Don't be a slave to actors, says Darkest Hour make-up artist Kazuhiro Tsuji

·Head of News and Lifestyle
Kazuhiro Tsuji working on Gary Oldman (Photo: HBO Asia)
Kazuhiro Tsuji working on Gary Oldman (Photo: HBO Asia)

With Kazuhiro Tsuji’s desire to make special effects make-up “invisible”, it’s easy to see why British actor Gary Oldman specifically requested for the artist to transform him for the role of Winston Churchill in “Darkest Hour”, currently showing in cinemas around Singapore.

In a wide-ranging phone interview with Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore on Thursday (1 March), Kazuhiro said that while he enjoyed working with Oldman, he felt special effects make-up artists should learn to respect their work and not be intimidated by actors.

“Some actors treat you like a slave,” said the artist, who is in the running for a make-up and hairstyling Oscar at this year’s Academy Awards. “You have to respect your position, and you have to understand who you are because you don’t want to be controlled by your actors.”

“In any situation, you have to learn to stand up for yourself,” said the 48-year-old, who was talked out of retirement by Oldman.

Kazuhiro said the special effects make-up he did for the World War II film was something he’d long dreamed about for his career, and that it took four months before filming to prepare the prosthetic that would transform Oldman into one of Britain’s most famous leaders.

“Gary was really amazing; he has respect for everybody. He was just a sweet and amazing person, and a really talented artiste. I wish all actors were like Gary,” said the Japanese artist, who has previously worked on titles such as “Men in Black”, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”, and “How The Grinch Stole Christmas”.

“He’s a perfectionist, but not like an egoistic perfectionist… (That) is rare in the film industry,” Kazuhiro said of the actor, who is nominated for a Best Actor Oscar this year.

“I have never worked with any actor who becomes a totally different person once in make-up,” he said. “He really disappeared and became Churchill.”

Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour (Photo: HBO Asia)
Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour (Photo: HBO Asia)

Kazuhiro admitted that the transformation was a real challenge, with Oldman and Churchill not sharing many similarities in their faces.

“Nowadays the quality of the camera is so great, it captures every flaw or detail,” he said. “So to make the make-up perfect for the camera was really difficult.”

“I don’t want to make a zombie”

The artist also shared how he would get requests from friends and family during Halloween, but he would always tell them no, giving them the reason that he was having a “vacation”.

“I like the challenging stuff, and I don’t want to just do paint art for Halloween, that kind of thing,” he shared.

“(Special effects make-up) is not just about horror or zombies or gore. What I love about prosthetics is to make something invisible,” he said. “I feel that every time I say I do special effects make-up (the misconception is) is ‘do you make zombies?’ No, I don’t want to make a zombie.”

“The reason why I do special effects make-up is to make one person into a totally different human being; to make the make-up invisible,” Kazuhiro said.

The self-taught artist shared his advice for aspiring special effects artists, telling them to be unafraid to fail and make mistakes. “Schools give you knowledge, but the most important part is to be creative in figuring out the problem, and that only happens from experience. Experience failure, make a mistake and learn from it… that is the best way to learn.”

Kazuhiro shared that when he first got into the industry, there weren’t many schools that taught special effects make-up, so he had to learn what he could from others and his own experiences.

“If there are some young people out there who want to learn special effects make-up, you can go to school, but more importantly, spend your own time after school to have as much experience as possible,” he said.

The 90th Academy Awards® will stream ‘live’ on on Monday, March 5 on HBO GO. It will also be broadcast ‘live’ exclusively on HBO (StarHub TV Ch 601) starting with the Oscars® Red Carpet ‘Live’ from 7.30am, followed by The 90th Academy Awards® ‘Live’ at 9am. Both programmes will be shown again that same night on HBO at 7pm and 8pm, respectively. Exclusive Oscars® Web content will also be available on HBO Asia’s dedicated Oscars® website ( while the network’s social media crew and host, Utt Panichkul, will bring exclusive Oscars® red carpet moments to HBO Asia’s social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube).

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