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Playing’s the thing, says Oscar winning special effects make up maestro Rick Baker, who has turned many actors into monsters, not least Michael Jackson – and now Benicio Del Toro.

You are such a legend – what is it about werewolves … ?
Rick Baker: Well, I love to do it. People always ask what the fascination for me is. I always love the combination of man and beast. Everyone has a beast in them somewhere and it’s fun to bring that out. Benicio is a very committed and intense actor but he is also a monster movie fan. If he and I lived in the same neighbourhood we would have been friends. I really felt that when we were doing this movie it was like two kids playing monster together. He used to play the Wolfman when he was a kid, so we were like two grownups playing like kids.

The original film was made in 1941. How much further can you go now?

Rick Baker: I never pursue films, I would usually rather people come to me but I’m very fond of the “The Wolfman”. Its films like that that made me want to do what I do and there have been a lot of advances in technology. The transformations are always fascinating and I kind of changed the way people thought about transformations like in “An American Werewolf in London.” This is before digital technology. I think people are always fascinated with how someone would change. It was a tough road to figure out how we were going to do it. They used a lot of my initial designs and ideas for the transformation but it was all done on computer. I would have liked to have done more make up because I think it’s still an option but I think what they did was spectacular.

What about all the other elements of the body like the legs?
Rick Baker: I stayed very old school with the techniques I used. The makeup I did on Benicio’s face is very similar technique to what Jack Pierce did in 1941. I really wanted to pay more homage. We had leg extensions and I had a complete suit. They told me he would have clothes on but I learnt from my very first film to always be prepared, so you can see he has head to toe hair, although in most of the film he is wearing clothes. To me it wasn’t about using the most modern tools and techniques than it was about honouring all that had come before.

Probably the most famous person you turned into a werewolf was Michael Jackson in the video for “Thriller”. What are you memories of that?
Rick Baker: That was a really fun project. I was really concerned when John Landis told me that Michael Jackson was a big fan of “American Werewolf” and wanted to turn into a werewolf. I thought he was a big rock star, so he would be a pain to work with but that was not the case at all. He liked the makeup and he liked being made up; he was really a pleasure to work with. When Michael came to my shop he was such a quiet shy meek boy, you wouldn’t think he was the same person that was onstage. It was around the time of the Motown 25 Special where he moon walked for the first time; one of my assistants taped it and said you are not going to believe this kid that was sitting in the makeup chair. Now that’s a transformation.

Published June 10, 2010

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Rick Baker


Dir. Joe Johnston
While in London on a theatrical tour in 1891, Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro), the son of nobleman Sir John Talbot (Anthony Hopkins) now living in America as an actor, receives a letter from his brother's fiancée, Gwen Conliffe (Emily Blunt), requesting his help after his brother’s disappearance. Reunited with his estranged father, Lawrence sets out to find his brother. He learns that something with brute strength and insatiable bloodlust has been terrifying the community around Blackmoor. Scotland Yard inspector Francis Aberline (Hugo Weaving) has come to investigate, but as Lawrence’s own search intensifies, he discovers shocking family secrets that trigger a tragic and bloody chain of events.
Available on DVD from June 10, 2010

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