February 09, 2017
A Man Called Ove had only about $20,000 to spend on hair and makeup—but that was enough to get it an Oscar nod.
Sure, best actor, best actress, and best picture may be the sexiest Oscar categories each year. But in terms of sheer, wonderful W.T.F.-icity, there is one category worth paying special attention to come February 26: best hair and makeup. Since the award was introduced in 1981, it has proved to be a real wild card, typically featuring three nominees on drastically opposite ends of the movie-making spectrum. This year is no different, with Suicide Squad and Star Trek Beyond—both studio pictures with reported budgets of more than $170 million—duking it out against A Man Called Ove, a Swedish drama made for peanuts compared to its action-packed competitors.
Eva von Bahr and Love Larson estimate that they were allocated approximately $5,000 to transform Rolf Lassgård into the title character, Ove—a curmudgeonly recent widower—for this adaptation of Fredrik Backman’s 2012 novel. There was one problem, though. While Lassgård is about the same age as Ove, he looked so much younger—thanks to his enviably full head of hair—that Bahr and Larson had to drastically change his look for the film. Otherwise, nobody would believe the actor as the kind of angry old man who would scream at his neighbors over minor parking infractions.
“[Lassgård] was going to play this man in a small town somewhere in Sweden, really angry and grumpy,” explained Bahr. “So we pulled out some pictures of men looking like what we wanted Ove to look like—lots of British politicians.” The team figured that the most efficient way of aging Lassgård would be to make him bald—a conclusion that consequently made the wrong production party angry.
“Love made a sketch in Photoshop of Rolf bald,” Bahr said, explaining Lassgård’s final look—which required a painstakingly created, custom silicone prosthetic cap, hand-punched with hair one strand at a time. “Both the director Hannes Holm and Lassgård realized, ‘Wow, this is how we have to do it.’ But the producers were very angry with us.” Ultimately, after Holm threatened to leave the project, the producers relented, nudging the makeup budget up to about $20,000. For that amount of money, Bahr and Larson not only had to produce more than 30 of those handmade bald caps—one for each day of shooting—but also had to supply the hair and makeup for all other cast members in present day and during flashbacks. Holm has joked that makeup costs accounted for so much of the film’s minuscule budget that A Man Called Ove—which is also nominated in the best foreign film category—became something of a local fascination: “Every Swedish film worker knew about this, and when Rolf arrived as Ove they said, ‘Ah, here comes money walking.’ ”
“We didn’t want to change Rolf's features that much, so we made a prosthetic that goes from his upper eyelids to the back of his head,” explained Larson. Because Bahr and Larson were using minimal makeup, though, they also had to worry about something else that wouldn’t affect a big Hollywood movie with a wealth of post-production effects.
“It’s really hard when you have an actor only half-covered in prosthetic, because his own skin will change [color] during the day,” said Larson. “If he runs or gets excited [as Ove does for much of the film], his own skin will turn red, and the prosthetic stays the same color. So we had to compensate by painting the prosthetics. Then in the next scene, maybe if he’s having a cup of coffee inside, his own skin would go back to normal—but his prosthetic piece would be red because of the previous scene. We had to neutralize that with greens and tone that down. It was a constant thing we had to work on during the day.”
“Since we don’t have any money in Sweden to correct the makeup afterwards [in post-production], we had to really, really be on our toes while on set—constantly adjusting things in the few minutes you would have between takes,” said Larson. “If you do old-age make up in a drama film, the audience can never for one second sit and think, ‘This is makeup.’ It takes them out of the story.”
The team used a similar encapsulated silicone technique on The 100 Year-Old Man, for which they were also Oscar-nominated against two studio films: The Revenant and Mad Max: Fury Road.
“It’s a bit David versus Goliath,” Bahr said, laughing, when asked about the category’s vastly uneven playing field. “If you compare our budget to an American budget, we have absolutely nothing. We were four people on the movie working in the whole makeup department, doing all the other actors and all the period work and everything.” Star Trek Beyond, for comparison, had about 60 people in its makeup department, working in three different countries.
Believe it or not, though, there was one emergency on set that was even more stressful than aging Ove. Midway through filming, the director decided he wanted to age actress Ida Engvoll, who played Ove’s late wife in flashbacks, for a short sequence at the end of the film. Although the makeup team could not have been further from Hollywood moviemaking in terms of budget, the real-life married couple found that Hollywood and overseas makeup teams are of one mind when it comes to another aspect of filmmaking.
“The director said, ‘You have to make her look old, but she needs to be really, really pretty,’ ” laughed Larson, who said that the director did not want the team to accurately age the actress by giving her contact lenses, teeth, and different hair. “I said, ‘I think it’s going to be funny if she has the same hairstyle [as she did when she was young. I mean, she’s much older.’ But he wouldn't give up on that one. So we made her a grayish wig, but the exact same style as she had when she was younger.”