Entering the Darkest Hour

by Kazuhiro Tsuji | Make-up Artist

The first time I met Gary Oldman was when we started The Planet of the Apes 2000 at Rick Baker’s Cinovation Studios. After we took his life cast, he turned it down. He sent me an email in 2015: “I have a challenge for you. I have been offered a role, but before I can fully commit, I need to be the man looking back at me from the mirror.”

Then there was silence for a while. Finally, in April 2016, Darkest Hour started. At that time, I was not working in the film industry anymore. The only time I had been involved in film make-up was teaching special make-up effects in short-term classes in Japan and France, five days at the longest. That was the only time I was applying the make-up last few years. When he approached me, he said, “You are the only one who I want to work with, if you don’t want to, I won’t work on this film.” In my whole career in the film industry, I wanted to work on this kind of film for the longest time, one with an amazing actor in the make-up and about great character with a great story. But it only happened a few times. My first biggest inspiration was the Abraham Lincoln likeness make-up Dick Smith did on Hal Holbrook, so you can imagine what kind of film I wanted to work on. This was a film I was dreaming of.

Photo courtesy of Focus Features.

I told Gary that I want to think about it a bit. I was debating a lot if I should take this job or not. I almost felt like I was cheating my life in some way. My goal is to leave the film job and do fine art sculptures. And it is working somehow. And to be honest, I don’t enjoy being on set. I had bad experiences working with some mean actors on set. My mentality does not fit to work on set and dealing with crazy hours and anxiety. I’m introverted, so I hate to being around many people. I started to feel that I was shortening my life when I was working in entertainment business. But I love designing the make-up and applying it. I was thinking my sculpture works are mainly portraits and Darkest Hour would be a very challenging job and I enjoy challenging job. This job is like sculpting a portrait of Winston Churchill on Gary’s face. I thought I should take this opportunity. I also realized that even I left the film industry, I still can contribute this way and do my best to bring another possibility to make-up industry. I felt like this will be giving back to people inspired me and supported me. I thought this experience will be better for students at schools where I teach. During the meeting at Gary’s house, he played a recording he did the voice of Winston Churchill. That was amazing and I realized that this will be special film.

As I started to work on the project, it was almost relearning about this job. In a way, every job is like relearning, but since I was away for a while, there were some struggles at the beginning. I just moved to new studio in November 2015. I was setting up the studio and it was not ready to take any job. So I hired Vincent Van Dyke to help me on molding and casting work, since I could not use large amount of chemical at my place yet. After we did lifecast of Gary at my studio, I started to design the make-up. Joe Wright (the director) wanted me to do three different looks for the first test make-up. We also did body scan to make a body suit. I hired Vanessa Mi Kyung Lee to make a body suit. I got Bob Kretschmer and Diana Choi to make a wig. I hired one PA, Isiah Adams. He helped me as a runner, and clean and tidy up my studio.

Likeness make-up is very hard or impossible thing to do. If the actor and the person we are aiming for has some kind of similarity, it is not too difficult. Gary’s proportion and Churchill’s proportion are very different. Head shape, distance between eyes, etc. Churchill had bad teeth, so anatomical structure is very different around mouth too. Gary’s eyes are closer to each other, and Churchill’s eyes are farther apart, so the more I build up to make his face rounder, eyes would look closer. They are like comparing greyhound and bulldog. Gary’s skin was very soft and flexible. After the first test, I realized that if I put small piece, for example, eye bags, even if I made it very soft, it didn’t move with his skin. It will just float on the surface of his skin and won’t move with expression. Since he would get a lot of close-ups and he would do very subtle to extreme expressions, I didn’t want to cover him up and defuse his expressions. We are putting artificial skin on top of the real skin. It just didn’t move like real skin no matter what we did.

Photo courtesy of Kazuhiro Tsuji.
Photo courtesy of Kazuhiro Tsuji.
Kazuhiro Tsuji transforms Gary Oldman into Winston Churchill. Tsuji enlisted help from Vincent Van Dyke, Vanessa Mi Kyung Lee, David Marti, Montse Ribe, Bob Kretschmer, Diana Choi and others for the molding, casting appliances and wig. Photo courtesy of Kazuhiro Tsuji.
Photo courtesy of Kazuhiro Tsuji.


Second test make-up, I did two different designs. They were one neck and two different cheeks, chin, nose, eyelids, forehead. The last test we did was the one we decided to go with.

We needed someone to run appliances for filming. Vincent had commitment, and I had commitment. Since the filming was in London, it would be better to do in UK or Europe. After several discussions, we decided to hire DDT in Barcelona, Spain. We shipped molds there, then I flew out to Barcelona. David Marti and Montse Ribe are always welcoming, very sweet people. They make Barcelona the better place. I was there for five days to set up and talked about how to run and ship the pieces.

I like to use Platsil Gel 10 with 225 percent deadener. It is difficult to apply and usually make-up artists hate to apply that soft. But it moves well. I could push to 250 percent but it would create a lot of issues. We needed to run the big neck piece—more than 50 sets, so 250 percent would be torture for DDT. At that time, schedule was very tight already, so we could not risk precious time before the filming.

The real Churchills in 1941. Photo courtesy of Popper Photo/Getty Images.

Then I had to go to Balboa, Spain, and to Paris to teach, then flew to UK to do the first film test in London. That was the first time I showed the application to David Malinowski and Lucy Sibbick. David worked with Gary before on Hitman’s Bodyguard. Gary really enjoyed working with David. At the beginning of the production, I told Gary that I wouldn’t be able to work on set to do applications. So Gary suggested to get David. Since this production was not big budgeted, the shooting schedule would be tight and tough, David got Lucy to team up. They were amazing team. I have never seen two make-up artists work on one actor at the same time that well before. They did amazing application. They were great to work with and very sweet people. I hope there will be more opportunity to work with them again. There was another key person who was in the team from the beginning-—Gisele Schmidt, Gary’s wife. She was there all the time and helped us to make the whole process easier. She was great support and she has great eyes to see things and she did a lot of research about Churchill that was of great help. Without her, it would be very hard for Gary to go through this production.

Kristin Scott Thomas as Clementine Churchill with Oldman as Winston Churchill. Photo courtesy of Focus Features.

Originally, director Joe Wright wanted the wig made in UK. I usually design and order the wig, myself.  I consider it is a part of the sculpture. Hairline and hair shape finalize the character’s look and it is important element, especially if it is the likeness make-up. I have been working with Bob Kretschmer and Diana Choi. We decided to use English lace front and mixture of Baby European hair and Angora. Churchill had fine white hair. His hair was ginger when he was young. As he got older, it became whiter. I wanted to make this wig thin and fine instead of make it thick enough to cover the connection and pleats of the lace. They did amazing job. We used this wig for the first three test make-up, then Ivana Primorac who is make-up and hair designer for the movie, brought a wig from UK. She helped us a lot to start up in London. Gary really liked the first wig, but Joe insisted to make another one in UK. We decided to bring this wig just in case to London. After the first UK test, Gary had discussion with Joe and producer Doug Urbanski, then decided to order more wigs from LA. I redressed the first wig and shooting started with it while I flew back to LA to make four more wigs. I flew back to London to fit the new one. In LA, as Diana and Bob made more wigs, I cut and dressed them, then shipped them to London. The hair was set with good old VO5 hair conditioning and hairdressing mixed with Royal Crown grease and touch of hair spray. The wig was applied and maintained beautifully by Lucy. She used KD151 to glue down the lace and she stitched the nape area to the appliance with yarn so it won’t pop up during the shoot. That was gentle solution for the wig too.

I went back to DDT to do some works. There were several things I wanted to improve on the make-up. I was studying photos from test make-up. I was feeling there was something missing and something I could do to make Gary looked more like Churchill. That was literally an over-the-weekend job. I went to DDT on Friday, started to sculpt new cheek pieces. That was the last chance to change anything. I changed the shape of them and the placement of the edge since the cheek piece had a wrinkling issue under the cheekbone. Basically, that was unavoidable, since the edge ended right under the cheek bone. When he tucked in his chin, it created wrinkles. I changed the shape and tapering of the edge.  David at DDT was kind enough to let me have key for his shop. I was working on Montse’s table. That room had great view. I was looking at Sagrada Família in the distance at night. I was thinking if I should go for it or not. I was sculpting on the positive so it was bit hard to tell the balance as whole face. I think I was contemplating about 30 minutes, then I said myself, I should go for it. Next day, I molded both cheeks and DDT started to run new cheeks. I flew back to London with new cheeks. David and Lucy did application for the final film test. Gary noticed the improvement. He asked me, “What have you done?” I said to him, “Do you want me to tell you?” He said, “NO!” Joe also asked, “What did you do? It looks better.” I just said, “It’s secret.” Actually, it is very hard to explain exactly what I did. Everything came together great, then we were set to shoot this film.

Gary Oldman stars as Winston Churchill in director Joe Wright’s DARKEST HOUR, a Focus Features release. Credit: Jack English / Focus Features

David Malinowski pre-painted pieces beautifully while he had time during tight schedule. Gary shaved his head every morning. Skin was cleaned with Kiehl’s Blue Astringent, then treated with Derma Shield. Pieces were glued with Telesis 8. There were neck, cheeks, nose, chin and vacuform pieces to push out his ears. Edge was treated with the mixture of Beta Bond Plus and Duo surgical adhesive. Head was based out with RCMA Appliance foundation. David made a custom red color. Gary named it Blenheim Blush. It is included in PPI Darkest Hour palette. Make-up was sealed with Ben Nye Final Seal. MAC Mattifier on some areas. David came up with the idea of putting Dr. Paw Paw Balm on nose to give shine and prevent glasses to stick to the make-up. Eyebrows were bleached and dressed with KD151 adhesive. Eyelashes were colored with light eyebrow gel. Tigi Camera Ready Hair Shine on wig and forehead to give some shine.  •