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Holiday Sneaks

Building a Grinch

A makeup artist, a star and their colleagues recall the exhausting process of transforming Jim Carrey into the Seuss thief.

November 12, 2000|MICHAEL MALLORY | Michael Mallory is an occasional contributor to Calendar

Makeup artist Kazuhiro Tsuji began his career in his native Japan, where he worked with, among others, legendary director Akira Kurosawa. Coming to the U.S. in 1996, he began working for Cinovation Studios, the makeup and effects shop of multi-Oscar-winner Rick Baker. Tsuji's work on "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas" continued his association with Imagine Entertainment, where his credits also include the films "The Nutty Professor," "Life" (for which he applied Martin Lawrence's makeup) and "Nutty Professor II: The Klumps." Tsuji, 31, described for Calendar what it was like transforming perpetual-motion performer Jim Carrey into the Grinch four days a week for more than three months. Director Ron Howard, makeup designer and supervisor Rick Baker, producer Brian Grazer--and, of course, Carrey--also weighed in.

Tsuji: I was originally supposed to work on "Nutty Professor II," which we were doing at the same time. But from the first test makeup for "Grinch," I was doing applications on Jim Carrey, and Jim actually requested me to do on-set makeup on him. The first makeup design had him covered all over, but the studio said, "No one can tell this is Jim, it's no good," so we started to reduce the makeup just to show them the possibilities. The last one was only to paint him green with shadow and highlight and put on a wig. At first Jim wanted the lighter makeup, as light as possible, so he could move a lot. He made a videotape of himself making a Grinch face, and it looked great, but just painting him green and giving him a wig doesn't make him a Grinch. He started to realize that, and he agreed that our approach was more the right way to do it. We had tried about six different designs, and less than a week before shooting was to start, we went back to the first one.

Baker: I felt very strongly that the character should be a Grinch. I kept saying, "It's not 'How Jim Carrey Stole Christmas.' " At the last minute, they decided that this one approach stuck out. We could have had boxes of appliances [the foam rubber pieces that are glued to an actor's face] ready to go. Instead, we were pretty much pulling them out of the mold and sticking them on Jim's face. [Because of the nature of the material, fabrication of an acceptable appliance requires several attempts.] Still, I was happy with the design decision. I was brokenhearted when they were talking about going with the lesser kind of makeup.

Tsuji: The first day of shooting was so hectic. Every first day has some kind of problem that you have to deal with, but this was actually the first time we tried the final design on Jim, and we were not sure if he would like it or not. I was nervous, and Jim was nervous, too. As it turned out, he didn't like the way his neck was covered with the hair, which was part of the wig, so we had to fix it right on the set, which meant we couldn't start the shooting right away. It was the first time I got that tension, and I think many people had that tension, because Jim is a perfectionist, and every time there was a change, he said something.

The biggest problem with the makeup for Jim was the contact lenses. They were using fake snow on the set, which was actually dried, smashed paper pulp, and on the set there were always tiny particles flying around in the air. The dust actually went between the lenses and his eyes, so he had a painful time.

Grazer: Beyond the talent, Rick and Kazu have a lot of patience and inner discipline, because this is hours and hours and hours of work. And Jim, of course, is a perfectionist, so everything has got to be exactly the same as it was on the day before, and the day before that, and he knows the difference. One day he was given contact lenses, which were like these big green Frisbees on his eyeballs, and I thought they were the same exact lenses he'd worn before, but he was able to discern a teeny difference, and he was right. We had to get new ones made because he was able to tell the difference and said: "The camera will tell too!"

Tsuji: An average day started at 5 or 6 in the morning. The makeup time itself was fairly short, about two hours and 10 minutes. With the help of my makeup assistant, Amy Schmiederer, I tried to work as quickly as possible because we didn't want Jim to sit in the chair for a long time. There were three major steps in the makeup: to apply the foam rubber pieces on his face that covered almost everything but his lower lip and chin; to paint on the color and to put on the hairpieces and the wig. After each step, Jim would have a break of 10 to 30 minutes.

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