In Black Mass, Johnny Depp takes on real life gangster James Bulger.Finely sculpted facial prosthetics were used to give Johnny Depp the visage of Whitey Bulger. Makeup department head Joel Harlow offers, “From the beginning, it was important to Johnny to look as much like Whitey Bulger as possible. We started with a cyber scan of his head and then, using reference materials from the Internet, I shaped silicone prosthetics. We went through a number of tests before finding what worked: focusing on the forehead and the nose to create an amalgam of Whitey and Johnny. We went to enormous lengths to get the density of the silicone correct, especially on the forehead, so Johnny’s expressions would come through organically.”
For Whitey’s distinctive hairline, the hair department, headed by Gloria Casny, began with Harlow’s silicone pieces that had been shaped precisely to Depp’s own head and extended over the forehead down to the eyebrows. Then special effects hair/wigmaker Khanh Trance spent dozens of hours punching thousands of individual strands of hair into the silicone to create the hairline as well as the brows. Casny explains, “She had to do one hair at a time to make it look the most natural. I then added a salt-and-pepper back wig to blend into the hairline and cover Johnny’s naturally dark hair.”
The job was made all the more daunting because each silicone piece could only be used once, “so we had to do new ones every single day,” Casny says. “At one point, we had two people helping Khanh in 12 hour shifts, 24 hours a day. We also had to show stages of aging, which we did by increasing the grey and thinning the hair. Different sideburns also reflected the changing times.”
“All in all, it’s a stunning transformation,” Director Scott Cooper sums up simply.