updated: 06/07/2009

Planet of the Apes makeups: Zira

Kim Hunter brought something special to the character of Zira in Planet of the Apes, Beneath the Planet of the Apes and Escape from the Planet of the Apes. In part this was because she was a serious, quality actress with a supporting actress Oscar to her credit – definitely not the all-too-frequent starlet in a monster mask – and in part because of the way the character was written.

She returned to the role in two sequels despite finding the makeup experience difficult, describing it as ‘the most claustrophobic experience in the world’. She discussed it in a 1990 interview:

John Chambers showed me some photos of the testing they had been doing, and what it would look like eventually. I thought to myself: ‘Oh boy, what am I getting into??’ But I came back again, and the next session was to do full testing with the appliances. The first time it took four-and-a-half hours just to get the face on … During the filming, they brought it down to three, three-and-a-half, but that initial time took four-and-a-half. Roddy McDowall and I were there and they found out our voices weren’t coming through properly, so we were sent off to a sound studio and we worked on that until we finally figured out just where to place the voice so it wouldn’t be nasal and fuzzy. Anyway, a short time later, I came back here to New York and I went to my doctor right away and said, ‘I need some help for this one, because this is going to be terrible. I need some kind of a tranquilizer for the makeup period, and then I have to be sharp as a tack once we start working.’ He gave me valium, and that was really the only way I could get through.

John Chambers was creative makeup designer: Dan Striepeke was makeup artist on Planet of the Apes and makeup supervisor on the other two movies. John Chambers won the very first Oscar awarded for achievement in makeup for Planet of the Apes (1968).