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The makeup department of the upcoming movie ‘Being Flynn’, met with Paul Dano at the latter’s home, “and we looked at pictures of Nick Flynn through the years. We discussed how to blend Paul’s look with Nick’s look; since Nick had many throughout the years, there was one particular photograph we fixed on. Nick came over at one point and said, ‘This hair looks great!’,” said hair specialist Jerry DeCarlo.
When Aude Bronson-Howard quizzed Nick Flynn, the author who’s self-portrait is the drive behind the story, on clothing worn during the times depicted in the movie, he revealed to the costume designer that he often wore clothing that had been donated to the shelter. “Nick is now actually rather stylish with his dissembled pieces,” she comments.
“But back then, it was just being grungy.” As with the city not being actively named, director Paul Weitz “didn’t want you to be able to put your finger on exactly what year it was, so Aude, Carla and I didn’t go for ‘period’ styling,” reports DeCarlo. “The flashbacks are scenes in a lower-middle-class area, so we couldn’t have anything ‘pop’ anyway. As time progresses in the story, Paul didn’t ever want to see anything that was too contemporary, either.”
With regard to the film’s earliest depicted period of Nick’s life, Bronson- Howard remembers that “for Jody [Nick’s mother], Nick told us what ambiance she conveyed, rather than specific items of clothing worn; there was no money around the household, so she didn’t have a big wardrobe.”
Makeup specialist Carla White notes that “for Jonathan’s one appearance in a flashback scene, we did not try to make him look younger in any way; he is playing ball with his son, but this is just Nick’s memory of what he had hoped for back then – despite his father’s absence.
So we chose to leave Jonathan looking as he does after Nick has seen him for the first time in years.” In working with De Niro, DeCarlo ascertained that “he is the kind of actor who pulls the character up from within, from deep down inside. He knew that it would be better to have his hair longer for this project, but I believe that for him the visual pieces – hair, costumes, make-up – are secondary.
“Jonathan Flynn’s look at the beginning of the picture is more together. As his life falls apart, he becomes more disheveled, yet we see scenes where he continues to groom himself.” White says, “Paul Weitz wanted a realistic look for the characters; we had to get the characters across to the audience but not have obvious makeup that viewers will be aware of. For Paul Dano, it was especially subtle; you work around the eyes to make him look a little more rough, a little more disheveled. His acting would take care of the rest.
“We tried to achieve only some of Jonathan’s stages through make-up; for example, reddening Robert De Niro’s skin for when Jonathan is out on the streets at length.” Bronson-Howard elaborates, “We had phases for Jonathan; by phase 7, he’s not in good shape at all because of alcohol, outdoors exposure, and his own arrogance.
“I had found that people who sleep outside on subway gratings wear layers and layers. So we show Jonathan with toilet paper in the ear flaps on his hat; and three or four pairs of gloves, all gaffer’s-taped-together as one unit.” The costume designer states, “There is no one more dedicated than Robert De Niro; if there are five racks of clothing, he will try them all on to make sure that the end result is right. For that ‘pre-shoot’ in the snow, we tried on things at the Greenwich Hotel and then out he went.”
De Niro and Dano were not the only dominant on-screen presences to be transformed; Emmy Award-winning production designer Sarah Knowles (Warm Springs) and her team made over interiors of the now-shuttered St. Patrick’s Old [Cathedral] School in Manhattan’s SoHo as the movie’s Harbor Street Inn shelter. By way of contrast, the remnants of a gutted Greenpoint, Brooklyn bar became the seedy Good Times, the strip joint- turned- living space that Nick and his roommates reside in.
Real life and reel life locales were on a bit of a loop, as Nick elaborates; “Good Times was where I lived while working at the homeless shelter in Boston. When I left Boston, I lived in Brooklyn – just 10 blocks from that gutted bar which we were shooting in.” For Nick, being a regular presence on set was something he found satisfying. He remarks, “For me, memory is always like a film. You go through an experience and then ‘see’ things afterwards.
“As I would sit and revisit this emotionally charged territory with my father and people in my life, something else would often be found in those moments as the scenes unfurled. In telling this story, I never wanted to limit the emotions, or easily phrase them. So it was very rewarding and sometimes unnerving to watch these talented artists at work.
When the takes were working, you could see the emotions passing over the actors’ faces, one turning into another. That, to me, was the closest possible representation of my reality in those moments I’d lived through.”