‘True Detective’ Hair & Makeup Designers Take On Three Timelines And “Hyper-Realistic” Aging In Season 3

Prosthetic makeup designer Mike Marino and Stephen Dorff behind the scenes of 'True Detective'

For John Blake, Brian Badie and Mike Marino, three newcomers to the world of True Detective, the anthology series’ third season was a huge undertaking, in terms of demands that were placed on the makeup and hair departments.

Starring Mahershala Ali, Stephen Dorff and Carmen Ejogo, the latest installment of the HBO crime drama cut back and forth between the 1980s, 1990s and 2015, unraveling the crime that changed the lives of two Arkansas detectives.

Overseeing the ‘80s and ‘90s time periods were Badie and Blake, heads of the hair and makeup departments, who took a large ensemble of characters through a variety of period-appropriate looks, working to keep the series’ timelines straight in their heads while shooting out of order, with only a few scripts provided in advance of the shoot.

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Then, there was Marino, True Detective’s newest prosthetic makeup designer, who brought the show’s leads into their twilight years with stunning realism. With only 12 weeks to design looks for Ali, Dorff and others, Marino worked tirelessly on the “gigantic magic trick” that would allow for some of the year’s best performances to emerge. “It’s not like some jobs, where it’s a one scene kind of thing,” the prosthetic designer reflects. “This whole series anchored on their aging makeup, going into the ’80s, the ’90s, and modern times.”

Mahershala Ali in 'True Detective'
Warrick Page/HBO

For all three artists, the goal on Nic Pizzolatto’s series was to foster looks that were as real as could be—the ultimate source of pride, being that each one was able to do so.

“I’m not the type of stylist or designer that is going for the most glamorous thing all the time. For me, the biggest reward is the realism behind it—that it looks like this person did their own hair that morning and got up and went to the office, and that was their real life,” Badie says. “It’s almost like I forget that I had anything to do with it, because the characters came to life so well on screen.”

What made True Detective’s third season exciting for you to be a part of?

John Blake: I thought it was cast really well, and the scripts were really good and compelling. I liked the way it jumped around different times, from the ‘80s and ‘90s into present day. I thought those were all terrific storytelling elements—and great opportunities for makeup, too.

Brian Badie: Creatively, I was interested from the beginning because ‘80s hair is one of my favorites, even though it was known to be one of the most horrible hair periods for us. That was the era that I was a teenager, and it was really great for me to be able to bring the vision to screen with these characters.

Mike Marino: I was a fan of the show already; the first season was just an immediate classic. Jeremy Saulnier, who directed some of the episodes this season, reached out to me and really pushed for me to do this project since I’d done a few of his films in the past, and I had worked with Mahershala Ali on The Place Beyond the Pines, so there was already a comfort level there for him with me. The writing was so good on the show, and everybody was open to the aging makeups in the show being the best they possibly could be, so they went to every extent to accommodate us. They gave us time and tests and all the things that we needed to make it as good as we can, because if you don’t do that, you’re rolling the dice.

Mahershala Ali and Stephen Dorff in 'True Detective'
Warrick Page/HBO

When you first met with the producers of True Detective, what was discussed, in terms of the vision for hair and makeup in Season 3?

Badie: Honestly, they were pretty easy, as far as producers go in my career. Nic definitely trusted us to bring his characters to life, so they only had a few particular [requests]. For example, Scott [Stephens, executive producer] did not want men to have the center part—that feathery kind of [look]. That was the only note I got, and after that, I had creative license. It was really kind of refreshing.

Blake: I feel the same way.

Marino: Nic’s writing was very specific, and the story in itself doesn’t work without these characters [having] a believability in their ages. It really was vital to the storytelling that [the actors] were able to be convincing older people, and in my career, it is the most difficult task to do a realistic makeup. If you’re doing an alien, no one really knows what that looks like, so there could be flaws, technically, and no one may notice. But when you’re dealing with a realistic makeup on such famous actors, in close-up, there’s really no room for error. It’s really a huge undertaking, so that was really important to Nic, to the producers, Scott and Peter [Feldman], and to me.

How many scripts did you receive in advance of shooting?

Blake: We got a couple up front, which was necessary because we had to prepare certain things, like prosthetics or contact lenses. We had to be a little bit ahead of the game, but we didn’t get all eight at once, so we got to find out how it all worked out along with everyone else.

What inspired the looks you created for the season’s central characters? How did you deal with the challenge of taking them through three time periods?

Badie: For the principal characters, I wanted to go for the Type A look of the period, because I felt like each one of them could be that person. In my research for Stephen, I came across some footage of Robert Redford in Brubaker and I was inspired by that look. Coincidentally, it was also an Arkansas story, and I didn’t even know. So, I figured that would be a nice place to start, and gave Stephen a different version of it, because Roland was supposed to be a ladies’ man type of guy.

True Detective
HBO

Whatever period it was, Carmen was the one who set the tone for women in general. If there was the “hot girl” look at the time, Carmen’s character Amelia was that. So, I’m thinking, “Well, what look per period is that girl?” That one girl you knew in school who had the “it” haircut, and was always dressed ahead of the game.

That’s how I went about making all the looks for the principals. Then, researching the entire show, I just compiled all these different photos and inspirations that I got from yearbooks, magazines, because I like to be inspired by real people. The Brubakerthing was kind of rare for me because generally, I don’t want to [look at] a Hollywood story to create another Hollywood story. I’d rather take it from real life.

Blake: I knew that Stephen had a certain length of stubble and a certain shape of sideburns for his ‘80s look, and another length of stubble, and another bit of sideburns for his ‘90s look. Then, the present-day look was with the prosthetics, so he had to shave down to get the prosthetics done. For about half of the show, he could grow his own sideburns and stubble, and sometimes, I had to reapply it with glue and hair.

I knew we weren’t going to be able to shoot all the ‘80s at once, all the ‘90s at once, and all the old age at once, so I got prepared. Because there were going to be some weeks where we were going to have to shoot all three, I had to come up with a game plan for being able to replicate what Stephen had grown out himself, and come up with some clear, distinct looks for Carmen, too. When she was a schoolteacher, she’d be looking one way. When she’d be going out to dinner, she’d be looking another way—keeping within the period, and what worked well for her, as well.

Was it particularly challenging to handle the different time periods, given the large ensemble you were working with?

Badie: Normally, it could be challenging for period because [with] everyone’s contemporary hair, wigs are very important. It was a blessing that I was working with John, who has a wig company. I was able to go directly to his company, and basically I had 40 wigs sitting in the trailer at my disposal, so I had everything covered. Normally, I wouldn’t have these wigs in trailer on set. I would have to order them, and therefore it kind of goes against spontaneity. You just don’t have that type of stock wig collection in your trailer at your disposal.

Mahershala Ali and Carmen Ejogo in 'True Detective'
Warrick Page/HBO

Mike, what is your general approach to aging makeups? What does their success depend on?

Marino: My approach is always different, depending on who is wearing the makeup. I approached Ali and Stephen Dorff in somewhat of a similar way, even though my pieces may have varied in where they were. Mahershala Ali’s face is so smooth and perfect, there’s really not much to play off of, so I knew that he needed a forehead and a neck, and some eye bags and things like that. The difference with Stephen Dorff is that his forehead is so mobile that I didn’t need a forehead for him. So, I varied it in that sense.

But in a generality, I always try to keep as much of the actor there as I can, and not cover them up with so many prosthetics just because you can. Essentially, I do a portrait of what I want them to look like as an older person, and I build the makeups according to how it’s going to move best. It’s vital to the success of a makeup where the pieces begin and end, if they’re in mobile areas, or if they’re not in mobile areas.

How do you typically arrive at that initial portrait?

Marino: Once I have the actor’s lifecast, I’ll take photographs of them moving around at every angle possible—bending their neck down, raising their forehead, smiling really wide. At that point, I can identity where they would move best if I added a piece there. I kind of examine their faces and assume where they would get older—like, “Stephen would probably have his hanging neck there.” I kind of guess, but they’re educated guesses based on the movements of their skin, and that kind of thing.

What was it like going into True Detective with Ali, after working together on The Place Beyond the Pines?

Marino: I did a makeup on Ali on Pines [when] he gets punched by Ryan Gosling. I think he also did a very minor makeup for Benjamin Button, but nothing where he was starring in the entire show—nothing where he was in a hyper-realistic makeup featured in close-up. So, I think everybody was really careful as to what the approach would be. But we had a great relationship. He was very open with me, and I was open with him, and we would be texting and talking about the approach—and he had some great insight, as well. He sent me photos of his own grandfather, and I studied those and could see how he’d aged, so that was helpful.

Mahershala Ali and Stephen Dorff in 'True Detective'
Warrick Page/HBO

So, we kind of took it step by step, and made sure we were in a really good spot. When we first did tests, the tests were really successful, everybody was really happy, and Ali was just getting used to what this was like. In the beginning, he was like, “Oh my god, am I going to be able to move my face? What can I do?” and he would learn what he could do, expression-wise. Since this is such a collaborative thing, it’s not just me doing a really cool makeup; it’s Ali acting, and learning how this makeup moved best. So, we would work together, and it’s like you’re jamming together, like you’re in a band. What counts is what goes on that camera in the end, so it was a real collaborative effort.

John and Brian, as department heads, how did your processes integrate with Mike’s?

Blake: Mike and I have known each other for years, and know what each other’s abilities are, so we just had this understanding between us. I could take care of the smaller prosthetics—the cuts, the black eyes, the broken noses and cut lips, and scars, and smaller aging appliances on Carmen—and he could take care of the heavy-duty appliances.

Badie: Once you go through the prosthetics process, I’ll then go in the trailer and actually style the hair. For Stephen in particular, after they applied all his prosthetics, I’d go in and cut the wig initially, and then style it day-to-day, so it would look like an even fusion of all the artistry coming together.

Marino: Mahershala had his personal makeup artist, Debi Young, and also a personal hairstylist, Lawrence Davis, and everybody was just so great and friendly. If we needed each other, we’d help each other, but primarily we stuck to our departments.

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