horror: American Horror Story – Pepper

American Horror Story ‘Asylum’: Pepper (makeup)

Pepper (Naomi Grossman) is a microcephalic woman committed to Briarcliff Manor. She seems gentle and playful but has been accused of a violent crime.

When Lana Winters first arrives at Briarcliff, Pepper hands her a flower saying: ‘Play with me!’ Sister Mary Eunice asks Pepper to leave Lana alone, but Lana insists that Pepper is just trying to make friends. Mary informs Lana that Pepper is anything but harmless, havingshe drowned her sister’s baby and cut off his ears. Pepper can later be seen chanting ‘Fight!’ during a brawl.

Later, however, Pepper becomes Grace’s protector and when Sister Jude becomes an inmate Pepper and Jude become friends and look out for each other.

Two years later Jude has forgotten most of what happened and is informed that Pepper has passed away in the Winter of 1966.

Naomi Grossman said:

The ‘breakdown’ for the role (that is, the notification that goes out to agents and actors as to what casting is looking for) read something like, ‘4-5 feet tall, possibly malformed, childlike’. …the role was under such tight wraps. I didn’t know until well after I was cast what the role even was!
Next [after the audition) came a meeting with the special effects makeup department. They took dozens of pictures of my head, asked me all sorts of covert questions, ie: ‘Are you claustrophobic?’, ‘Will you cut your hair?’ Again, they couldn’t let on to what they were doing until I was officially cast, but I could tell this was not your typical ‘nurse number 3 to the left’ type role!

The makeup

Eryn Krueger Mekash was the makeup department head; Christien Tinsley (Tinsley Studio) was the special makeup effects designer and creator; Mike Mekash was the key prosthetics makeup artist; Christopher Allen Nelson was the special makeup effects artist; Kim Ayers was the key makeup artist; Monte Haught was the hair department head.

The makeup team has twice been nominated for an Emmy Award in both the Outstanding Makeup for a Miniseries or a Movie (Non-Prosthetic) & the Outstanding Prosthetic Makeup for a Series, Miniseries, Movie or a Special categories.

Naomi Grossman spoke about her transformation:

I find the makeup really informs the character. You get those big ears and nose and brow on, and boom! It’s Pepper-time! The entire process takes about two and a half to three hours, and that’s with two men working the entire time! Those first makeup tests especially took much longer – Mike Mekash, Christopher Nelson, Jason Hamer, Eryn Krueger Mekash – the entire Tinsley makeup crew is incredibly meticulous. They literally place freckles and veins like I’m a work of art! But then, that’s what makes for an Emmy-nominated makeup crew. There’s really nothing they can’t do. The prosthetics consist of a forehead complete with punched-in eyebrows, a nose, ears, and even a bumpy little spine-piece for my back. Again, depending upon the wardrobe, no one even sees that, but that’s the level of detail we’re talking about. I have fake teeth, which of course change the shape of my face (and speech). There’s even a wacky lens for one of my eyes. It’s subtle, but effective (it’s disturbing having someone look at you, but not quite look at you, you know?). It blinds me in that eye, and you know how they say, ‘Good acting is all in the eyes’? Well, in my case, it’s all in the eye!
Come to think of it, the only thing that’s truly mine is the hair (or what little they left of it). At first they toyed with a bald-cap – and believe me, it looked phenomenal. I personally saw no need to shave my head. But better to leave the makeup questions to the makeup professionals. Besides, given Pepper’s condition, it was important to make my head look as small as possible, so it was obviously better to not have to stuff a bunch of hair into a cap. I think at one point they’d talked about using CGI to actually shrink my head, but I’m sure it was easier and cheaper to have me shave my head. Besides, the makeup crew takes great pride in not having to rely on such tricks. It was quite clever of them actually. Instead of making my head small, they built up my body by putting me in a fat suit. (And all that time spent slaving at the gym!). Ultimately, the end-product is well worth sacrificing my hair and sitting countless hours in the makeup chair. It’s a true gift of a character, on a major hit show. I didn’t think twice about it. I figured I’m an actress first, a person with hair second. And well, they provided me with a wig identical, if not better, than my actual hair. Now everyday is a great hair day!
I remember that first big shave so clearly: I was cackling hysterically, the hair/makeup crew was chanting my name, and later went on and on, calling me ‘the bravest actress in the world’. I’m not saying it wasn’t a tad nerve-wracking. I worried I’d never get laid again! But then my fears subsided when I got asked out through a car window the very next day. And now it takes me all of three minutes to get ready in the morning! Not to mention I’m in this special, little club with Natalie Portman and Siggy Weaver. And while I’ll be sad to say goodbye to Pepper when the season is over, I look forward to pulling a Britney in the window of some chichi salon!