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Style & Design

Johnny Knoxville's 'Bad Grandpa' could win an Oscar

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Image Credit: Sean Cliver

UPDATE (Jan. 16, 2014): Steve Prouty nominated for an Academy Award in Best Makeup and Hairstyling

ORIGINAL POST: Most Hollywood makeup artists breathe easier knowing that flaws in their work won’t be obvious to the audience thanks to elements like camera lenses and lighting — plus, any manner of sins can be corrected in post. The Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa crew didn’t have that luxury. Instead, they had to turn 40-something Johnny Knoxville into an 86-year-old man by creating a makeup that looked believable in real life to people who would be just inches away from the actor’s face.

Faced with a nearly 10-month long shoot, three-plus hour daily makeup sessions, and the ever-present possibility that Knoxville would do something like throw himself through a glass window, lead makeup special effects artist Steve Prouty knew he had his work cut out for him. And boy, did his work pay off.

Not only did Knoxville make a convincing octogenarian, now Prouty and his team are in contention for an Oscar.

Bad Grandpa is among the seven films on the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ shortlist for Best Makeup and Hairstyling.

Along with American Hustle, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Dallas Buyers Club, and The Great Gatsby, Grandpa is a semi-finalist in the hair and makeup category. That’s quite an honor considering that the list does not include The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Oz the Great and Powerful, or Lee Daniels’ The Butler. (Box office disappointments The Lone Ranger and Hansel & Gretel Witch Hunters did make the shortlist.)

Those familiar with the Jackass series have known Irving Zisman for years. The crotchety, lewd character made his big screen debut in 2002’s Jackass: The Movie. Still, the team wanted to take Irving’s look to the next level for Bad Grandpa. “This film completely hinged on him being realistic in public every day,” Prouty told EW. “We re-imagined him from the ground up. We redid Johnny’s head cast and all the mold work and just started anew.” The process took four weeks, after which the makeup was screen-tested, and the team went back to the makeup department to fix the details that weren’t working.

“We streamlined the prosthetics and made them much thinner, and we used better quality products. Silicone is much more realistic in person and on film.”

Irving’s hair was a particular sticking point. The pieces Prouty used for Jackass 1 and 2 were looking a little ratty. The team experimented with a “Friar Tuck” look and a comb over, but neither worked. “Knoxville definitely wanted him to be a handsome old guy,” Prouty explained. “We had all new hairpieces. They’re tied, one hair at a time, on a lace backing, which is a monotonous job that I would never do. I hire people for that one. They did some amazing hair work for us. The lace and everything virtually disappears once you sew them on.”

Once the look was camera ready, Prouty made sure that artists Will Huff, Bart Mixon and Jamie Kelman were always on hand to help apply the 10-piece prosthetic face — five additional prosthetic pieces were used for shots where the character’s body would be seen — and deal with unforeseen problems. “I think our best time was about 2 hours and 45 minutes, which sounds long but believe me it’s lightning fast for what we’re doing,” Prouty laughed.

Transformed into Irving, Knoxville wasn’t afraid to put the makeup team’s work to the test. “We tried to make it as bulletproof as possible so that we were prepared for anything,” said Prouty. “[Once, Knoxville] came back to the holding area [with] shards of glass sticking in the makeup that I had to pull out…. I thought we’d be done for the day. Nope. We went off and shot some more close-ups.”

In the end, only a few people caught on to Knoxville’s ruse — diehard Jackass fans who recognized the actor’s cadence, and one guy who assumed that Irving was just some old guy wearing a fake mustache.

On Jan. 11, the 135 members of the Makeup Artists & Hairstylists Branch will gather in Los Angeles to watch 10-minute, filmmaker selected segments for each of the seven shortlisted films. Ultimately, three nominees will be selected and announced — along with all the other Oscar nominees — on Jan. 16.

Whether or not Bad Grandpa is one of those three, Prouty is honored just to be considered for a nomination. “When we first got shortlisted to the seven, Knoxville sent me an email that said something to the effect of: ‘You know you might not realize this, but we’ve never gotten anywhere near this close to an Academy Award with a Jackass film.’ And I thought, ‘Yeah, yeah, I kind of got that.'”

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