Johnny Depp is known for being something of a chameleon in his roles, excluding his time as an animated Chameleon in the movie Rango. The often drastic measures he takes to fully adopt the role are aided substantially by the efforts of award winning makeup artists, and his recent attempt to portray the infamous gangster James “Whitey” Bulger is no exception.
Depp took on the role for the film “Black Mass”, which premiered this week to extremely positive reviews and box office success. It is a biographical account of a murderous gangster who informed on other criminals to the FBI to clear the playing field for his own criminal activities. Bulger is currently serving multiple life sentences for 19 murders and a host of other crimes including everything from extortion to weapons smuggling.
The transformation for Depp from Hollywood actor into a 60 year old out of shape Boston criminal was drastic to say the least. Joel Harlow, who won the Academy Award for Best Makeup and Hairstyling for his work on Star Trek in 2009, was up to the substantial task.
Aging a younger actor can be difficult, though Harlow was able to take advantage of some tried and true techniques for making young skin look old that have been used in film for years. What was truly interesting and innovative was Harlow’s treatment of Depp’s hairline.
Depp has a full head of hair, but he was not asked to cut off a single strand. Instead, Harlow created a prosthetic that covered Depp’s hair and served as a base for the thinned look needed to age Bulger. Harlow painstakingly implanted individual human hairs into the Bulger prosthetic that took nearly 22 hours. That does not sound like much until one takes into account that every day of shooting required a different headpiece. 50 prosthetics and a 1,000 hours later, Harlow has put together a look that has residents of Bulger’s old Boston neighborhood turning their heads thinking Whitey had found a way out of prison.