Dressing Up the Grinch

If Hollywood F/X guru Rick Baker has his way, actors get claustrophobic and sweaty — and sometimes downright neurotic — when they don his costumes for films.

Baker’s intricate, convincing work can currently be seen in Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and he’s hard at work creating authentic ape costumes for director Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes remake, which is due out next May.

Sampling the Goods Baker says figuring out how to clothe the Seussian oddities in Grinch was harder than doing the apes. “Not only did we have more people to do for the Whos, we didn’t know what the hell they were,” Baker relates. The Whos, those pleasant, joyous characters who anger the sour Grinch with their holiday singing, were made up to look angelic, yet cartoonish.

Grinch has received much attention for the physical (and likely the emotional) discomfort its star, Jim Carrey, endured, including thick yellow contacts and a heavy bodysuit. Let’s hope the apes fare better.

“[For] almost everything I do,” Baker says, “the first test is on myself. I did the same thing on The Grinch. I wore the suit all day, videotaped it, and looked at what I thought worked and didn’t.”

Carrey, Baker claims, set a record for an actor wearing full appliance makeup: 90 days of filming. “I love makeup, and there’s no way I could sit for 90 days without going nuts,” he admits. In order to prevent Carrey from passing out from heat exhaustion, “[The crew] refrigerated the soundstage. All the Whos had wool suits and padding. We had to wear our winter clothes.”

Saving Planet Simian Mark Wahlberg is going to be as naked as the censors allow for the highly anticipated Planet of the Apes redux, but as far as the film’s ape characters are concerned, it’s going to be Baker’s show.

Apes have always been good for Baker, a five-time Oscar-winning makeup maven (for An American Werewolf in London, Harry and the Hendersons [his favorite], The Nutty Professor, Ed Wood, and Men in Black) who promises to outdo himself with the new Apes. “I’ve been doing apes since I was a kid,” Baker, who also worked on Gorillas in the Mist and Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes, notes.

Baker tells Mr. Showbiz that he respectfully terms the beloved 1968 Planet of the Apes original “a landmark makeup film,” but he rightfully dismisses its simians as “almost laughable today.”

Burton’s new version, which began filming in a tiny Arizona town earlier this month, is being planned as a franchise. “The Planet of the New Millennium,” Baker laughs. By constructing several breeds of simians, “We’ve taken it to a level far beyond what’s been done,” he claims. “We’re trying to make something as real and as expressive as possible, and I think we’ve done it.

“They’re still biped apes, but they resemble the real animals more than the first ones did and are so much more expressive. There are something like 500 apes.”

The outdoor filming in Burton’s new film could cause additional dilemmas. “There is a heat factor for the apes,” Baker concedes. “The gorillas wear black and it absorbs the heat.”

Some of those handcrafted apes will be portrayed by Michael Clarke Duncan, Tim Roth, Spike Jonze, and former Merchant-Ivory poster girl Helena Bonham Carter, who has the honor of filming an ape-human love scene with Mark Wahlberg.

“I needed a year [to make the costumes] and [20th Century Fox and Burton] gave me four months … and it turned into five,” Baker says with a smile.

“I just got a new script with 30 more characters,” the bearded effects maestro mentions casually. “Let’s see, 530 costumes in five months? You do the math; we need to lie down.”

As for the possibility of him working on a sequel to one of his biggest hits, Baker, who does only one film at a time, nods: “They’ve been calling me about Men in Black 2.”