In their characters' later years, Barrymore and Jessica Lange are hardly recognizable after special effects makeup designer Bill Corso finished aging them. But his process is visible from the start, when he shaved years off of both actresses for their early scenes. "The less makeup you put on Drew, the younger she looked," he says. Despite using a hand light enough to let her natural freckles show through, he still added blue contact lenses, a fake nose and a full set of false teeth, creating a baseline so he could later age the character's features, rather than the actress's.
Once Little Edie lost her hair and started wearing scarves, Corso had to create a false forehead for Barrymore. "Her actual hairline comes down really low. So we added about three inches of extra skin where her hair normally was, so we could pull the scarves way back." As Little Edie grew even older, he added hand-drawn sun spots as well as cellulite prosthetics the actresses nicknamed "cheese pieces."
Aging a woman with makeup can be difficult, Corso says, and it doesn't help that most actresses aren't interested in looking older. "It literally freaks them out. I've had women that won't leave the trailer. Our saving grace was that these two ladies were like, 'Absolutely. We want it all.' Jessica wanted us to make her an entire fat suit. At the end of the movie, there's not a speck of Drew's real skin showing. She's completely covered in prosthetics."
Corso employed a newly developed process for creating quicker, less expensive makeups using molded chunks of hardened glue. The thinner cheeks and jowls cut prep time in half while allowing more of the actresses' expressions to show through. But Big Edie's visage -- with its missing and crooked teeth -- took a bit of massaging to reach the fine line between convincingly decrepit and just plain scary. "HBO was just like, 'Can we have the incisor back?' We were tooth-trading. It was really funny," Corso says.
Making Grey Gardens
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Find out more about the actors in the film in the Cast and Crew section.