The crucial moment in “Maestro,” when Bradley Cooper’s Leonard Bernstein furiously conducts Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 “Resurrection” at England’s Ely Cathedral in 1973, marks the culmination of Kazu Hiro’s remarkable transformation of the actor-director as the musical legend. This will likely earn the prosthetic makeup guru his third Oscar (following “Bombshell” and “Darkest Hour”).
Like Cooper, this was a passion project for Hiro, who dreamed of sculpting Bernstein’s face ever since he fell under its spell watching a documentary at the age of 19. Thus, the collaboration between actor-director and makeup artist became a close one in their shared desire to portray Lenny’s iconic look as authentically as possible (covering the ages of 25 to 71 in five stages). They even shared a room together, making it easier to apply the prosthetics in the middle of the night. Hiro had never before encountered anyone as open and communicative as Cooper, which enhanced the experience.
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Yet the six-minute conducting scene shot at the ancient, gothic cathedral was the most difficult for Hiro given that it was done in a single take by Oscar-nominated cinematographer Matthew Libatique and the physical demands of Cooper’s sweaty, energetic performance. (You can watch it in its entirety in the video above.) However, thanks to a YouTube video of Bernstein conducting at Ely Cathedral, the makeup artist had the best possible reference.
“That was actually one of the last scenes we shot because London filming was the last part of the whole schedule,” Hiro told IndieWire. “It’s always tricky to ship everything to London and to prepare and set up a trailer. So that was a lot of process, makeup-wise. Originally, we shot one day [inside the cathedral], but, according to Bradley, it didn’t go well [the timing was off].”
That’s when Cooper decided to re-shoot the scene in one shot with the Technocrane. This complicated the makeup for Hiro. “Usually, we start from a wide angle and get closer,” he said. “But this was all in one shot. It’s like so many parts are moving at the same time. There are over a hundred members of the London Symphony Orchestra playing with the singers and the background cast. Everything had to be right. So, right before filming, I had to make sure it looked right and then send him out. And then we had to leave because the camera was turning around everywhere.”
The day of the re-shoot was stressful for everyone, as Hiro once again aged Cooper up to 55 (applying the nose, lips, chin, cheeks, neck, and forehead before putting on the wig). “I’m sure he was thinking about what to improve, and there were a lot of ideas he was kind of circling around,” he added. “And then he left and we were notified that it would take a while, maybe hours. That was not normal, and then we went into lunch.”
This worried Hiro because he didn’t see Cooper for three hours, as they set up the Technocrane in the cathedral and prepped the scene. “And so I sneaked into the cathedral, and I was looking at him from a distance. He had just finished a wrap or a sandwich, and I got closer to him to check the makeup (he had on a high-collar shirt), and I noticed that the neck [piece] was rolled up. I asked, once he finished lunch, if I could have 10 minutes. So I fixed that and everything was secure.”
Because of all the sweating, Hiro also had to redden Cooper’s skin. His primary concern, though, was the lip piece coming off because Cooper kept opening his mouth so wide. Fortunately, the lip seal held up well. It was extra tight thanks to a previous day’s shoot, when Lenny passionately hugs and kisses his estranged wife, Felicia (Carey Mulligan), at the conclusion of the cathedral scene.
But that fleeting moment of passion between the couple was a brutal makeup job. “Carey has makeup on and Bradley has makeup on, and they both had noses, and they’re kissing and embracing very hard,” said Hiro. “Bradley didn’t want so much as a touch-up, so that’s why I had to make it stay all day while he directed, acted, and worked on the script.”
Yet Hiro noticed a big difference between the two shoots inside the cathedral. “On that second day, it’s almost like he was possessed by Lenny,” he said, “and it was really meaningful, too. He was in the makeup as Lenny, and then, finally, everything came together in that scene.”
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