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'Get Low's' Robert Duvall and makeup artist Ken Diaz on beards gone wild

January 13, 2011 |  1:30 pm

Get Low 

We wondered just what it took to turn Robert Duvall into a backwoods hermit with a wildly unkempt beard for his SAG Award-nominated role in "Get Low." So we went straight to the source -- well, the sources. Below, we hear first from makeup artist Ken Diaz, who created the massive beard, then we get the other side of the story. The veteran actor tells Awards Tracker about what it was like to work with the artist and about the awe the beard initially inspired. After hearing from them both, one thing quickly becomes clear: Each has a great admiration for the craftsmanship of the other.

Ken Diaz:

"In more than 30 years as a makeup artist for film and television, it is not very often that I get a call to work with an icon of American cinema like Robert Duvall. This is the man who played Tom Hagen in two of my favorite movies [‘The Godfather’ and 'The Godfather, Part II'] and Lt. Col. Bill Kilgore in ‘Apocalypse Now.’ He was the Great Santini. The same man who blew me away as Sonny in ‘The Apostle.’

"I was called in to transform Mr. Duvall into Felix Bush, circa 1930s rural Tennessee, a crotchety old hermit in self-exile for the last 40 years. Many stories are told about that ‘crazy old man’ who lives in that cabin in the woods, outside of town. Now, in declining health, Bush is a man on the road to repentance.

"In the film, Bush goes though a transformation, shaving down his wild-looking hair and beard into a more nicely groomed look. After reading the script, having conversations with the director, Aaron Schneider, and with Mr. Duvall, I took photos of Duvall and Photoshopped different before-and-after hair-and-beard looks.

"For Mr. Duvall’s old-hermit look, I designed a wild-looking beard and mustache. I worked very closely with Natascha Ladek of Favian Wigs to create a beard that had a good blend of colors, giving the beard depth, paying very close attention to proper hair-growth direction, density and mobility.

"I carefully applied the completed wild-looking hermit beard and mustache on Mr. Duvall, taking great care to hide his own mustache and goatee, which we needed to keep for his second look. I then applied a special hair gel to groom and give the hair a natural shine and texture.

"After I completed the makeup, hair stylist Colleen Callaghan would expertly apply Mr. Duvall’s long hermit hairpiece, to complete the look.

"For Mr. Duvall’s second look, I kept his own mustache and goatee neatly trimmed. I adjusted his makeup to show the various stages of Bush’s health throughout the film.

"I completed the look by gluing a pair of flesh-colored acrylic "ear braces" behind Mr. Duvall’s ears to give him a more interesting look.

"I feel both privileged and honored to have been given the opportunity to work so closely with Mr. Duvall, helping develop the look of his character and then watching him masterfully transform into another memorable screen character."

Keep reading for a Q&A with Duvall on beards gone wild.

Were you involved in the creation of the look? Were there specific visual references?
"All I told him was, I didn’t know if we were ever going to get to do “The Hatfields and the McCoys,” but pictures of them were a model I’d like to go for. So he went after it, and it was the best beard I’ve ever had on my face. That was a phenomenal beard he made, completely made by Kenny Diaz. He grew me the best beard I ever grew, every day."

So about how long did the process take?
"I don’t know, 30 minutes, 35, 40, somewhere in there. It didn’t take that long."

What else did he do to get the look?
"Just a few strokes here and there. He’s not too big on putting too much makeup on. You thought maybe that was a real beard? If I had to, I couldn’t grow anything. Well, I could grow something, but nothing like that. What he did was masterful, absolutely masterful."

What was your reaction when you got a good look at yourself?
"We did a little casual screen test; I think everybody was silent, pretty much in awe of what he had done."

What did it mean to your performance, anything?
"It gave me that whole thing about being a hermit in the woods, letting everything just go wild. He groomed it some, but that was an extension of the hermitic life that [the character] had in the woods for 40 years. If we ever did “The Hatfields and the McCoys,” we’d do a variation of that, and he would be absolutely the guy to do it. Ken Diaz is a master."

Photo: Robert Duvall in "Get Low." Credit: Sam Emerson / Sony Pictures Classics