When you set out to make a Wolfman movie, you know fans will be looking at the hairy, horrific title character even more closely than the thrills and drama. When Oscar winner Benicio Del Toro and legendary special-effects makeup designer Rick Baker set out to create the latest incarnation of the beast, they addressed the increased pressure by focusing their efforts in three distinct areas: the homage, the innovation and the anger.
"My manager and I, we went to Universal and proposed the idea of doing a remake of 'The Wolfman,' " Del Toro recalled of the origins of the project, which strike close to his heart since he credits his early viewings of Lon Chaney Jr.'s performance in the 1941 classic as his first comprehension of what an actor does. "When you're working with someone like Rick Baker, who's arguably the best makeup artist in the world, you just turn yourself into a canvas and let him do whatever he needs to do on your face."
" 'The Wolfman' is one of the movies that made me want to be a makeup artist," explained six-time Oscar winner Baker ("Men in Black," "Planet of the Apes"). "When I heard they were making this movie, I actually pursued this job. Usually I don't do that. So much a part of my being is the Wolfman, it was just so cool to be involved in a movie like this."
Everything from the clothes to the cane to the makeup itself is a tribute to the original film about a man haunted by the full moon and his inner beast waiting to be unleashed. "Benicio is a big Wolfman fan. He played Wolfman when he was a kid, and he had a poster of the Wolfman in his bedroom. He wanted to be Lon Chaney Jr.," Baker laughed. "We wanted the makeup to be exactly like that, and we were on the same page. We're both big fans of those films, which made us bond right away. But it needs to be amped up a little bit.
"At first, I was afraid. I was a little scared, because [I wondered,] 'Would a kid today accept a guy in makeup, when they are used to seeing CG things running around?' " he added, talking about stage two of their process, which fused the makeup homage with computer-enhanced innovation. "I just thought that if I took that original design, that [1941 version makeup artist] Jack Peirce did, and amp it up a little bit to make it a little more ferocious, more vicious, it would work."
"It took about four hours to get it down," Del Toro remembered of Baker's amazingly intricate process, which would have the actor getting into the chair at ungodly hours in the morning. "The process was magical in a way; it was piece by piece, and then suddenly — boom! There was a final product, and it looked cool and it looked scary. It was what you hoped for this monster to look like."
"Depending on your age, [you prefer CG or makeup]," Baker said. "Guys in my generation, with monster movies, they kind of pooh-pooh the CG stuff, but I think it's an interesting technique. It's another amazing trick, and when it's used properly, you can do some things we can't do with rubber. This film strikes a nice balance between the two — it's stupid not to utilize every trick in your bag of tricks."
That brings us to the third stage in the process, the one that most informed Benicio's performance: the anger. "The toughest part was taking it off," Del Toro remembered of the many miserable hours he spent under all that hot, furry costuming. "You work 16 hours with this thing. You're fed up, you're ready to go home, you're tired -- and then everybody has gone home and you're sitting there in the makeup trailer, and they're scraping the makeup off your face."
At the end of the day, however, Del Toro said he harnessed all the irritability of such elements into playing the Wolfman, who isn't exactly a chipper fellow while transformed. "That thing is locked up on your cheekbones," Del Toro remembered. "I had a team of people on the set with me, just to put blood or whatever on me, and one of the things they had to do was if I needed to talk to the director, I needed to do a sign, and then someone would come in, put gloves on, and go into my mouth and pull my teeth out — and then I could talk! Everything was a little bit difficult; everything. Nothing was completely easy with the makeup. But the final product is pretty cool, so I'm glad I did it."