Thor film actor Stellan Skarsgard’s latest turn is in Denis Villeneuve’s epic adaptation of Dune, the novel by Frank Herbert.
In the blockbuster movie, Skarsgard plays the abominable and quite corpulent Baron Vladimir Harkonnen who is the main villain and rival to House Atreides.
Harkonnen is one of the most legendary antagonists ever in the sci-fi genre and is up there with other top-tier bad guys he inspired, such as Jabba the Hutt – making him a very coveted and crucial part.
Bringing him to the screen was achieved totally with painstaking practical effects designed by makeup artist Donald Mowat and the team of Love Larson and Eva Von Bahr.
They crafted the massive prosthetic to fit Skarsgard specifically and it took several hours to apply. “We added cheeks, jowls, a silicone bald cap, and eyebrow covers,” Mowat explained to TheWrap.
“I’m always looking to spot fake eyebrow covers in films, so we worked hard on those,” he added. “Also, Stellan wore prosthetic hands and feet and ankles,” but precious few facial prosthetics to maintain range and performance.
Inimitable concept artist Jerad S. Marantz, who worked on New God designs for Zack Snyder, helped come up with the final Harkonnen design and shared some of his creepy art on Instagram.
“We wanted to get the body right before figuring out his costume,” Marantz wrote. “Had a lot of fun on this. I did the sculpt and Z brush and showed a range of body types before landing on this one.”
Mowat conceded most of the designs Marantz hinted at didn’t work and he was afraid Harkonnen’s appearance wouldn’t be taken seriously.
“That’s often the case with villainous characters,” Mowat said. “Denis liked the idea of a smooth, Alopecia-like appearance, but our initial designs make him look like a hairless bear.”
He continued, “And we were aware, of course, of the history of using fat suits for comic effect. This was definitely not meant to be one of those performances.”
The end product is appropriately grotesque and Skarsgard, reveling in his performance, had a strange request: he wanted more sequences of the full Harkonnen makeup in the nude.
“Stellan just loved being naked as the Baron,” said Mowat. “We all used to kill ourselves laughing when Stellan would ask for more nude scenes.”
Skarsgard’s reasoning? He wanted Harkonnen to be as scary as possible. “He felt, quite correctly, that the Baron appeared more frightening and dangerous unclothed than cloaked in robes or armor. So he was always asking for more nudity,” Mowat added.
The downside is fulfilling this demand meant more time in the makeup chair. “It took five people about four hours to apply Stellan’s makeup,” Mowat revealed.
“And that was when the Baron was wearing a costume,” he further clarified. “Naked, it took six-and-a-half or seven hours. That’s a huge difference in the day, but it was worth it.”
Accomplished 70-year-old Swedish actor Skarsgard is the father of Godzilla vs. Kong star Alexander Skarsgard and the modern-day Pennywise in IT Chapters 1 and 2, Bill Skarsgard.
Dune is now in theaters and on HBO Max.