The second Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly appear onscreen in “Stan & Ollie,” there is no question that they are the legendary Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, respectively. The physical transformations masterminded by prosthetic makeup designer Mark Coulier and makeup and hair designer Jeremy Woodhead are that remarkable, enabling the actors to fully inhabit their roles.
Surprisingly, Coulier and Woodhead were not recognized with Oscar nominations for their standout work on the film, which explores the latter years of the comedy duo’s career, though they did nab two nominations from the Make-Up Artists and Hair Stylists Guild’s sixth annual awards —one for period and/or character make-up and another for special make-up effects.
A huge fan of Laurel and Hardy, Coulier, who has been honored with Academy Awards for his work on “The Iron Lady” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” tells Variety that he couldn’t turn down Jon S. Baird’s invitation to work on “Stan & Ollie” when he learned who the director had cast to play the icons.
“When I was told that it was Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly, it was ‘Yes!’ instantly,” Coulier says. “I could see that it was feasible.”
Still, it was challenging, particularly in the case of Reilly, whose entire body had to be transformed via body suits designed to add more weight to his frame. There were actually two bodysuits—one that Reilly wore in the part of the film set in the 1930s and another he donned for the scenes set in the 1950s when Hardy was much heavier.
“I had a conversation with John early on, and he said we needed to reinvent the bodysuit because he was familiar with wearing these kind of solid suits that don’t move,” says Coulier, who knew he could deliver. “I’ve got a very good fabricator, Jo Glover, who works with me a lot. She designed the suits and built them, and we put a lot of effort into making them as comfortable and as moveable as possible, and breathable as well.”
Reilly actually wore a cooling suit underneath each of the bodysuits. The apparatus was equipped with water tubes that pumped cold water around Reilly’s body in between takes to keep his core temperature down.
“If he got hot, the sweat would start to bubble through the edges of the prosthetics,” Coulier says, noting Reilly wore face, neck and hand prosthetics. “So it was very, very important to keep him cool.”
Prosthetics were also key to altering Coogan’s appearance, and, as with many actors, Coogan was wary of having his face altered too much, according to Coulier and Woodhead, who fully understood his concerns.
“When we initially started, we thought about him in a wig, and we also had a nose to put on him, but we found a sort of compromise—he was happy enough to be in the chair for the time it took to do the chin and the ears,” Woodhead says. “We didn’t feel that the benefits from the nose and the wig were such that they would warrant the extra time in the chair, so we dropped those, and we just concentrated on the chin and the ears.”
Both the prosthetic ears, which were made to stick out like Laurel’s famously did, and the chin prosthetic were key in making Coogan look the funnyman.
“Steve has a very fleshy, full bottom lip and an indent in his chin, which Stan didn’t have,” Woodhead points out. “So the prosthetics filled in the gap, and then with makeup, I would also creep up on to his lip and make his lower lip less fleshy.”
“Stan & Ollie” was shot in just eight weeks, and the prosthetics, makeup and hair team, which also included prosthetics sculptor and makeup artist Josh Weston, worked quickly and efficiently.
“It was a finely tuned machine by the end,” Woodhead says.
“There was little room to maneuver because we were on a very tight schedule. It was a fairly low-budget film, so we didn’t have the luxury of a schedule that allowed for overruns.”