Nocturnal Animals

by Donald Mowat | Department Head Make-up

In late spring of 2015, Jake Gyllenhaal, with whom I have had the great pleasure of working with on Prisoners and Nightcrawler, mentioned in passing, a potential role he may take in Tom Ford’s highly anticipated second feature and if I had any interest in it. Jake is really one of the rare gems in our business, a truly collaborative actor and respectful of what we do and above all, loyal. Months passed and I was on a project in London when I got an email from the producers to see if I was interested and available to meet Tom Ford in London to department head Nocturnal Animals.

Academy Award nominee Jake Gyllenhaal portrays Tony Hastings in writer/director Tom Ford’s romantic thriller NOCTURNAL ANIMALS, a Focus Features release. Credit: Merrick Morton/Focus Features
 Jake Gyllenhaal portrays Tony Hastings ir Tom Ford’s romantic thriller NOCTURNAL ANIMALS, a Focus Features release. Credit: Merrick Morton/Focus Features

As this was all going on, I had another call about working with the funny and talented Emily Blunt on another film. Sadly, the dates conflicted, and this is what I call ‘A High-Class Problem.’ Believe me, a day never goes by that I do not appreciate that. I really felt unsure which way to go (a bird in the hand, usually most secure route for a freelancer). However, a part of me was unsure, even worried just a little about Nocturnal Animals.

Tom’s first film was beautifully done in every way. Nocturnal Animals had similar elements in style and fashion, however, this was a bigger film in scope—action, stunts, violence, present and past, real or unreal, a gulf of contrasts, images below levels of consciousness and that ongoing reminder that we often hear and sometimes need to admit—fashion make-up in the true sense is not corrective film make-up—beauty, straight or character make-up. I know this to be the case from my work in editorial print and red carpet. The first challenge would be getting Mr. Ford to approve. He, in fact, looks at every detail of the complete look on each character whether lead, support, day player or extra—the clothes, shoes, props, eyeglasses, hair, make-up, nail lengths, shapes and colors. Our combined team of Local 706 make-up artists and hair stylists stepped up and delivered!

Going to meet Tom was a little bit like going to see The Wizard of Oz. I arrived at his fashion empire headquarters in Central London straight from the set. Looking at all the staff that he could have, or will one day be runway or editorial models. An immense office space, with very tall narrow doors with “T” and “F” in gold block lettering on every door handle. I felt like a middle-aged male version of Betty, the lead character in the Ugly Betty TV series, who wanted to work for a high-end fashion magazine.

Meeting with Tom was extraordinary; he is truly an inspired filmmaker and gentleman. He showed me a visual presentation of the entire film, every character in 15 or maybe 20 minutes. I was hooked, his eloquence and vision to a different style of film than I had ever worked on was a breath of fresh air.

Michael Shannon and Aaron Taylor-Johnson. Credit: Merrick Morton/Focus Features

We discussed the challenges of creating many characters from the flashback in small-town Texas, a bearded lead actor and time cut where he is possibly another guy; and then, clean-shaved. In between, there are numerous out-of-kit casualty make-ups, age with paint and a finale with a silicone full eye cover appliance from a major blunt-force trauma. We had to rough up Aaron Taylor-Johnson with facial hair, including a modern version of ‘mutton chops,’ and getting Michael Shannon looking like the dying small-town sheriff, which Tom had envisioned sharply in his mind’s eye. Jake, Amy and Armie Hammer all appear at various stages of the story in a more than 20-year span.

Young Ellie Bamber, as Jake’s daughter, and his wife, played by Isla Fishser, bear a resemblance to Amy Adams, who also has a similar-looking daughter played by India Menuez. All four ladies with that stunning long red hair and pale skin were captivating. 


I digress for a moment of utter importance, one of the highlights of this experience was to finally work with the iconic Yolanda Toussieng, Department Head Hair, and her team, including key hair stylist Jules Holdren, They stepped in during prep. They were meant to be on the project and I am so pleased to have worked with them.

Tom insisted this film be made in Los Angeles. I utterly respect and admire his choice to shoot an LA movie in Los Angeles and double for Texas as well! For the first time in ages, I was able to get some fellow Local 706 members out on a job in Los Angeles and at regular feature film rates. Malanie Romero was my key—I had such a great work experience on Nightcrawler with Malanie that I was determined to re-team for this. We were fortunate to get a number of excellent additional make-up artists on large case and BG days. Our team members, who worked the most days, were Ruth Haney, Keith Sayer, Sian Richards, Molly Tissavary and Peter Olivera. Jason Collins came in for a few days and built and applied a very good eye appliance with. I incorporated into a very bloody, sweaty, dirty beat-up Jake Gyllenhaal.

Amy Adams in NOCTURNAL ANIMALS. Credit: Merrick Morton/Focus Features

Tom felt a personal make-up artist for Amy Adams was the way to go, especially for her opening look at the gallery. Amy had approximately 10 shooting days of this 35-day shoot. Elaine Offers was a most welcome addition. She set Amy up for the first week, and Deb Farullo covered the last week. Elaine also did some nice work on Laura Linney and Andrea Riseborough, each had memorable one-day on-set cameos. On that note, one of the most enjoyable make-ups for me was on Kristin Bauer van Straten as an over-botoxed, lips like pillows, pulled fashionista in a memorable scene with Amy Adams in the art gallery boardroom. I researched using a lip appliance. However, a little test with four sets of lifts, tape and Pros-Aide, come old-fashioned corrective and character make-up techniques and of course, the right actress worked very well. I was delighted at Tom’s, the cast’s and producers’ reactions.

Our Fellini-inspired art installation profound abstractions if you will, four completely naked, very large and simply gorgeous ladies in full body make-up, as well as the spoof TV show of The Real Large Ladies of Beverly Hills—a clever twist from Tom, indicating what you see is not always what you get.

Special thanks to all the 706 Guild members who came out to work for a few days or a week or more, our all-star cast, producer Bob Salerno, the gifted director of photography, Seamus McGarvey, actor Jake Gyllenhaal and the one-and-only, Mr. Tom Ford. •


ST team