As a Hollywood makeup artist, Ken Diaz has helped create some very memorable movie characters in the last 30 years, including Pizza the Hut in “Spaceballs” and Uncle Fester in “The Addam’s Family.”
In 1989, Diaz was nominated for an Academy Award for his makeup work on the film “Dad” starring Jack Lemmon. He earned a second Oscar nomination in 1995 for “My Family” (“Mi Familia”). Other movies credited to his name include “Casino,” “Heat,” “Training Day” and “The Expendables.”
In “Immortals,” Diaz was assigned to develop the look for Mickey Rourke’s character King Hyperion and for all the Titan characters. “Immortals” tells the story of Theseus (Henry Cavill), a mortal man chosen by Zeus to lead a war against King Hyperion, who has his sights set on destroying humanity.
During an exclusive interview with me, Diaz talked about how the makeup industry has changed over the last three decades and what kind of work he did on Rourke in the makeup chair to make King Hyperion come to life.
You’ve been in your line of work for 30 years. Have the type of makeup artists that join this field changed over that time?
Yeah, at first when I was in makeup school, I saw a lot of young girls who were into beauty makeup. I was kind of intimidated by these girls. It was kind of like they were playing Barbies. Within a year, they were nowhere around and I was still striving and trying to do my best work.
Are you always looking to challenge yourself and do something you’ve never done before?
Yeah, in the course of my career I’ve gone through stages. Initially, in the late 70s and early 80s, it was a lot of blood and guts kind of stuff. Then, I went into more character-orientated makeup and age-transformations. Then I went through a tattoo phase. I did a lot of tattoos for about 10 years. It was actually the only kind of work I was getting for a while.
I would have never guessed creating tattoos for the movies was such a specialized skill.
Well, “Zoot Suit” was the first movie I was asked to do tattoos for film. I also did “American Me” and “Blood in Blood Out” back in the early 90s. I recruited some ex-cons that were tattoo artists in prison so I could bring that authenticity to the design. I was around real tattoo artists all the time and utilized their expertise.
What was it like having Mickey Rourke in your makeup chair for “Immortals?”
I’ve known Mickey since 1979’s “Heaven’s Gate.” I always try to help him out with some of his acting stuff. He’s a method actor so I will treat him like a boxer sometimes. I would sit him down, slap him on the cheek and tell him, “Go get em’, champ” just to get him hyped up. We worked really well together. It went beyond makeup. I was sometimes an acting coach – somebody he could rely on and trust on the set. He likes to rely on makeup, hair and wardrobe a lot to help develop or discover the character.
How did you help him find his character in “Immortals” through the makeup process?
Well, we met early on with the director (Tarsem Singh) and he talked about how he thought Mickey’s character should have some facial scars that were created from a ritualistic scarring using a crab claw to cut the flesh. In the meantime, Mickey asked me to put together an assortment of hairstyles and facial hair looks. Once he walked in front of the camera in full makeup, hair and wardrobe, everybody was pleased with the look of King Hyperion.
You’ve seen some of the movies you’ve worked on in your career remade in recent years like “Fright Night” and “The Thing.” What’s your take on remaking movies that relied so heavily on makeup getting more of a CGI makeover the second time around?
Yeah, they also did “My Bloody Valentine” a few years ago, too. On “Fright Night,” I think it’s a great film and I’m really proud of the work we did on that. I don’t think the CGI stuff in “The Thing” can surpass anything we did with the original. The effects we did in front of the camera for that movie were just the best.