Makeup Designer of ‘The Batman’ and ‘Coming 2 America’ Reveals His 5 All-Time Favorite Makeup Triumphs

Oscar nominee Mike Marino tells TheWrap that the greatest movie makeup “allows us to get into the psychology of a character.”

Best Makeup Split
F. Murray Abraham in "Amadeus" (Credit: Dick Smith); Lon Chaney in "The Phantom of the Opera" (Bettmann Archive); Gary Oldman in "Bram Stoker's Dracula" (Columbia Pictures)

March is a busy month for makeup designer Mike Marino. First, “The Batman” has just opened in theaters, featuring Marino’s acclaimed work on the face and body of the Penguin, played by an unrecognizable Colin Farrell. And on March 27, Marino will be attending the Oscars as a first-time nominee (alongside colleagues Stacey Morris and Carla Farmer) for his work on “Coming 2 America.”

With this year marking the 40th anniversary of the Best Makeup and Hairstyling category at the Oscars, TheWrap reached out to Marino to commemorate the milestone by listing his five favorite makeup accomplishments of all time. (This year’s award, it should be mentioned, will be presented with seven other categories in a pre-show and then edited into the ceremony.)

“I’m not against computer work and CGI and all that,” the New Jersey-based Marino said, “but there are certain things psychologically that makeup does, which is so vital to the inner workings of both the character and the actor. It’s a mistake to replace real practical makeup, even if it can be replaced.”

He added, “When great makeup is put on an actor, that actor becomes someone else in the room. It’s an amazing thing to be a part of.”

And he should know. Marino’s credits over the past 20 years include “Black Swan,” “Boardwalk Empire” and “The Irishman.” His Oscar-nominated work on “Coming 2 America” expanded on the audacious job that makeup legend Rick Baker achieved in the original 1988 film. (Baker, now retired, won seven Oscars for makeup, the most of anyone in the category, but lost that particular year to the team from “Beetlejuice.”)

Marino said that Saul, the elderly Jewish man in the barbershop played by Eddie Murphy, is perhaps Baker’s crowning career accomplishment.

“The movie is 33 years old and what Rick did with Saul still stands as one of the great makeups ever,” he said. “It’s a miracle. For me, I had to accelerate the age of Saul and the other characters, but Rick had set up a map for me with the original film. It was a difficult job, with lots of latex and paint, but it’s also a homage to Rick’s work.”

In addition to Saul in “Coming to America” and its sequel, “Coming 2 America,” Marino picked the five makeup jobs in movie history that have had the greatest impact on him as an audience member and an artist. They are:

Joseph Merrick (played by John Hurt) in “The Elephant Man” (1980)
Makeup by Christopher Tucker

Actor John Hurt in “1984” (20th Century Fox) and ‘The Elephant Man” (Brooksfilms/Paramount Pictures)

The first movie that Marino ever watched was David Lynch’s black-and-white portrait of the deformed, soulful Victorian-era man Joseph Merrick. (The character is called John in the film, a biographical error that still persists today.)

“I remember seeing the movie on HBO when I was about four years old,” Marino said. “And I remember that I was so shocked and scared of that makeup. I was so little that I didn’t understand the storytelling of it all, and that Merrick was a beautiful person despite how he looked. The makeup gives such pathos to John Hurt’s performance.”

Hurt, who died in 2017, was nominated for Best Actor in 1981, one among the film’s eight nominations. But the category of Best Makeup didn’t exist at the time. And as penance for the film’s snub in that area, the award was created the following year.

“Christopher Tucker is just simply a genius artist and this is the best work he ever did,” Marino said. “Soft skin textures are extremely difficult to create convincingly, and this job was so large and elaborate. And it’s always slightly different each time you see Merrick in the film. The mouth slightly changes. It’s simply remarkable work.”

Count Dracula (played by Gary Oldman) in “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” (1992)
Makeup by Greg Cannom, Michèle Burke and Matthew W. Mungle

Gary Oldman in “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” (Columbia Pictures) and (center) in at the film’s premiere in 1992 (Getty Images)

“It’s very hard to pick a favorite among all the makeups that Gary Oldman wears in the film,” Marino said. “Maybe it’s the big bat creature, maybe it’s the old man in the beginning, maybe it’s the werewolf. They are all brilliant. Greg Cannom is one of the true greats, and I think what he did with ‘Dracula’ is the greatest work of his career. It’s so unique and bold. Every piece is so carefully thought-out and so beautifully sculpted.”

Cannom and his team won Oscars for the film. It was the first of his four competitive wins in the category; he most recently was honored for transforming Christian Bale into Dick Cheney in “Vice.”

“When Oldman plays the old man, it’s not just your typical old age makeup,” Marino said. “He’s so pale that he’s almost white, the hairdo is a beehive, the fingertips are really long and inhuman. Those are all very strange, interesting choices that were made by Greg and his team. It’s a masterpiece of makeup.”

Marino has never worked with Oldman on a project, but the makeup artist said that he appreciates the Oscar-winning actor’s devotion to the art.

“I know he’s a huge fan of practical makeup effects and it’s wonderful to have actors like him in the business. We’ve seen him (in makeup) in ‘Dracula,’ ‘Darkest Hour,’ ‘Fifth Element,’ even ‘True Romance.’ Gary’s take on it, I’m told, is that the best makeup physically changes your acting ability. And we love to hear that.”

The Phantom (Lon Chaney) in “The Phantom of the Opera” (1925)
Makeup by Lon Chaney

Lon Chaney in 1919 (left) and in “The Phantom of the Opera” (1925)

Chaney was known as “The Man of a Thousand Faces” for his uncanny ability to completely transform into other people, often grotesquely. His terrifying villain from 1927’s “London After Midnight” (a lost film of which only stills survive) was the inspiration for “The Babadook.”

Marino said that no list of the best makeups would be complete without Chaney. The actor died in 1930, just as cinema was transitioning from the silent era to the sound era (his son Creighton adopted the name Lon Chaney Jr. and starred in “The Wolf Man” and “Of Mice and Men”), but his innovations in makeup are still awe-inspiring.

“Lon Chaney did it all himself,” Marino said. “As the Phantom, he pulled his eyes open and pulled his chin down and he was wearing those crazy teeth. Even the mask itself, when he’s playing the organ, it’s designed so perfectly.”

The scene in which Christine (Mary Philbin) reaches out and pulls off the Phantom’s mask reportedly caused audiences to pass out during screenings in 1925.

“The Blu-ray came out in a few years ago and we could really see for the first time what Chaney’s eyes are doing in that scene,” Marino said. “We can see what audiences would have seen back then. That his eyes are wide open and he even fit a semi-circle into the lower lid, so that they seem otherworldly.”

Marino said the scene still resonates with power today. “He has his mask pulled off and you see this skeletal, ghastly corpse-like man underneath. It’s an incredible and complex piece of work.”

Quasimodo (played by Charles Laughton) in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (1939)
Makeup by Perc Westmore, George Bau and Gordon Bau

Charles Laughton in 1934 and as Quasimodo in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (1939)

“Lon Chaney had actually done a ‘Hunchback’ movie too,” said Marino, “but I think this one is even better.”

“George Bau was the king of foam latex. He innovated how to do things with soft, skin-textured latex back in the 1930s that we are still doing today. It’s remarkable how real and soft the makeup looks on Charles Laughton in ‘Hunchback.’ His performance is amazing and the makeup is just gorgeous.”

Marino raved that the dedication to reality in the film makes the work especially special. “The film was very impactful for me because the makeup looks like real flesh, even though this was like 80 or 90 years ago when it was done.”

He added, “It’s also amazing what very subtle twists and turns of a face can do to the overall face. You just lower an eye or build out one side – and you can discover so many interesting things about how the entire face and the entire character can change.”

Old Salieri (played by F. Murray Abraham) in “Amadeus” (1984)
Makeup by Dick Smith

F. Murray Abraham in “Amadeus” (Orion Pictures / Courtesy of Dick Smith)

Milos Forman’s “Amadeus” opens with an elderly man in 1823 Vienna attempting suicide. This man, Italian composer Antonio Salieri, is then committed to an asylum, where via flashbacks he spends a whole night telling a priest about his wild jealousy for (and possible murder of) Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Tom Hulce).

F. Murray Abraham appears as both the middle-aged and – thanks to makeup legend Dick Smith – quite curmudgeonly Salieri. Abraham and Smith scored two of the eight Oscars that the film won in 1985.

“I watch ‘Amadeus’ now and I still marvel at what Dick Smith did,” said Marino, a protege of Smith’s, who died in 2014 at the age of 92. His other dazzling feats included turning Marlon Brando into Don Corleone in “The Godfather,” aging Dustin Hoffman to 121 years old in “Little Big Man” and showing a child possessed by the devil in “The Exorcist.” (Also, in the latter title, Max von Sydow played the title character, a frail priest in his late 70s, though the actor was 43 at the time.)

“Actually, I have some of Dick’s pieces that he used for Salieri in ‘Amadeus,’ from his original molds,” Marino said. The makeup included neck, cheek, chin, and eyelid prosthetics. “You can see the small wrinkles and pockmarks in the molds. The forehead was actually Dick Smith’s own wrinkly forehead, which he had made a mold of.”

For Marino, Old Salieri represents the most primal reason that he works on, and that we go to see, movies.

“What is the reason for character makeup? I think it really, deeply affects the audience and allows us to get into the psychology of a character. I mean, F. Murray Abraham as the Salieri, he’s a sad, old, bitter man, and yet somehow when we look at him, we feel sorry for him.”

Marino added, “That makeup, like a lot of these others that are my favorites, creates a sympathetic character that we relate to. It’s all there to assist F. Murray Abraham’s incredible, unforgettable performance, but the makeup really drives the sympathy home.”