The Making Of A President
It takes a village (and a good wig) to turn comic Anthony Atamanuik into the commander-in-chief for Comedy Central’s The President Show.
Anthony Atamanuik, who morphs into Donald Trump for Comedy Central's The President Show, perspires. A whole lot.
Just ask the team responsible for his weekly metamorphosis. "When he's in full hair and makeup and a bald cap, he gets hot," costume designer Nina Schelich says.
That's why the two-piece fat suit she created for field shoots includes a cooling system. Perspiration was also a consideration when Tom Denier, Jr., makeup department head, and Bettie O. Rogers, head of the wig department, were developing a look that's true to the commander-in-chief — yet can withstand sweat (as well as mud and an occasional flop into a pool).
Since its April 2017 premiere, this half-hour talk show–sketch comedy hybrid has aired 21 episodes and two specials. But Atamanuik had perfected Trump's mug and mannerisms long ago, while touring in a live comedy show called Trump vs. Bernie. Even so, Denier and Rogers, both Saturday Night Live vets, put in a lot of sweat equity to upgrade the comic's Trumpian appearance for primetime.
Here, in their words, is how the dream team keeps Atamanuik looking — and feeling — positively presidential.
TOM DENIER, JR.
"When I was first contacted about the job, Anthony wanted to go full prosthetic. I have a special effects company, and that's mostly what we do. We built a wrap-around prosthetic for his face. Sitting still, it looked great. But the rubber on his face was inhibiting him. Anthony's been doing Trump for so long, he's used to making faces by distorting himself. In the long run, I think it would have been a nightmare for us to deal with applying the prosthetics every day.
"Anthony's makeup can be done in an hour when he sits still, but it usually takes closer to two. He's the show's creator and host, and has a lot of people wanting to confer with him at all times. Working around that is quite the challenge. I can't have his head moving back and forth.
"The process starts when I put a bald cap on him. I then shade the jawline and all the dark recesses around the nasolabial areas to give him that jowly, heavyset look. I use an alcohol palette to add creases and crow's feet. Then, I create a layered look by airbrushing over it all with Trump color.
"I first used an orange-based color to replicate Trump's skin tone. But it read too orange [under the lights], so I switched to a deep tan with just a bit of coral adjuster. The lack of skin tone around the eyes is Trump's signature look. To achieve it, I have Anthony put on an old pair of goggle-style sunglasses that I had from 20 years ago, and I spray around them.
With the dark sunglasses and the bald cap, he looks like a mad scientist from Despicable Me. The hair totally transforms him. When it's on, everything comes together."
BETTIE O. ROGERS
"I headed up the hairstyling department at Saturday Night Live for 10 years, so I've made at least 10 Trump wigs at this point. To make Anthony's, I used around five different colors of hair. It took about 45 hours to individually hand-tie each hair to a custom lace foundation.
"The wig application only takes about five minutes. Prepping and styling can take anywhere from a half hour to an hour, depending on what was previously done to it. Anthony does lots of stunts and sweating. He's had water poured over his head and swum in a pool — all sorts of fun things like that. A lot of times my partner-in-crime, Robin Day, co-department head, takes over because my schedule is so crazy, but most often I'm in charge of prepping the wigs.
"With the wig on, it's as if Anthony's wearing five different hairstyles on one head. On the sides, we wet-set and style it into place with a wide-tooth comb [and pull out] the individual little hairs that drape over his ears. The top, which we call the lid, is back-combed and brushed into a sort of pompadour and pulled down really low to make it look like a baseball cap lid. Then there's the mullet on the sides and back. There's even a small swirl in the back of his parting area that Robin calls 'the swatch.'
"Unlike the wig, the eyebrows took about an hour to create. They sprout out of everywhere. Tom mats down Anthony's [own] brows with spirit gum before applying them.
"The day before we shoot, I cut Anthony's hair. We try to keep it short so when the bald cap goes on, it stays pretty tight to the head. I love when the wind blows and the whole lid section comes up."
"I'd describe the real Trump's style as basic. I don't think he puts a lot of thought into it. When I worked on The Nightly Show, Larry Wilmore wore Boss suits and looked super dapper. For The President Show, I wanted to go in the opposite direction.
I didn't want the fit to look like anything custom, so I purposely left the hem of Anthony's trousers slouchier, and the length of the sleeves on his French-cuff shirts an inch longer than I'd normally put on him. I also turn the flag pin on his lapel upside down.
"My biggest challenge was creating a fat suit that Anthony could work in for as long as possible. We actually ended up creating two fat suits. The first is a one-piece that zips up the back. He wears it in the studio. Anthony was emphatic about having the right butt on the fat suit, so the tailor, Jimmy Hogan, and I looked at photos of what Trump would look like naked and figured out how to put the excess weight on Anthony's body.
The suit is made of nude Spandex with poly-fill batting for padding. The stomach and boob pieces are filled with little hard pellets, like those in stuffed animals, to give them weight. A mesh top-skin smooths the fat pockets. When Anthony has the suit on without clothes, he looks like a naked chicken.
"Once we built that fat suit and Anthony started working in it, we realized that when he does field pieces, he needs to be comfortable. We built a two-piece fat suit that he could take off more easily. The vest hooks up to a cooler and helps bring his core temperature down.
"We usually have about a day to custom-make costumes. In one episode, Anthony [as Trump] dressed as [a superhero patterned after] Evel Knievel. We got a white zip-up janitorial suit and added French cuffs, a huge collar and metallic trimmings…. We made a huge cape. I had yards of red, white and blue fabric. We had an assembly line of PAs cutting out 400 stars that we glued on the cape.
"We're dressing people that everyone in the world knows and replicating them in a way that's funnier. For John Gemberling, who plays Steve Bannon, we put fake dirt on his pants and gave him stomach padding. Before he went on camera, we sprinkled fake soap on his jacket collar to look like dandruff. For Peter Grosz's Mike Pence, we made a custom vest to bulk up his chest.
James Adomian had been playing the character of Bernie Sanders for a long time with Anthony, so I just modified his look by putting him in a gray suit (also with dandruff) and orthopedic shoes with rubber soles. I'd seen the real Bernie up close several times at The Nightly Show, which helped."
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 4, 2018