BIG MOMMA'S HOUSE
Turning Martin Lawrence Into Big Momma
While other films, like Tootsie, The Nutty Professor and Mrs.
Doubtfire, have had characters who donned disguises, BIG MOMMA'S HOUSE adds another comedic wrinkle: its protagonist, Malcolm, becomes another existing person ... actress Ella Mitchell, who plays Big Momma.
From the start, the filmmakers knew what the makeup should and shouldn't do. David Friendly explains: "When you go out and hire Martin Lawrence, you want to make sure that the audience is getting Martin Lawrence. So in terms of makeup you want to make sure it's credible — that people around him would think he was Big Momma — but also that audiences knew this was Martin Lawrence, because he's the star. We wanted to make sure that Martin's comedic genius was coming through."
To create Big Momma, the filmmakers went to Academy-Award® winning makeup effects artist Greg Cannom. Gosnell had worked with Cannom before on Mrs. Doubtfire, for which Cannom had nabbed his Oscar®. "Greg is a prosthetic genius and one of the giants in the special makeup field," says Gosnell.
Cannom and his team worked hard to match Martin Lawrence and Ella Mitchell's faces, creating what ultimately was an amalgamation of their two looks. In order to further enhance their similar appearances, Mitchell also wears a prosthetic to make her
look more like the Big Momma character created for Martin. "They gave him some of me," Mitchell laughs, "and they gave me some of him."
Turning Lawrence into Big Momma was a painstaking effort, which took more than six hours at the onset of film; eventually Cannom's team was able to get it down to around two hours — much to Lawrence's relief.
First, Lawrence's skin was cleaned, then a demi-guard sealer was applied. Since Lawrence, as Malcolm, sports a mustache, Cannom had to flatten it as much as possible with spirit gum. To expedite the makeup process, Cannom devised a way to attach the prosthetic neck portion to a T-shirt. This enabled the neck to be pulled over Lawrence's head and glued around the bottom. Next, a chin, a top lip piece, and two silicone side pieces were glued on. All of the edges were then blended into the skin, and then covered with rubber mask grease colors. Finally, finishing colors were added, and lipstick and make-up were applied to the eye area.
Cannom and his crew developed a new type of silicone prosthetics that is lighter, easier to work with, and long lasting — at least 16-18 hours. This marked a vast improvement over products used in the past, like gelatin, which melt in about six hours, and foam, which starts to crinkle around the same time. The prosthetics were all sculpted by hand.
"Everybody's been trying to come up with a workable silicone make-up," says Cannom, "and on Bicentennial Man we came up with our version. The problem with previous silicone make-ups was they melted, like gelatin always has. So we had to come up with a silicone based makeup that could stand up to the rigors of filmmaking. My associate, Wes Wofford, and I came up with a new silicone that we just color a kind of pinky flesh and then we can put make-up all over it and it sticks to it very nicely. We make it up just like foam and it takes approximately the same time."
Once Big Momma's face was complete, it was time for the filmmakers to work on putting the "big" in Big Momma. A special suit was created to give Lawrence the right dimensions 325 pounds of dimensions. Like the makeup, the fat suit took months to perfect. "At times, the boobs were too big, then they were too small. Trying to get everything proportionate was a big challenge," says Cannom.
The filmmakers created a suit that was light enough for Lawrence to wear 12 to 14 hours a day. The suit, made out of a breathable material, turned out to be lighter and easier to move around
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