One of the great challenges an actor can face is playing the same character at various ages and stages of life. With the possible exception of Boyhood, directors generally don’t have time to wait for their actors to age naturally over the course of many years. Generally, the solution is for actors to don grey-haired wigs or bald caps and endure hours in the makeup chair as wrinkles and jowls and liver spots are meticulously applied to their faces with latex and spirit gum. But here’s the thing: Many famous actors have careers spanning decades, and during that time, they do age, despite the best efforts of their respective plastic surgeons. In some cases, it becomes possible to compare how an actor looked in old age makeup versus how he looked when he became an actual old person. Film editor extraordinaire Dominick Nero has used this concept as the basis for a captivating and very poignant supercut called “Old Age Makeup.” The montage is underscored with music from Up, so viewers should prepare themselves for an onslaught of emotion as they ponder the inevitability of decline and death.
Nero tells The A.V. Club how and why the video came about:
While slacking off in college, I posted some old age makeup vs real life comparisons on a cinema subreddit. Other than the tides of vitriol I received for flubbing up the dates, there seemed to be a general curiosity from the web community on these side-by-sides. An intellectual film theorist would probably say a supercut like this is naturally fulfilling for the cinema community, because film itself is wholly concerned with time, and since filmmakers have only a fleeting control of the element of time within their canvases, comparing their projected futures to reality of time’s effect on people is somewhat a study on truthfulness in cinema overall (see Boyhood). But the satisfaction of watching this supercut is probably better explained by the fact that people look funny in wrinkly latex makeup and gray beards with neckfat.
In most cases, happily, the actors aged more gracefully in reality than they did in the movies. Old-age makeup tends to be grotesque, transforming people into withered, misshapen ghouls. Dustin Hoffman has yet to turn into his 121-year-old character from Little Big Man, for which everyone should be grateful. And the real Lea Thompson did not undergo the same ravages as her character in Back To The Future Part II. Every once in a while, however, the appearance of an actor in old-age makeup eerily presages how that actor will look during his golden years. Compare, for instance, Marlon Brando in 1972’s The Godfather and 1990’s The Freshman. He was 47 in the former and 66 in the latter, but the two images look like they could have been filmed on the same day.