How the Oscar-nominated makeup team of ‘The Batman’ made Colin Farrell disappear

Side-by-side face shots of Colin Farrell and in makeup as The Penguin.
Mike Marino of the Oscar-nominated makeup and hairstyling team of “The Batman” made the famous form of Colin Farrell disappear into the menacing guise of the Penguin for “The Batman.”
(Matt Licari/Invision/AP; Warner Bros.)

A rotund, middle-aged mystery man showed up to the set of “The Batman” early in production. The skin on his face was weatherbeaten, scarred. He brought with him a slight limp and a beaklike nose, jowls and slightly arched eyebrows. He resembled the missing link between the ghosts of Danny Aiello and Powers Boothe, with the rough, big-city bark of a two-bit gangster. No one knew him, yet he kept greeting people, the big stars in the cast, as if he knew them.

“Nobody would look at him,” says Mike Marino, who was there that day. “They thought, ‘Who is this scary guy on set?’ ” He laughs triumphantly. “All the actors — Jeffrey Wright, Zoë Kravitz — everybody was like, ‘Why is this guy saying hello to me? This guy’s crazy, weird.’ No one knew it was him.”

It turned out underneath that ravaged exterior was their co-star Colin Farrell, in his first full makeup test as Oswald “Oz” Cobblepot — a.k.a. the Penguin.

“The look of him is so intimidating, people didn’t want to go near him,” said Oscar-nominated makeup designer Marino, clearly proud of his creation. “He was going up to everyone saying ‘Hi,’ and no one knew until minutes later: ‘Oh my God, wait, that’s Colin!’ ”

The Oscar nomination for achievement in makeup and hairstyling in “The Batman” is shared by Michael Fontaine, Naomi Donne and Marino for helping create the gritty realism of writer-director Matt Reeves’ take on the Dark Knight. Marino was in charge of transforming Farrell into the Penguin.


“I couldn’t do a fantasy character, like Danny DeVito [in ‘Batman Returns’], because that was a Tim Burton film. This is basically a true-detective film where you’re very hard-grounded into reality,” Marino says.

That meant leaving behind both the Burton/DeVito version — a nightmarish man-bird hybrid in a sewer-chic tux, like a great, desiccated egg with a pale, sunken-eyed face — and the classic comic-book version embodied by Burgess Meredith in the Pow! Zok! Bam! camp-supreme ’60s TV series — a purple-hatted, purple-bow-tied, aristocratic caricature waddling around, randomly expelling “Waaugh-waaugh-waaugh”s. Reeves’ vision, the truest yet to the Frank Miller-era comics, with the Batman as a street-level brawler inflicting punishment on the guilty, would require something quite different of the villain.

“I thought, ‘old-school gangster.’ He’s got this one eye that’s heavy, and gold teeth. He’s kind of like a damaged war bird, you know? The body shape is in the vein of Penguin. He has some kind of a leg injury, which gives him a limp, so he’s waddling.

A bust depicts a balding man's scarred face in the negative for a prosthetic sculpture.
Part of the process for turning Colin Farrell into Oswald Cobblepot in “The Batman.”
(Prosthetic Renaissance.

“I put in subliminal shapes that resembled the eyebrows of a penguin, the beak of a bird. Little details, like his scarred side on the bottom of one nostril is the exact shape of a bird’s mouth. So it’s really like a beak. His nose actually is a bird beak. I found some reference photographs of some birds that were grizzled and older and have been through the wringer. I utilized the chipping of the beaks with his skin.

“So I put all these subliminal things inside, while trying to maintain a realistic character. And when Colin saw himself in the mirror, he immediately said, ‘OK, now I know who this guy is. I know how to speak, I know how to walk.’ ”

But before they could do any of that, they had to get the director’s approval. Marino had to promise Reeves that Farrell’s drastic transformation would look as real as the rest of the movie felt. He says improvements in materials now allow for special makeup that can withstand scrutiny in nearly any light (and could withstand exposure to the movie’s pouring rain) — making the mission possible.

“They’re slowly advancing with softness of the silicone we’re using now. In the past 20 to 50 years, everything was foam latex. It was an opaque material that you had to paint a lot. Now we’re using silicone, and it’s translucent. You can paint it even more realistically down to every little blood vessel.”

The work on Penguin's eyebrows begin.
Eventually, Penguin’s eyebrows will come to resemble those of an actual penguin.
(Prosthetic Renaissance.


The suit weighed about 10 pounds, the makeup maybe five. At first, it took about three hours to apply, but with practice, they got it down to about an hour and a half. And with all of that, Marino says, the material allowed Farrell’s performance to shine through.

“If it’s sculpted at the right thickness, it really will move with the actor. So Colin is really freely moving his face, and it doesn’t feel like he’s restricted by makeup. All of those things in combination with his great acting wind up creating this very believable character.”

Marino says he was still nervous about how it would look under “crazy dim lighting, bright light, daylight” as demanded by the screenplay.

“You’re always in doubt until you see it on the monitor. I think when we first saw it on the monitor, on the test day, and [cinematographer Greig Fraser] was really happy that he could change the lighting and change the lenses” and it would still look real, “we knew we had something there. Greig actually looked at it and said, ‘Well, what about this one spot here?’ And Colin goes, ‘That’s a real scar.’

“As soon as we saw the test, I think Matt and Colin were like, ‘Oh man, I wish there were more scenes with him now,’ ” says Marino, laughing. (Reeves is now developing an HBO show around the Penguin, starring Farrell.)

“It’s funny, he did look a little bit like Danny Aiello in the end. Like if you mixed [McDonald’s Monopoly scam figure] Frank Colombo, Edward James Olmos and Danny Aiello, bam! You get the Penguin.”