I met Göran Lundström in London where he has been working a lot over the past few years. He was already a prosthetic legend and a big name in Hollywood. But still very down to earth and humble, quintessentially Swedish in that sense, I would say. A guy who worked on films like Star Wars, Harry Potter, Batman, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil – to name a few, and recently on The House of Gucci. This time we are meeting in Stockholm to talk about his latest Oscar nomination for his spectacular transformation of Jared Leto. He needs to be back to his warehouse right after lunch, so we have less than an hour to eat and talk.
You’re one of the most successful people from Stockholm in the film industry. How did your journey start?
When I was 17, I think, but I have always wanted to make movies. I read an article about makeup effects then I took a course like theatrical make up just to see how it works. And then I started doing amateur projects with friends and then I did a project for the Stadsteatern and they taught me there how to make wigs. I did something for a play at my mum’s work which wasn’t a real job. I don’t recall my first paid project though. I don’t remember, it was such a long time ago (laugh).
Since then you have been nominated by the Academy twice – it is a massive achievement.
If you say so.
Do you disagree?
No haha. It’s fun.
How do you choose your projects?
Up to like a few years ago, most of the jobs that came my way, I just took them. Because they don’t pay that well in Sweden. So in order to be able to have employees and to have a workshop and survive, you kind of do every job, so it’s commercials and stuff. Then I ended up doing this TV series and it was way too much work and I wasn’t quite happy with the results because of a lot of circumstances, so I rethought what I was doing. I can’t do my job if I can’t do my best. If I can’t get the best results, it makes me really unhappy and it was one of those. I started questioning if I wanted to do this. So I took a long break to figure out what I like about this job, if I wanted to be in charge or do I like to sit and do things with my hands. What about this job is giving me something in return, not just money. And that happiness gave me more money because I started picking my projects a little more carefully. Before I was doing jobs a lot of people were able to do. Now I am focusing on projects where only a few people can get a good result. This is why I decided to work on Gucci, because I knew I could do it pretty well compared to the others.
What is your favourite project you have worked on?
Once you’ve done the job you get tired of looking at it. But with House of Gucci we’ve got enough distance to it and after six months I take the makeup out of the context and I think it is still a good makeup. Like people say it looks real and I am very happy with it. I am proud of what we have done. There is no trick to make the makeup look believable, this is the most difficult part. There’s loads of circumstantial reasons why the makeup sometimes looks real and sometimes not, it is hard to explain.
Some people couldn’t recognise Jared Leto in the movie. How much of the effect was it the prosthesis and how much was his skills as an actor?
I was impressed by his transformation, how he lent his face, how he used his voice and his gestures. His persona was so different from what Jared is normally. He is a pretty boy, he doesn’t look 50 and he doesn’t act like this in real life. And the fact he uses his face a lot, which in makeup is really difficult, people usually feel restricted from the silicone glued all over their face. They are careful and don’t know how much to emote and to use facial expressions. I think Jared is one of the best actors I’ve ever seen in makeup. I didn’t see him doing this, but I guess he must have gone to the mirror afterwards to figure out what he could do with his face. He made the makeup look better. He used it in a very smart way, I really like that.
It should be an Oscar in my opinion.
Well, we can’t change the way they voted haha.
Ok, so we agree he is a great actor. Was he easy to work with? Give us some gossip!
Well, he has a reputation. So people emailed me and told me he is difficult. I didn’t see that side of him. He was very patient. That was a long and very difficult makeup. We put glue in his hair, we did so many things to him. It was a very long application time. It just took forever to hide his long hair to start.
How long does it take to apply the makeup?
It usually takes 3 hours, in Jared’s case it was four, sometimes even longer. And he was very patient. I was like, who sits still for that long without complaining or anything. I think for the goblins in Harry Potter we also had 3 and a half hours.
So what was your role in the latest Batman?
I only applied the makeup. I work quite a lot with Mike Marino who designed the makeup and he called me because they (the producers) didn’t want to pay him to be on the set because he is too expensive. So he said he will only do it if I apply it. So I said yes to that and then I flew to London in 2020 and worked for 4 weeks and then the pandemic hit us and they shut us down.
And then you had covid.
Yeah, then I had covid and all the stress. I didn’t finish the film. But I did a bunch of makeup there, I did Robert Pattinsson one day, some injuries as well. But none of this makeup was mine. Which was fun, because you try to do your best with what you have. But when you do the makeup from start to finish, you’re pretty much already tired of it when you start to apply it. You’re done with weeks and weeks of creating it.
How do you start working on a new project? Do you have a vision, ideas?
It’s always different. Usually I try to figure out what the director’s or the producer’s idea of the character is. Whoever is the creator, they have the best idea what this film is and the context of it. I don’t necessarily have the big picture of the film. I try to find out what they are thinking but it doesn’t mean this is how it’s going to look like. It gives me a box to work within. If their idea isn’t going to work I tell them. Which was the case on Border, the Swedish film we have been nominated for by the Academy. I got the director’s idea and I had the feeling it wasn’t the best. I work so much with faces and that felt a bit too easy in a sense. I wanted to find something more interesting but I still knew where we wanted to end up, so I didn’t go that far from his idea. But there are projects where for instance they need an alien or a monster and no one has an idea how the alien should look like, so it is my job to create the creature.
How long does the creative process take?
Depends. The House of Gucci was really fast. Not enough time to think it through, one day notice, three weeks to make the makeup – not just to design but to build. Usually I need a week or two to get my head around the idea and then to make one makeup takes me about four, five weeks. Then you want to do a test makeup, and usually not just one test. With monsters it is easier, with realistic makeups you need more time and more test makeup. I resculpted half of Jared’s makeup while we were filming. But on the other hand, having too much time wouldn’t be good either. But I’m guessing other people have different timelines.
So what is the process itself. You work with silicone. What technology do you use?
It’s always different. We used to photoshop design, I mean originally it was obviously drawings, then Photoshop and we still use it a lot Photoshop, but also 3D design like a 3D model instead and with technology that is quicker and less complicated. I think that is becoming more and more common amongst everyone now. But it’s still not how it’s going to look, just representing. It’s like a drawing of the building, it’s not an actual building yet. Then you have a head cast and you sculpt the new face on that. Today we use 3D scan even though I think an old school cast is better, it’s easier with the scan. Now people are experimenting with printing the molds, but it’s never going to look better. It can be easier, faster, cheaper, but never better. It’s like talking about traditional film and digital, you know.
Long way to reach the same quality.
I know you have to run now, so last question – what are your tips on how to follow your passion and make money?
I think in any career it is about dedication. I’ve noticed these days what’s lacking is real passion and getting really good at what you do. If you’re good, you will survive.
How simple is that! Thank you so much for your time and see you soon.
Thank you! I have to say hi to a friend who runs this place now.
All photos courtesy of Göran Lundström.