‘Shallow Hal’ Fat Suit Not Just Skin-Deep

Audiences have come to expect the outrageous from the Farrelly brothers, the directing duo behind the gross-out gags of “There’s Something About Mary.” But their new comedy, “Shallow Hal,” offers perhaps the most shocking sight of all: famously svelte Oscar winner Gwyneth Paltrow emoting while encased in a fat suit.

In the 20th Century Fox film, which opens Friday, the looks-obsessed title character, played by “High Fidelity’s” Jack Black, receives the ability to see women’s exteriors reflect their inner beauty. Thus he sees Paltrow’s good-hearted Rosemary as the actress’ 120-pound self, while others see Rosemary in all her 350-pound girth.

The challenge of making Paltrow recognizable through the prosthetic makeup, wig and layers of foam and spandex fell to makeup-effects designer Tony Gardner. “No one had really taken a woman in a [fat] suit this far before,” Gardner says.

Beginning with a body cast of Paltrow, the makeup effects team took three months to perfect the heavy makeup and construct her form-fitting suit, which actually weighed only about 25 pounds. Working on someone as thin as Paltrow was a plus, because her body formed a very solid, non-flabby understructure. The makeup was more difficult because Gardner had to preserve her most distinctive facial features, her cheekbones and jawline.

“It’s a weird Catch-22,” Gardner says, “because you need for people to see her enough to know that it’s her, but you need to bury her in it successfully enough so that it moves realistically.”

Paltrow’s suit needed to be designed for mobility as well as form; ultimately, Gardner had multiple suits built at his Los Angeles shop to simulate how weight shifted when she was sitting, standing and running. The suits were built in pieces: an upper body that zips up the spine and a lower half, from the 48-inch waist to the kneecaps, that zips up the front like a pair of pants. In addition, there were separate pieces for each calf and gloves for her hands made of silicone. (The prostheses were built by Artist’s Asylum.)The first time Paltrow saw herself in the full suit and makeup, at a test in a New York hotel room before filming began, she was overwhelmed. “I had a thousand emotions. I was laughing and crying, and I was shocked and loved it,” she says. “It was very intense.”

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