Maestro: From fake-nose controversy to Oscar nom

In August 2023, Netflix released the first trailer for Leonard Bernstein biopic Maestro, a teaser that soon made waves for the reveal of director-and-star Cooper’s choice to wear a large prosthetic nose for the role. The trailer set off a wave of social media criticism, with complaints that the prosthetic nose played into antisemitic stereotypes and that efforts should have been made to cast a Jewish actor who more closely resembled Bernstein rather than having the role played by Cooper in a prosthetic.

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Others – including Bernstein’s own children – quickly came to Cooper’s defence, with many pointing out that the visual transformation, achieved with the help of a number of prosthetics designed by Oscar-winning special make-up effects artist Kazu Hiro, was one of the most remarkable aspects of the film.

Now, the film has been nominated for a best makeup and hairstyling Academy Award (along with six other nominations, including for best picture). This is Hiro’s fourth Oscar nomination and could be his third win: the renowned make-up wizard has previously taken home Academy Awards for his work transforming Gary Oldman into Winston Churchill for Darkest Hour and John Lithgow into Roger Ailes for Bombshell. The BBC’s Nicholas Barber called the work on Maestro “the best old age make-up” he’d ever seen, and many critics agreed. While Cooper’s nose was the primary focus of early internet discourse, the film’s make-up and prosthetic work extended far beyond that, with Hiro crafting different sets of prosthetics for Cooper to play Bernstein at ages ranging from 25 to 71, and transforming not just his nose but his cheeks, chin, forehead, ears, neck, shoulders, and hands.

Jazz Tangcay, Variety’s senior artisans editor, tells BBC Culture that Kazu Hiro is “the one to beat this year” when it comes to the make-up and hairstyling Oscar: “The Academy loves a transformation”. She spoke with Hiro in November about the incredible amount of work that went into recreating Bernstein’s face and body at various ages, and says she was blown away from the very first frame she saw of Maestro. “Everybody went: ‘wait, that’s Bradley Cooper?'” she recalls. “You’re immediately captivated and not seeing Bradley Cooper, you’re seeing Leonard Bernstein, and he’s just become this person from that first frame.”

For Tangcay, it’s both the completeness of Cooper’s transformation and the sheer vastness of the age range Hiro recreates that makes the makeup behind Maestro such an impressive feat. “It’s almost like Kazu Hiro de-ages Bradley Cooper without using VFX. And it’s all done in this incredible way that never pulls you out of the film once.”

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