TCM Classic Film Festival 2012: An Exclusive Interview with Rick Baker

Makeup artist Rick Baker has won seven Academy Awards for his work

I saw a special you did for TCM about the makeup on Fredric March for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Was that the first film you saw that made you love monster makeup? Or was there some film you saw as a child and you went, “This is it!”?
Rick Baker: It wasn’t one of the first ones I saw. My father actually saw that movie when it came out, he told me about it, and I so wanted to see it, but it wasn’t one that they played on television a lot when I was a kid.

The first films I saw were on television and this was when television was new. It was a different thing than it is now. Almost every state in the United States had a horror host that showed a scary movie on Friday or Saturday night. That’s how I saw Frankenstein and Dracula and The Wolf Man, all the Universal horror films. Those were a lot of the first ones I saw. Along with the B-movies and stuff. But I really credit the Universal films more.

Are you a fan of Werewolf of London?
RB:
Yes. Very much so. Those were the ones that kinda, like, got me hooked. I actually saw the Fredric March Jekyll and Hyde at the art museum here on La Brea and Stuart Walker, who directed it, was speaking. That was the first time I saw it. I was probably twenty or something. It wasn’t one they showed that often. I know they show it on TCM now. But for some reason it didn’t make it in that package.

Could you speak a little bit about your work on An American Werewolf in London? It was sort of the breakout film for you. I love the makeup in that film. It’s unbelievable. Even today – it’s thirty years old – and you watch it and it’s still some of the best effects makeup ever.
RB:
Thank you.

How did you go about creating those?
RB:
The funny thing was I did John Landis’s first film. This movie called Schlock, which was like a $30,000 movie. John played this schlockthropist who wears this ape-man makeup that I did on him.

He had already written An American Werewolf in London. This was while I was twenty years old, he was twenty-one — he’s like half a year older than me. He said, “I want to do this transformation in a way that it hasn’t been done.” He said, “I cannot believe if you are going to change into a wolf-man or Mr. Hyde or whatever, you’re going to sit in a chair and wait for it, wait for the transformation to take place. Show the pain.

We both loved those films. Loved the transformations.

Fredric March as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

As it turns out the Fredric March transformation is actually so much better than anything they have in The Wolf Man. It’s really cleverly done. There’s a lot of cool techniques.

In fact, I don’t think I had seen the Fredric March film at the time he was telling me this, so I said, “Cool, I’d like to do that.” And he said, “This is going to be my next movie, so figure it out.” So I started thinking about it, but cut to ten years later when we finally made it. I had a long time to think about it.

David Naughton in An American Werewolf in London

The thing that amazes me is that my crew were kids. I mean, the average age of the crew – I mean I had like six people that worked with me on that movie. It was one of the first times I really had a crew, so to speak, and they were guys who had sent me fan-mail. I brought one kid out from Texas and one kid from Connecticut. Because they didn’t exist, you know, there weren’t films like that and I had a training period. I spent time training these guys.

I’ve been working on a book about my career, and I’ve been looking at pictures of these kids that worked for me on that. And you know, like you said, the number of people sending me “that stuff still holds up today” and it’s amazing when you think that the average age of the guy that was working with me was eighteen, I was thirty, that we managed to do that.

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