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Chinese actress Xun Zhou's amazing 'Cloud Atlas' transformations -- EXCLUSIVE

Xun-Zhou-and-Tom-Hanks.jpg

Xun Zhou may not be a known name in the United States, but in China she’s seriously huge: a doe-eyed, high cheek-boned beauty with statuesque charm. That’s what makes her three very different characters and looks in centuries-spanning sci-fi film Cloud Atlas – from a blue-eyed tribal woman in 2346 and a bob-haired clone in 2144 to a male hotel manager in 1973 – all the more striking.

Zhou, in her Western film debut, stars alongside a slew of famous American faces – Halle Berry, Tom Hanks, Hugh Grant, Susan Sarandon among them – playing multiple roles in the movie, which opened on Friday. Makeup artist Daniel Parker (The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty) and costume designer Pierre-Yves Gayraud (Albert Nobbs), and makeup artist Jeremy Woodhead (V for Vendetta, The Lord of the Rings films), and costume designer Kym Barrett (The Matrix, The Amazing Spider-Man) worked in teams to create the actress’ looks for the film, which stretches six plotlines and 500 years. EW spoke exclusively to Woodhead, Parker and Barrett, and with Gayraud and Zhou by email, on Zhou’s radical transformations, and what it was like for her to take on the features of a European woman, and a man.

“The great challenge is not to have it look like makeup, but to have a delicate touch,” said Woodhead. “To believe it, as not just ‘that’s black makeup, or white makeup.’ For the cameos, people have to accept it right there and then.”

Zhou as Rose

In the plotline based in the futuristic yet tribal year of 2346, Zhou plays Rose, the sister-in-law of Zachry (Tom Hanks). A stranger to their gritty encampment, Meronym (Halle Berry), saves Rose’s daughter after she’s attacked by an animal. “For Rose, I become a white, Caucasian woman. After the makeup, I think my features resemble[d] some Columbians I’d seen before, exotic enough to the Chinese eye,” said Zhou.

Shifting Zhou’s face and ethnicity, however, was a challenge, Woodhead said. “We made her eyes blue, like Tom’s. She wore blue lenses. There was a prosthetic forehead and nose,” he said. “Asians have a flat eyelid. I created a false crease in the end of the prosthetic, to create a more European eye. There were tribal tattoos to be done. They were all over her body, all over her legs and her arms, and that was quite complicated to do. Finally, we put all her own Chinese hair away. She still looked kind of Asian, until we put a curly wig on her. She called all her friends in, and said, ‘I’m white! I’m white!’”

As for the character’s woven clothes, Barrett used a color that complemented Zhou’s altered face and eyes. “I put her in yellow, because in some ways she’s a heroine, and holds a kind of special place, and is the hearth of the family,” Barrett said. “Every costume she has is a golden yellow…  like a sunrise. She was very pretty, anyway. She was easy.”

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