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Goodbye, Mr. Chips
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How to age an actor

The aging process: From 28 to 83
Goodbye, Mr. Chips' chief makeup artist Anne Spiers explains how she transformed 41-year-old actor Martin Clunes into both a younger and a much older Mr. Chips.



Martin isn't 28 -- although we made him look younger than he is to start with -- so the main way we achieved this younger age was to really go over the top with the effects in his older scenes... we're spanning so many years. It also helps to give the film a sense of time passing, as no one else really changes. The boys don't change very much... there are always new boys coming in, so we needed Martin's makeup to also help show that time is moving on.

His middle age is 60 years old. As people tend to age like their parents, Martin gave me a photo of his dad when he was about 55. That was our starting point.

First we made a head cast using plaster of paris. We started with alginate, which is what dentists use to take molds of people's teeth, and then put the plaster of paris on. When we did [that the first time], we used far too much plaster, which dragged his skin down, automatically aging him. It was a complete accident, but a fortuitous one!

Once the cast was finished, we then took hundreds of photos of him squinting his eyes up and making a double chin just to see how his skin and flesh moved. You pull your chin in to see how much of a double chin you get, and you squint your eyes to see where the lines go, and so on.

Together, the photos and the cast [of Clunes's head] gave me a great springboard to start work from. Basically I just looked at the cast and then start drawing on it to see what was possible with makeup. It was great. It sat on my kitchen table, and I lived with it for weeks! When I started prepping, Martin was on holiday, so his head cast was in the back of my car, and I took it out with me, under my arm, to the wigmakers and facial-hair makers. I just carried it round with me to all the different suppliers.

We made prosthetics to give him a double chin, which was an extension of his own when he pulled his face in. And he's got a false nose, because as you age your nose changes shape -- it gets bigger and gristlier. And the eyes droop. We've probably drooped them more than Martin's will in real life, but it's all artistic license, and we need to take it that much further. In reality Martin probably won't age anything like this, but it's what we felt Chips would look like.

It's also what people expect to see. We've tried to make him nice rather than scary or ugly. We've tried to make him comfortable to look at.

We've painted liver spots on his hands, as well as his face. Martin has such smooth skin, we needed to find a way to make it look more aged. At 83 he also has false teeth, milky contact lenses, and different hair.

It did take a long time -- three and a half hours -- to make Martin into Chips [at] age 83. But even age 60 took two and a half hours, because there was more artwork. The 60-year-old face is done with paints and not with prosthetic pieces. Pieces are easier to work with, because you can put on a chin and say, "He looks old," or you can put on eye bags and say, "He looks old." But with makeup you have to create more, so it's more time-consuming, more intricate.

The most difficult thing is continuity, which is hard when you have several changes in a day. Sometimes he went from being 60 to being 40, and on one day we had to do three different ages. We used latex, which left an impression of all the lines on his face when we took it off, so to try and make him look younger quickly needed lots of massaging and a lot of cream to get them to disappear.

Also, it was hard to go back to an early age. We did 60s and 40s for so long; to suddenly go back to being 28 was hard, because you've forgotten how you created it in the first place. So in some respects creating age 83 was slightly easier than some of the others.

What's strange is how my attitude changed towards him with each different age. Normally I was quite bossy with him, and we used to laugh and joke, with him calling me "Nanny." But when he was old, I wanted to be much more gentle with him, because he's in this character. When he's younger, you treat him differently. It is weird how you treat someone depending on what you see!


Essays + Interviews:
Author James Hilton | A history of Goodbye, Mr. Chips
An interview with the producers | How to age an actor



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Story Synopsis | Novel to Film | Russell Baker
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