Last Thursday, the Carsey-Wolf Center brought “Raging Bull” to the Pollock Theater. The film is considered one of Martin Scorsese’s best, and its star Robert De Niro won the Oscar for Best Actor in 1980. University of California, Santa Barbara alum and award-winning makeup artist Michael Westmore participated in a post-screening Q&A to discuss his work on the film and in general.
Jealous, headstrong, and self-destructive, Jake LaMotta (De Niro) is trying his best to make it to the middleweight championship. However, he suffers setback after setback, whether it be his loss to Sugar Ray Robinson and Jimmy Reeves, or his fights with his wife Vickie over his paranoia that she has feelings for another man. His brother/manager Joey LaMotta does what he can to help Jake, but Jake’s self-destructive tendencies get the better of him, and eventually both his relationship to his brother and his marriage deteriorate.
Scorsese has a tendency to explore obsession and toxic behavior in all his films, and “Raging Bull” doesn’t prove to be any different. The film explores the unglamorous elements of Hollywood fame; various scenes in it feel almost naked in their vulnerability and openness. There are scenes with open displays of violence, and the film’s script doesn’t shy away from the gratuity of its language and the character’s actions. De Niro does an excellent job showcasing the physicality of the role and presenting an interesting character study of LaMotta.
Westmore talked in depth about De Niro’s commitment to the film. De Niro famously gained 60 pounds for the role, Westmore confirmed. He remembered that the trainers who were involved in the film said that if De Niro actually boxed, he “could go in the ring … and win a lot of the time.”
Instead of lunch, he would go the gym and train. Westmore recalled a memory in which De Niro offered him a donut, a staple of the actor’s diet in preparation for “Raging Bull,” which consisted of “a dozen glazed donuts for breakfast” and “stuffing himself with pasta.” Westmore joked that he was surprised to “see him now doing these little comedies,” because De Niro had the ability to disappear into any role he was given. Westmore described this ability as reptilian.
In his work on the film, Westmore got to meet the real-life LaMotta. Westmore had to make a plaster cast of his nose to carve out a replica for De Niro in the film. LaMotta was, understandably, hesitant. “You’re not going to do that,” he said to Westmore. Eventually, he was able to convince him. It took about five minutes to get the cast done.
When asked about the widespread use of CGI and his opinion of it, Westmore didn’t have an opinion because he viewed it as inevitable.
“CGI was already here,” he said. Many people in the makeup industry were worried about its proliferation because they thought they would be put out of business.
“Sometimes it gets a little carried away in the action films,” Westmore said.
Westmore’s relationship with Scorsese was a frequent topic of conversation at the Q&A. Westmore admitted that he didn’t talk to Scorsese much because he didn’t “depend on socializing,” but that he was friendly on set and shooting always took a long time because Scorsese loved doing multiple takes. The moderator, Professor Anna Brusutti, pointed out a continuity error in the film. Westmore responded that “it can happen in a Scorsese film” and cited his love for multiple takes. He humorously recalled him breaking a chair into pieces on set, much like Joey after Jake’s second loss to Sugar Ray. Despite that, Westmore reassured that Scorsese was “a nice man, but you can see those creative wheels going all the time.”
Funnily enough, Westmore initially did not want to work on the film because he had the read the script and “didn’t think it was going to go anywhere.” He eventually changed his mind and was involved for about 18 months. Thanks to his work on the film, Westmore was personally invited to become a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences by the organization’s president, which was necessary because they did not have a dedicated makeup category at the time.
When asked by an audience member if he compounded his makeup, he said he didn’t and referred to his family, which is his “inspiration.” His daughter has her own line of makeup “and it’s on QVC,” he joked.