (Michael Reid McKay), true to the sin itself, required the most time and patience on the part of the murderer. Sloth was found strapped to a bed, drugged, seemingly unable to move for a very, very long time. A slacker morality tale if ever there was one. When the cops burst into Sloth's apartment, they find his emaciated corpse, partially rotten, unmoving on the bed, the eponymous sin written on the wall next to him. The stench is being fought off by hundreds of car air fresheners dangling from the ceiling. As a cop leans close to the dead man's face, Sloth suddenly and unexpectedly coughs. He's still alive! It was a shocking moment that left audiences completely unnerved. 

Setting up Sloth's scenes were a harrowing experience, and, in an interview with Yahoo!, actor McKay revealed what was required to set up his deathly diorama. 

Gelatin sores

Prior to "Seven," McKay had played a mummy in "The Monster Squad," a gargoyle in the TV movie "Cast a Deadly Spell," and a Sleepwalker in "Sleepwalkers," so playing creatures and being buried in full-body makeup was familiar to him. Having a naturally slight build made McKay frequently sought after for such parts, and he would go on to play a psychic villain in "X2: X-Men United," the pre-beefed up Bane in "Batman and Robin," and a character called The Man Who Can't Breathe in "Insidious: Chapter 3." 

According to Yahoo!, though, his audition to play a near-dead man was unusual. McKay was asked to lay down on the floor and stay completely still. He then slowly turned his face toward the camera. Boom, he got the part. The casting sheet asked for someone who was "extremely thin," and McKay certainly fit the role. He told David Fincher that he had lost additional weight for the role, but was merely lying. Fincher believed him. 

After taking a few pre-victim shots — his character's photos show up in police files — McKay was led to legendary makeup artist Rob Bottin, the man responsible for effects on films like "Star Wars," "The Thing," "RoboCop," "Total Recall," who would work with Fincher again on "Fight Club." Bottin made a cast of most of McKay's body then went to work making the rubber prosthetics that were to covered his face, arms, and torso. In the meantime, the actor was pained with wounds. Says McKay:

"It started with airbrushing tiny little veins on my body, and then there was a step where they did some more painting, and then they put the gelatin sores all over me.

Once covered in sores, a 14-hour makeup process began. McKay arrived in makeup at 5 AM for a call time at eight o'clock that evening. He was wrapped in rubber, painted to be bruised and scarred, and even given overgrown fingernails. McKay says that wandering onto set in full makeup was chilling for the cast and crew. He recalls meeting Freeman, who did a double take and then jokingly said, "You don't look too good." McKay also recalls that one of the costumers hurried past him, averting her gaze, declaring repetitively that she couldn't look at him.

Freezing with sweat

After 14 hours of makeup, and freaking out the people on set, McKay's actual acting job was physically taxing. He was required to lay perfectly still for about four hours of shooting. As his character is meant to be taken for dead, his stomach could not be seen to rise and fall with his breath. Fincher pointed this out to him, and McKay held his breath for extended periods as to lie perfectly still. Being still, one might find, is harder than it looks. 

Laying still becomes especially difficult when makeup artists are maintaining your "sweat" in a cold room, and constantly spraying you with water in between takes. McKay, although coated in prosthetics, still had a great deal of skin exposed, and the cold water from the sweat sprayers would cool him off and make him shiver. With no time to warm up in between takes, McKay simply had to flex every muscle in his body to make his body still. No breathing, freezing, and coated with rubber. When a cop leans in to look at McKay's desiccated face, and McKay was permitted to cough, he admits it was a great relief. He could finally move and breathe again. 

McKay also said that his cough was so unexpected, it actually startled people on set, and the reaction on the cop's face is genuine. McKay also says that he himself is startled by the scene and recalls screening "Seven" for friends, making him jump just as much when the cough came. 

"When I saw the movie with friends, I wasn't really grossed out or anything like that, because I knew what I'd looked like. But what really freaked me out is when I actually came to life. Because it comes out of nowhere. I didn't expect that!"

McKay's most recent credit was that of Shambler Zombie in Zack Snyder's "Army of the Dead." Fincher's next film will be called "The Killer," and, as of this writing, has wrapped shooting.