How Ben Foster Transformed For HBO’s ‘The Survivor’
Muhammed Ali once said “Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion”.
The turn of phrase aptly applies to the life of Harry Haft, the Polish boxer from the Auschwitz concentration camp forced to literally fight for his life before becoming a professional boxer after World War II.
And we can also say of Haft’s eventual portrayer, actor Ben Foster, whose performance in HBO’s “The Survivor” ranks among those like Robert De Niro in “Raging Bull” and Christian Bale in “The Machinist.” “for pure, can’t-believe-yes-physical makeover.
Such a feat cannot be accomplished alone, so Foster enlisted her trusted personal makeup expert, Emmy-winning Jamie Kelman, to create the marked change. “The Survivor” is directed by Barry Levinson, who gave Foster his first major film role, in 1999’s Baltimore valentine director “Liberty Heights.” But it was Foster and Kelman’s fourth collaboration and proved be one of the most difficult. After all, this is a feature film in which Foster would have to play several decades through Haft’s life and lose 62 pounds of film scenes for the black-and-white Auschwitz scenes, a strong contrast to the color scenes in which a more puffed up and fuller Foster appears. .
“It’s a bit of a dream to find an actor who you really get along with and who feels comfortable in your hands,” says Kelman, who has also worked closely with actors such as Joseph Gordon-Levitt. (“Looper”) and Sam Rockwell (“Vice”) and directors like David Lynch and JJ Abrams for earlier projects. “And in the chair, and that says a lot about knowing that the job is going to be good, but it’s also important to have a nice personal relationship, because you spend so much time together. It’s a package complete with someone you want to be able to spend those two or three hours of chair time with. But hey, Ben is one of those guys who loves makeup.
And Foster — who turned down digital weight-loss tricks for the role, ate just 500 calories a day and spent up to three hours in the chair a day — put his trust entirely in Kelman’s creations, even at Christmas. (“He told me he had broth for Christmas dinner,” the makeup artist explains.) These prostheses included up to eight pieces minimum, including eyebrow pieces to change the shape of his skull and upper and lower dentures to change the shape of his mouth. . “That’s a lot for someone to carry through a movie every day,” Kelman says. “But Ben is that kind of actor that I think helps him get to that place, to look in the mirror, to see that person and to be that person.”
And this being a major movie, Kelman is clever enough to employ tricks of the trade that don’t put all of the focus on Foster’s dramatic weight loss. “When Ben was emaciated, we did all sorts of stuff, like reverse highlighting and shading,” Kelman notes. “So instead of enhancing his musculature, we tried to flatten him to make him look like he was nutritionally poor. And we use sickly colors, blues and yellows, which even s While it was black and white on film, it still reads differently than healthy reds and browns which help you with muscle and contour.
Kelman, an Emmy winner for his work on Steven Soderbergh’s Liberace drama “Behind the Candelabra” and Fox’s medical drama “House,” notes that prosthetics have come a long way over the past decade, with actors capable of having much more mobility. Says Kelman: “He has completely matured. In the 90s it was still latex foam and gelatin if you wanted a translucent material. And silicone has become an overused buzzword for years. But now, it’s finally arrived at that well-seasoned place where we can makeup a woman to make her look like a character or age her, and she’s got flawless skin. I think that’s why we see so many female-led prosthetic projects like ‘The Eyes of Tammy Faye’, ‘Pam & Tommy’ and ‘Angelyne’, that stuff just didn’t work out as well.”
And Kelman is busier than ever, with Disney+’s “The Book of Boba Fett” and NBC’s “The Thing About Pam” on his stream list last year as well as “The Survivor,” and his upcoming collaboration with Foster, The Roman Empire “Medieval” drama is expected later this year, bringing its film and TV total to more than 50 projects ranging from superhero epics to hard-hitting dramas.
Kelman says the variation in assignments and collaborators is not accidental. “If I do too much of one thing, I get bored,” he says. “I’m going to do as much varied work as possible for the rest of my life. I think if you do one thing too much, sometimes you don’t improve. So I like to stay a little nervous that the job might fail if I don’t try hard enough. It helps me to work better. »
‘The Survivor’ is now streaming on HBO Max