Saturday, October 22, 2016
  • Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2016
Makeup Artist Bill Corso Goes "All the Way" With Two Emmy Nominations
Department head makeup artist Bill Corso (l) gets Bryan Cranston ready for his role as LBJ in "All the Way" (photo courtesy of HBO).
Reflects on collaborating with director Jay Roach, actor Bryan Cranston on HBO telefilm

Among the eight Emmy nominations earned this season by All the Way--the HBO telefilm in which Bryan Cranston portrays President Lyndon Baines Johnson, reprising his role from the Tony Award-winning play--two belong to Bill Corso and his team of artists who are recognized in the Outstanding Makeup for a Limited Series or Movie (Non-Prosthetic), and the Outstanding Prosthetic Makeup for a Series, Limited Series, Movie or Special categories.

Department head makeup artist Corso shares both these nominations with co-department head makeup artist Francisco X. Perez and key makeup artist Sabrina Wilson. The Prosthetic category nomination additionally includes designer Andrew Clement.

Jay Roach, who received an Emmy nomination for directing All the Way--which is also up for the Outstanding Television Movie Emmy Award--said, “You try to assemble the best team possible and those I worked with on All the Way--whether they were past or first-time collaborators---are all storytellers,” said Roach. “Bill [Corso] knocked it out of the park with the makeup job on Bryan Cranston [as LBJ]. I tried to work with Bill before and thankfully was able to get together with him for the first time on All the Way.”

With his two latest Emmy nominations, Corso now has a career total of six, having won thrice--for The Stand in 1994, The Shining in 1997, and Grey Gardens in 2009. He was also an Emmy nominee in 2007 for an episode of Nip/Tuck.

On the feature film front, Corso won the Best Achievement in Makeup Oscar in 2005 for A Series of Unfortunate Events, and was again nominated in 2007 for Click and in 2015 for Foxcatcher.

In this edited Q&A, Corso discusses his two current Emmy nods, and working with Roach and Cranston.

SHOOT: All the Way marked your first collaboration with director Jay Roach. Would you reflect on that working relationship and your approach to makeup for Bryan Cranston as LBJ?

Corso: I’ve never met a more gracious and immediate person than Jay. I’ve loved his comedy [the Austin Powers movies, Meet the Parents, Meet the Fockers] over the years but he is quite serious. Our conversations were serious concerning multiple characters. All the Way shows his serious attention to character just like his other dramatic work including the feature Trumbo and HBO’s Recount and Game Change. Jay was not overly concerned with matching every actor to their real life counterpart but he wanted to create a look and feel that would only enhance each actor’s performance.

Jay and Bryan Cranston first worked together on Trumbo. For All the Way, Jay and Bryan wanted to shoot up close. The camera comes in tight on LBJ, which is the opposite of the stage play. From a makeup standpoint, being up close, you want to make sure the look of the character holds up. You don’t want anything, like a prosthetic that doesn’t look quite right, to take away or distract from Bryan’s performance. We did a rough test to see what we could get away with.

Our hairstylist Anne Morgan [the hair department head who is also an Emmy nominee for All the Way] changed Bryan’s hairline which was a huge breakthrough. That helped make Bryan look more like LBJ than we originally thought he would. Bryan has the thin lips and the squinty eyes of LBJ so we had something to build on. We kept it subtle. We didn’t want to exaggerate anything. The key was that Bryan was all in to getting as close as possible to resembling LBJ. We pushed Bryan’s features in the direction of LBJ, and had great results. He saw that and pushed things further, willing to get a little more extreme. That set the tone for the rest of the cast. When they saw Bryan willing to change in order to more closely resemble his character, they committed to doing the same for their characters.

SHOOT: What about Melissa Leo as Lady Bird Johnson?

Corso: She is a complete chameleon. There was no prosthetic involved. Hair and makeup was enough for her to make a complete transformation.

SHOOT: There’s an inherent challenge in trying to re-create characters whom everyone knows--with actors whom everyone knows. What are your concerns going into this kind of work?

Corso: It’s not over-the-top prosthetic work with dragons and other creatures. When you are going to alter a well known person’s face, there are all kinds of issues, most importantly how are you going to make it feel and look believable. Why is this person covered in a bunch of rubber? You can never get in the way of the actor’s performance. I felt that challenge with Steve Carell in Foxcatcher. But it’s an exciting challenge. I grew up watching the work of Dick Smith who did the makeup for The Exorcist and The Godfather. His specialty were these beautiful, subtle, realistic makeup jobs. You hope that one day you get that special opportunity--that you get the right actor coupled with the right opportunity. That came to fruition with All the Way, to be able to do an American President, and to be able to check that box working with arguably one of our greatest actors.

I’ve been fortunate. Just look at this past year with All the Way and the feature Deadpool, two projects that couldn’t be more different. Having fun with a Marvel character was a great ride. For these two projects to come out even better than you might have expected has been a great blessing.

Credits for ScreenWork: 

Jay Roach, director; Jim Denault, DP.