He’s tamed Timothée Chalamet’s hair, made Stellan Skarsgård enormous and turned Jake Gyllenhaal into an amputee — ‘Dune’ makeup artist Donald Mowat is a Hollywood favourite

He’s tamed Timothée Chalamet’s hair, made Stellan Skarsgård enormous and turned Jake Gyllenhaal into an amputee — ‘Dune’ makeup artist Donald Mowat is a Hollywood favourite
From taming Timothée Chalamet’s unruly hair to transforming Stellan Skarsgård into hulking, hedonistic sadist Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, Canadian-British makeup artist Donald Mowat’s work gets the most screen time in director Denis Villeneuve’s sci-fi epic “Dune,” opening Oct. 22

Montreal-born Mowat’s world-building creative hand is visible everywhere as prosthetics designer and head of the makeup and hair department on Villeneuve’s adaptation of Frank Herbert’s 1965 classic novel.

Mowat and Villeneuve have worked together several times, starting with “Prisoners” in 2013, followed by “Sicario” and “Blade Runner 2049.”

He and Villeneuve typically engage in a kind of mood-board visual brainstorming to create the look for characters. For “Dune,” they sent each other photos and drawings, talking about what worked and what didn’t. In some cases, it was an ongoing process, as for the Mentats, the red-lipped human thinking machines in “Dune.”

Mowat initially thought about Tang orange drink mix and how kids stain their lips with red candies, but it looked messy. He designed precise lip tattoos, but he wasn’t happy with the colour until he landed on a deep black currant shade, which Villeneuve loved.

Mowat’s not always successful out of the gate. For Javier Bardem’s warrior Stilgar, he started with a photo of the actor, building the character’s look in Photoshop. “But I didn’t do it right,” he said. “I put this eye makeup on him and it looked like Johnny Depp suddenly in ‘Pirates of the Caribbean.’” Back to the makeup drawing board.

For the morbidly obese Baron Harkonnen, Mowat told Villeneuve he envisioned Marlon Brando in “Apocalypse Now” and “The Island of Dr. Moreau,” crossed with a gorilla and Cardinal Richelieu. The Baron would be created using makeup, without computer effects.

Fat has always been depicted as funny in films and Mowat wanted to avoid that, he told Villeneuve. This fat man had to be terrifying and Skarsgård needed to bring that to the screen unencumbered.

A complete body cast helped sculptors create the silicone fat suit in pieces. It took five people up to six hours to put it on and another 90 minutes to take it off.

“Stellan needed freedom of movement as well,” said Mowat, including being lifted in a safety harness. When the Baron sank into an oil bath, the buoyant fat suit started to rise up. Some careful snips in the suit fixed the problem.

As for Chalamet, who plays the central role of Paul Atreides in “Dune,” his hair does have a life of its own. It requires a lot of attention, said Mowat.

There was a discussion about a trim, but Mowat favoured the boyishly longer “‘Romeo and Juliet’ look” for Paul. Once the shoot moved to Abu Dhabi and the dust and sand hit it, his hair looked “kind of remarkable,” Mowat added.

Chalamet impressed Mowat from their first meeting as the kind of actor who comes along once every 20 years. He’s “light years ahead of almost everybody I’ve met under 50,” Mowat said, with smarts and a strong work ethic.

“He’s delightful. I wish he were my kid. He’s just everything. He brings an energy.”

Speaking of actors he admires, Mowat met Jake Gyllenhaal on the “Prisoners” set. Since sitting in Mowat’s makeup chair, the actor has consistently requested him to create his makeup for films including “Nightcrawler,” “Nocturnal Animals,” “Southpaw,” “Velvet Buzzsaw” and his most recent movie, “The Guilty.”

Mowat helped create the illusion that Gyllenhaal was a double-leg amputee as Boston Marathon bombing survivor Jeff Bauman in “Stronger” by making pull-on latex shorts that mimicked leg stumps. The actor wore green socks on his lower legs, allowing them to be removed using computer technology.

“There’s a number of people I love to work with. I think that Jake is, you know that old expression, the genuine article. We have a great working relationship and a friendship,” said Mowat, 57, via Zoom during a break in filming Marvel Comics series “Moon Knight” in Budapest with Oscar Isaac

Isaac requested him after they worked together on “Dune,” in which he plays Duke Leto Atreides, father of Chalamet’s Paul.

Emily Blunt has asked Mowat to work on other films since he did her makeup for “Sicario,” although their schedules have not lined up. The actress told him nobody else is as good at making her look bad.

Mowat was Daniel Craig’s personal makeup artist on Bond films “Spectre” and “Skyfall,” and reluctantly turned down the chance to work on Craig’s final turn as 007 in “No Time to Die.” The production was pushed from 2018 to 2019 when Danny Boyle dropped out as director, just as “Dune” was about to start shooting.

Mowat and Craig are good friends. Mowat did his makeup for “Cowboys & Aliens” and “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” and is looking after his TV appearance makeup as the actor promotes “No Time to Die.”

“Dune” was a film Mowat says he just had to work on.

“It’s really an amazing thing to work on a project that really matters and that people love,” he said. “I feel that with people when they hear ‘Dune,’ the reaction is so unbelievable. This was creating a world that I love to do with Denis, because he lets me do it and we have such a good time with it. I just know it’s going to be good.”

You could almost play a game of Six Degrees of Donald Mowat. Once an actor sits in his chair, he seems to be the only person they want to work on their face. After “Dune” wrapped, Chalamet asked Mowat to do his makeup for his December 2020 appearance on “Saturday Night Live.”

In 1999, Mowat did Mark Wahlberg’s makeup on “Three Kings.” He’s been his makeup artist on 17 further productions, including “Rock Star,” “The Fighter” and “The Departed.”

During the filming of “8 Mile,” “the magnificent Marshall Mathers, a.k.a. Eminem, wrote ‘Lose Yourself’ on my makeup table on paper towels,” said Mowat.

Mowat is one of Hollywood’s busiest makeup artists, with 109 film credits on IMDb and numerous awards, including a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Makeup for “Mark Twain and Me.”

In between movie work, he lives in Toronto with his partner of 20 years, Garry Malone, and their two cats, Poppy and Pebbles.

Getting involved with stage makeup was a godsend for Mowat, a kid who struggled to fit in and was, as he puts it, “camp as Christmas.”

“I sucked at math, I didn’t play hockey, I couldn’t skate. I wanted to do ballet,” he said.

When Mowat discovered children’s theatre, his parents supported their son’s passions. His high school drama teacher suggested he do the makeup for the school production of Neil Simon’s relationship comedy “Plaza Suite.” Mowat got a copy of “Stage Makeup” by pioneering makeup artist Richard Corson from the school library. Somebody’s mom donated an Avon makeup kit.
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