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The art of aging — behind the scenes with the Oscar-nominated makeup-and-hair team for 'A Man Called Ove'

The art of aging — behind the scenes with the Oscar-nominated makeup-and-hair team for 'A Man Called Ove'
Love Larson, left and Eva von Bahr, right, hold face casts of actor Rolf Lassgård from the show "A Man Called Ove." (Stuart Palley / For The Times)

What did it take to transform a youthful actor into a cantankerous old man for the Oscar-nominated Swedish film "A Man Called Ove"? Quite a bit of effort, it turns out, and of the imaginative and technical caliber that led to an Oscar nomination for makeup and hair team Eva von Bahr and Love Larson.

While fellow nominees from  "Star Trek Beyond" and "Suicide Squad"  boldly created intergalactic creatures and comic book characters, Bahr and Larson used subtle, yet no less technical, changes to achieve the look of the film's title character.

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In "A Man Called Ove," which is also nominated for best foreign film, Rolf Lassgård plays  a depressed widower whose life plans are  upended by the arrival of boisterous new neighbors.

Lassgård is a popular Swedish actor who starred in, among other things, the original "Wallander" series, so it wasn't exactly typecasting.

"The biggest challenge for us was the director wanted this grumpy character and then they cast Rolf, and he's very much not the grumpy old man," Larson said.

Getting rid of Lassgård's thick blond hair was the first step to aging him beyond his 61 years. But because Lassgård was also working on another film, Von Bahr and Larson couldn't ask him to shave his head, which made the job tougher than they had originally thought it would be.

Developing the silicon prosthetic that began at Lassgård's upper eyelid and stretched to the back of his head was an intricate and painstaking process that took more than a month.

First, they made a Photoshop sketch of the design. Then  they used Lassgård to build a live cast and make a plaster copy of the actor's head.

"We do that in clay and when we're satisfied with the design and look of everything, we make molds from that," Larson said. "In those molds, we run silicon prosthetic together, and that piece is then painted to look like the actor's skin, as close as possible. Then we punch hair into this silicon piece, every strand of hair one at a time."

That process was repeated around 30 times. Because the cap could not be used more than once, the team had to create a new prosthetic piece for each day of shooting. Once the filming began, Lassgård spent more than two hours in the makeup chair each day as it was applied.

Von Bahr and Larson diligently monitored and made constant adjustments to ensure the headpiece blended with Lassgård's skin, especially when shooting physical activities.  The goal of all this hard work?  To make certain it was undetectable.

Other small touches to the character included adding prosthetic moles and changing Lassgård's eye color from blue to brown, to match the actor playing Ove in his younger days.

Von Bahr and Larson have worked in film and television for more than 20 years. This is their second trip to the Oscars; last year the duo was nominated for the film "The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared."

Von Bahr started out as a hairdresser before getting a job in a theater.  "After being there a couple years," she said, "I started as an apprentice in Swedish government-owned television. I was there four years learning how to be a wig maker."

Larson recalls making films with his friends as a pre-teen. After studying wig making and makeup artistry in college, he began working on bigger projects. He met Von Bahr while working as a makeup artist for the miniseries "Arn: The Knight Templar," on which she was his supervisor.

Now, they're married with one child. "It worked out," Larson said, laughing.

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The craft of makeup and hairstyling hasn't changed much in the past 100 years, Larson says, and giving back to the community of makeup artists and hairstylists is important to the couple. They frequently teach at schools and take on interns to share what they've learned over the years.

"I think it's also important to embrace new people coming into the business," Von Bahr said. "I think it's more difficult now than it was for us. And that even if you're working on a certain level, you learn every day."

At the Academy Awards, Von Bahr and Larson will represent their home country by wearing Swedish designers.

"I wanted something a bit dramatic, but in a princess way," Von Bahr said. "It's a very dark green dress. I think it's going to be fabulous."

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