About a year before we started shooting, production put out a call out to indigenous actors and artists to participate in Killers Of The Flower Moon. Then the pandemic hit and everyone was afraid that no-one would show up. But everyone came to support the project as it was very important to all the participants in front and behind the camera. Many of these people had family members that were affected by the horrific events that happened during that time. There were a lot of tears and emotions in the makeup trailer on a daily basis. This was a reminder that we owe it to the Osage Nation to tell this story in the most authentic and truthful way. One of the interesting aspects was that the Osage Nation were the richest people per capita in the world at the time, due to oil. While staying close to their cultural traditions, French and European fashion influenced many of these people. The help of our incredible consultants with knowledge of the traditions and lifestyle helped a lot. We had access to an amazing research department. There were photographs of most of our characters in books and folders, from mug shots to group pictures of them sporting fashionable clothing, makeup and hairstyles whilst also still wearing their traditional blankets at all times. 

Behind the scenes of Killers of The Flower Moon (2023). Images courtesy of Thomas Nellen.

I am very happy and pleased with how the movie turned out. The biggest compliment we can get for our work in a movie is when no one mentions it. That means that our work felt real, authentic and supported the narrative of the story and might even have helped the performances. I am very proud of how Mollie’s health deterioration turned out. My goal was that we never look at makeup, but at Mollie the character. It was important to me that the viewers can identify with her and feel the pain as she goes from glowing and healthy looking to near death.

We shot the movie during the height of the pandemic so most of the conversations prior to shooting happened via Zoom calls. The words authentic and real were on the very top of the list of Marty’s directions. He is such a visual person. Between the notes he gave to all the different departments we were able to exchange thoughts among us in order to create the looks. After about two weeks of shooting I pulled the Line Producer aside as I had not heard anything from Marti on whether or not he liked what we were doing makeup-wise. I asked him if everyone was happy. He just looked at me and said: “Look! If Marti wasn’t happy with what you are doing you would have heard it a long time ago!” Because of Covid and the masks, goggles and face shields, personal contact on set was kept to a minimum, but I was amazed every day watching the monitors how real and natural everything looked. 

Lily Gladstone in Killers of The Flower Moon (2023). Images courtesy of Thomas Nellen.

I was hired on Avatar: The Way of Water to create the wounds for the Avatars. I was working here in LA and sculpted about 170 wounds from fresh cuts, stitched or stapled, arrow wounds and scratches and bruises. Once done with the sculptures I created molds to create the actual wounds. Finally we did makeup tests for James Cameron’s approval. And again these wounds were for the Avatars only, the digital creations and not the live action artists in New Zealand. They wanted me to make these wounds real so they could be photographed and filmed to create images which would then be applied to the characters. When you do things in real life things happen naturally like little reflections or shadows. If you create it digitally you have to invent all of this. 

Images courtesy of Thomas Nellen. Photography by Jeff Bridges.

I first met Jeff Bridges on Seabiscuit. Jeff used to work with a makeup artist that had an accident I believe just a few weeks before we started shooting. I was hired as the makeup department head. As they were looking for someone who could do Jeff’s makeup I put a list together of people that I thought would fit him and his team. At the same time I told production that being from Switzerland I am used to having the number one on the call sheet in my chair, as I feel responsible for the look of the movie in general but in particular of our lead cast. Jeff agreed to do a makeup test with me. Needless to say that I think he was happy with what I did, as he ended up sitting in my chair. We still have this wonderful relationship after 23 years. I truly appreciate Jeff and his work ethics. He is a very profound human being, reads a lot and reinvents himself for every part he is playing.

Thomas Nellen and Jeff Bridges on set. Courtesy of Thomas Nellen.

The main thing I have learned over the years is that there is not just one correct answer to a solution. It’s all about what works best for the situation and the part. As the saying goes: There is no I in together. I think our relationship represents exactly that. Jeff means the world to me. I enjoy our work together, his sense of humor and our profound conversations and of course the parts he chooses to play. I don’t think we have ever done a project together just for the sake of it. There is always a reason why he chooses his parts. We change the approach on every project we do together. Mostly to differentiate projects from one another. Sometimes I start with his hair and then do his make up other times I do it vice versa. Or I use different brushes so the process doesn’t become repetitive.

I am currently working with Jeff on The Old Man. We started this series in 2019 and are currently finishing season two. Originally we were going to shoot parts of the episodes in Morocco. Then the pandemic happened and the travel ban. Production came to a halt. Then as we were about to continue, Jeff was diagnosed with lymphoma. That was horrible and tragic as no one knew how it all would turn out. After his first chemotherapy I called Jeff up as it had been about four months since we stopped filming and chances were that during his second chemo he would start losing his hair. I thought if we continued he might possibly need a wig. His hair was just the right length that I could get him a wig. First he was a little hesitant but then a few days later he called me up and said that we should do it. 

Jeff Bridges and Thomas Nellen on set. Photography by Jeff Bridges.

With the help of his wife Susan we cut his hair during a Zoom call. I advised her how to use the clippers. As you all know Jeff has one of the best heads of hair in the industry so I thought it would make sense to use his own for the wig. Susan did a great job and I received his hair a few days later in the mail. We decided that I would wait on making the wig as I needed the exact measurements of his head. From then on I checked in with him every two weeks or so to see how everything was going. He reacted very positively to his second chemo. The tumor in his abdomen was shrinking and everyone was excited. He went home from the hospital to celebrate, but unknowingly he had gotten Covid in the hospital and infected everyone at home. Susan and Jeff had to go back to the hospital. Jeff ended up in the ICU for about four weeks, I believe. Finally he recovered and was able to go home to heal. Months went by and finally one day I got a video call from Jeff asking me if I could come and cut his hair that had regrown. Production was looking to start again. 

Thomas Nellen and Jeff Bridges on set. Photography by Jeff Bridges.

Oh my god, you should have seen his hair. It had grown back in full in the same color, but the texture of it was totally different. I am exaggerating a bit but it was as though he had an Afro. He said: just so you know there is no way I am going to wear a wig. That made me laugh and I told him that with hair like that I wouldn’t even know where to put the wig. I ended up cutting his hair according to the style he is wearing in the series and with relaxers and straightening iron I was able to match the photos that I had on file from the show. He was back! I am so proud of him for how he took it all without losing his sense of humour. And now we are finishing season two as though nothing had ever happened.