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Craftsmen dissect Robert Downey Jr.’s appearance




Craftsmen dissect Robert Downey Jr.'s appearance

When “The Sympathizer” showrunner and director Park Chan-Wook was brainstorming ideas for HBO’s latest miniseries, one scene struck him as a “quintessential American institution that represented the idea of ​​America.” It took place in a steakhouse where several characters gathered.

Based on the best-selling novel by Viet Thanh Nguyen and set at the end of the Vietnam War, “The Sympathizer” follows a captain, played by Hoa Xuande, in the South Vietnamese Army who secretly spies for the North Vietnamese communists. As Saigon falls and the US withdraws, the captain remains embedded and flees to Los Angeles. Robert Downey Jr. pops up throughout as various characters interact with the captain, including Claude, the captain’s CIA contact, as well as a professor, a congressman, and an author.

Park toyed with the idea of ​​casting Mark Ruffalo and even Josh Brolin along the way, but ultimately decided to flip the script and have one actor represent America through the roles. Park thought, “Despite having different jobs and characteristics, they all share one body.” He adds, “Essentially, they represent America as a whole.” And so Downey seemed like the perfect choice.

But it took a group of artisans to transform the actor into the different characters. Here they analyze the appearance and what happened in transforming the actor.


Robert Downey Jr. as Claude, the CIA informant.

The idea of ​​Claude’s relationship with the captain was that he was a father figure to him.

Downey’s transformation began with Vincent Van Dyke (FX prosthetic designer). Due to time constraints, he chose not to start digital concept work. “I immediately started sculpting and had all four plaster heads on one table,” says Van Dyke. “I was sculpting hair, eyebrows and mustaches, trying to get an overall feel and vibe of what these characters would look like.”

The approval process also differed. Instead of sending photos back and forth, Park, Downey and executive producers Susan Downey and Amanda Burrell came to his studio in Burbank and discussed the ideas in person.

Of the four characters, Van Dyke says Claude evolved the most during the discussion process. “The idea was for him to feel cool and that he had seen some shit,” Van Dyke says.

Susan Downey notes that Claude’s hair was something that changed. Given his military background, there were conversations about whether he should get a buzzcut.

“Robert specifically wanted him to be incredibly inoffensive. Just someone you meet on the street and you wouldn’t think twice about it,” says Susan Downey. “Whenever you see him, especially when he’s in America, he’s always in some disguise, but it’s subtle. He has a book when he plays a tour guide, and he always has a dog.

She adds: “Claude is the friendly guy you meet on the street who you don’t think twice about, but maybe he can handle some business in a dark alley.”

Hair Department Head Katherine Kousakis raised several ideas during the discussion.

“We started with a Robert Redford look,” says Kousakis. But the look didn’t click for anyone. She reveals that it took at least two weeks to source photos and brainstorm ideas, including a flat-top mold, but nothing stood out.

“Eventually Robert sent me a picture of a friend of his, and it was just this balding, very craggy and curly hair, and we went from there,” says Kousakis. “We improved the color and there was more red-orange.”

Once they settled on the hair, it was about amplifying nuances to bring the character to life, like a cauliflower ear and a nose that looked like it had been broken and reset a few times.

The interview process to transform Downey into Claude took no more than an hour. Van Dyke says, “We were short on time, so I made sure we streamlined things. There were earplugs on both: one to kick his ear out to give him a subtle cauliflower ear; the other ear was a little bit backwards, so there’s a real asymmetry there.”

Downey had a nosepiece along his bridge, giving him a “boxier nose.” He also had jaw pieces and custom contact lenses, which Van Dyke says were hand-painted to change his eye color.

Kousakis adds, “We decided that his skin tone would be lighter and he would have freckles with ginger hair.” These additions, along with giving him blue eyes, were some of the traits that developed along the way.

Professor Hamer

Robert Downey Jr. as Professor Hammer.

Like Claude, Professor Hammer is a mentor and father figure to the Captain. The Professor, first introduced in Episode 2, is an old college professor who knows the Captain.

The professor quickly came to life because Downey had a vision of what he would look like.

“Robert was willing to shave his head for this,” says Van Dyke. With Downey’s willingness, this meant that Van Dyke could forego making a bald cowl, which meant the actor spent less time in the makeup chair. “Because the look changed so much and we didn’t know where he was going to land and in what order, Robert was like, ‘Fuck it, I’m going to shave my head and make it easier for everyone so we can do it. change my hairline as we want. ”

During the discussion of what the professor would look like, Downey suggested the port wine stain on the professor’s head, as well as the large stomach scar. In episode 2, the professor changes into a kimono, revealing his large belly and a scar, for which Van Dyke has made a full prosthetic piece. Downey suggested that the professor’s spleen should be removed, hence the scars.

‘It’s a completely enveloping piece that goes from the top of the chest to his stomach. The chest hairs are individually smashed, and there is hair around his nipples, and this grotesque scar – all art directed by Robert,” Van Dyke explains. “I also wanted him to have this John Waters moustache, a thin moustache.”

The application process took makeup artists Chris Burgoyne and Mike Mekash 90 minutes. Burgoyne’s story behind the scarring was that it was “primitive by modern medical standards.” He was partying in a third world country and suffered a medical complication and they had to perform emergency triage on him.

And while Claude had a more angular shape, the professor was rounder and softer. “We also wanted to age him up a bit, so he wears little prosthetics to lengthen his earlobes and give him a nice, fleshy extension,” says Burgoyne. “He wears eye bags. Its nose piece is split in two, making its tip wider.”

The Congressman

Robert Downey Jr. as a congressman

According to Susan Downey, the congressman was the least nuanced in terms of design, and the only interesting detail was the actor’s black contact lenses. “There’s no light in those eyes.”

Van Dyke says the team wanted to create a character that “instantly feels smarmy. You don’t know if you trust this man, and yet he is incredibly charming and attractive. Robert really wanted to reflect that in this design.”

For Kousakis, it was easy to get the hair right, as he would be a textbook example of a 1970s politician. “We knew how to separate the line further back. The color was easy, we also saw it a bit older and gray.”

Van Dyke wanted to give him a chiseled appearance, so he created a prosthetic that reshaped Downey’s lower lip, resulting in a distinct profile.

The author

Robert Downey Jr. as an author

The author, introduced in episode 3, is someone the captain meets in Los Angeles. Its atmosphere is European and exudes the endearing charm of the seventies. Van Dyke says, “His hair is a mess and he has a vibrato. You have the feeling that he is an oil painter by night and makes films by day.’

Kousakis built a wig that was permed with free-flowing curls to give him a tousled look. She chose chocolate for the color. “The chocolate blast made him happy and showed the extent of the curl on camera,” she says.

When designing his appearance, Van Dyke wanted him to have a distinctive nose. “Robert steps in and says, ‘Let’s give him a mole.’”

Of all the characters, Van Dyke says, Downey is the most prominent here. “The nose changes a person so much, and it’s the choices we make that differentiate these characters enough to give you a different aesthetic than the others.”