Aileen Carol Wuornos (1956–2002) was an American serial killer who was sentenced to death by the state of Florida in 1992. She killed seven men, in separate incidents, all of whom she claimed raped her (or attempted to) while she was working as a prostitute. She was put to death via lethal injection in 2002. Her face and body bore the marks of a hard childhood (her father – whom she never knew – was a child molester; her mother abandoned her; her grandparents physically and sexually abused her; she had a child at fourteen and was working as a prostitute while still at school) followed by a hard adult lifestyle (truck-stop prostitution, intermittent homelessness, prison, alcohol, and violence). To portray her appearance would have been a stretch for any actress; for a beautiful ex-model the transformation was gob-smacking.
But in Monster Charlize Theron played Aileen Wuornos and not only delivered a remarkable performance but agreed to undergo an amazing transformation – way beyond makeup – to portray Wuornos. In possibly the most stunning transformation since that of Robert de Niro in Raging Bull, Charlize gained some 30lbs in weight; endured a day-long hair-frying and hair-thinning session with hairstylist Katie Swanson to achieve the look of dry, over-bleached hair (that was no wig but her own hair); and had her eyebrows partially shaved and bleached. There was no prosthetic makeup except on her eyelids.
I didn’t want it to be the kind of thing where transforming me into Aileen – which we had to do and I knew we had to do – where it became just about prosthetics and a fat-suit… and I think I knew very early on that part of me understanding her journey of who she was … the only way I was going to do that was to really truly get myself in a place where I felt the same things she might have felt … She had a baby when she thirteen; she didn’t like her body. So, I wanted to get my body to a place, where I felt like, you know, naturally I’m very athletic looking and I didn’t – I don’t know how I could have played that part with this body. I knew I had to transform my body to get myself into her physical skin.
But Charlizes physical transformation was only part of the process. Then came the makeup: making her already-damaged hair look unwashed and greasy; giving a ruined-look to her complexion (achieved through airbrushed layers of translucent washes of tattoo ink, plus green marble sealant to create additional texture); fitting prosthetic dentures to push out her mouth slightly, making it appear wider and to replicate Aileen’s crooked, stained and rotting teeth; finally contact lenses to change her eye colour from blue to brown
She’s got this beautiful face, but she’s a very brave woman, because you’ve got to have the weight in order for the jowls to look right … You could never do something like that with an actress who isn’t totally willing to go for it.
When they first called me, I thought that Charlize Theron as Aileen Wournos was a bit of a stretch. But when I met with Patty [Jenkins] and Charlize, I realized that it was definitely achievable. Charlize was so completely inspired, she inspired me! I thought, ‘Yes, this is possible.’ Prosthetics weren’t even considered, mainly because there wasn’t the budget to do that. But I never thought prosthetics were necessary, anyway.
Charlize’s eyebrows needed to be completely changed to frame her face differently so I took off all the outside part of her eyebrows, and also bleached them. Eyebrows are an amazing representation of what people go through in their lives. You can see an angry person, a happy person, a gentle person, all through the eyebrows. Aileen’s eyebrows had a tendency to angle upward towards her forehead, which created an angry expression.
Art [Sakamoto] took a dental impression, and then came up with some prototype dentures, painting on the discoloration and detail. We discussed what needed to be changed, and went from there. It was important that the dentures be thick enough to look realistic, but thin enough not to impede Charlize’s speech. We got a practice pair out to her as soon as possible – about a month before they started shooting – so she could get accustomed to speaking with them. It takes time for a person to learn how to speak properly with prosthetic dentures, so that they don’t distract from the performance.
We had all those things together but she still had this creamy, poreless, gorgeous skin. With makeup, I had to create the years of abuse to her skin – all the freckles and capillaries and sun damage – either through hand-painting or working with an airbrush.
Toni G did not even get a Oscar nomination for this amazing makeup. The only half-way rational explanation I can come up with for that is that this was a political decision by the producers: the anxiety that to push the effectiveness of the makeup to the transformation may have risked weakening the case for a Best Actress Oscar for Charlize Theron.
Whatever, Toni G was robbed.