In entertainment, an awful lot of stuff happens behind closed doors, from canceling TV shows to organizing music festival lineups. While the public sees the end product on TVs, movie screens, paper, or radio dials, they don’t see what it took to get there. In Expert Witness, The A.V. Club talks to industry insiders about the actual business of entertainment in hopes of shedding some light on how the pop-culture sausage gets made.

There was a lot of good stuff to take away from The Overnight, the recent Jason Schwartzman/Adam Scott comedy, from marital advice to all manner of fake dongs. (And if you didn’t get enough Adam Scott, you can see him talk trash on The A.V. Club’s Pick A Choice.) And while tips on how to keep your love life spicy are interesting, The A.V. Club—like many casual viewers of the film, we’d imagine—wanted to know more about those prosthetic penises, which Scott and Schwartzman strapped on to various effect. How did they work? Where did the actors’ actual penises go? And what about the pubes?

Advertisement

So we went straight to the expert. Matthew Mungle, who made the prosthetics for The Overnight, is one of Hollywood’s most respected makeup and special effects artists. He’s worked on everything from Albert Nobbs to CSI, and has over 200 film and television credits to his name. And even though Mungle has won an Academy Award, he was gracious enough to give precise and matter-of-fact answers to all our dumb questions about silicon wieners.

The A.V. Club: How do prosthetic penises work? Where does everything go?

Matthew Mungle: We started out first by asking, “Okay, how big or small do you want them?” And then they’d say, “One is 3 inches, and the other one is 7 inches.” So we would do a sculpt, and we’d get it approved from them—the penis and the testicles—and then we mold it, and then make it out of silicone.

Advertisement

Then what happens is the back of the prosthetic has kind of a void in it where the real anatomy can go. And then lace—hair lace—is glued to the top of the appliance, because you can’t really glue silicone to that particular area, you know. So we do it with a lace piece that has hair in it. Half the lace piece is on the top part of the penis, and then the other half is just exposed. And we asked the actors to shave themselves so we could glue the lace on. The other piece where the testicles are, we glue with silicone a piece of material, and that goes in between the cheeks and that is glued at the very top of the buttocks. And that holds it down. So that’s basically a rundown.

We make them out of silicone, which adds a translucency to them so we can make them more realistic. And silicone has a little weight to it, so it moves like a real penis.

AVC: Was The Overnight the first time you’ve ever made a fake penis for a movie?

MM: No, no. We’ve done We’re The Millers, Get Hard.

That’s a funny story because [for Get Hard] Will Ferrell wanted to make sure it could be wiped in his face, because that’s what happens in the film. And we sent him one that was a little too hard, so we sent him another one, and a video of it. He rubbed it over his face, and said, “That’s perfect.” It was soft enough. So then he sent it back, and we painted it.

Advertisement

So Get Hard, and then for Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay we did one with a lot of hair, and Looking.

We either get calls for prosthetic makeup for character’s pregnancies, or testicles and penises.

AVC: Do you have to take measurements of the actors? Or do you base the size on what would look normal for a particular actor?

Advertisement

MM: Exactly, exactly. And for comedic expense: “Oh, we want it really small, so…” But because we’ve done so many, we have molds that they come out of. We’ll run a test one, and they can take it and hold it up: “Is this too big, or too small?” And, for productions that don’t have that much money, we also can make a stock one. Say, we made this one for another movie, but we can run it out of this mold because we own the mold. It’s a little cheaper for them to do that.

AVC: How specific do people get? Do they say, “No, I need more pubic hair. I need this to be…

MM: Oh, yes. Oh, yes.

AVC: …more veiny.”

MM: “It needs to be a little longer, and we need it to be veinier. And is it cut or uncut?” And, most of the time, with the molds we have, we can adapt them and make them whatever the production needs.

AVC: It’s got to be one of the more fun days on a set. Or more interesting decisions someone like Will Ferrell has to make.

Advertisement

MM: We also did it for Step Brothers—the testicles that he puts on the drum, you know.

They’re just pushing the envelope these days. With all of these comedies, you know, how far they can get.

AVC: Do you send out a team to do the prosthetic stuff on set? Do you help the actors on the days that they need to strap it on?

Advertisement

MM: Usually I send a technician or an artist to do that. Or their makeup artist will do it and I explain to them how it’s done. It’s a very private thing, and they purchase it, they don’t rent it. You don’t want it back.

AVC: Well, hopefully the actors keep them.

MM: Yeah, I’m sure somebody’s got it on their wall someplace.

AVC: On your website, you have a gallery of some of the pregnancy bellies you’ve done. How do those work?

Advertisement

MM: Pregnancies are usually made out of foam latex instead of silicone because silicone does get a little heavy. Foam latex is very light, and if it’s painted right, it’ll look perfect to the eye of the camera. But all the edges are very seamless and feathered very tissue-thin, so they’re blended onto the skin of the actress. And it wraps around so the seam is actually dead-center on the spine or off-sides of the spine. And then it goes down below the panty waist and under the breast area.

AVC: How long does it take to put something like that on?

MM: A pregnancy? It usually takes about two hours or less because it’s all pre-painted. For the penis, it would probably only take about 30 minutes or less to get the penis on.

Advertisement

And then the upkeep—oh, it’s very important to upkeep it.

AVC: What does that mean?

MM: Well, if it comes off, you have to re-glue it, you know?

We also made penises for Little Britain USA. That was funny because both Matt [Lucas] and David [Walliams] had to be these bodybuilders, so we had to do full suits. And Matt Lucas had to have a very, very small penis and it had to get erect at times. So I would have to kneel down, and we’d go and put a little wire in through it, so we could bend it, so it would either be flaccid or erect.

Advertisement

Oh, the things we do.

AVC: It is interesting that you have to come up with creative solutions to problems like these.

MM: Oh, all the time! That’s why I love this job. It’s so creative. And even if you do a penis for one job, or prosthetics or whatever, it’s completely different, like an old age face. Nobody’s face is the same. It’s completely different every job.

Advertisement

AVC: How did you get interested in old age makeup?

MM: Because there are so many variations of prosthetic makeup that you can do—a monster, blood and gore, a creature, old-age makeup, character makeup—I decided early in my career that I would focus on character and old age because it’s harder to do and to make it look realistic.

AVC: People don’t necessarily know what a monster looks like, but they know what an old person looks like.

Advertisement

MM: Exactly, exactly. For instance, for Albert Nobbs, I had to put a nose on Glenn Close. And you’re not supposed to know she’s wearing a nose, so the subtlety of it is very important. I love people saying, “I didn’t know she was wearing a prosthetic. I didn’t know she was wearing a nose.” That is the greatest challenge, and the greatest compliment anybody can give us.

AVC: When you’re doing something like that, do you make a few noses and try to figure out which one’s the best? How does it work?

Advertisement

MM: Absolutely. If we’ve got enough time, the production will call me and say, “Well, we need a nose.” I’ll say, “Well, listen, since we only have one chance, or maybe two chances, I’m going to sculpt three versions of this nose so we can have it. And maybe we’ll hit the nail on the head for this.” A bigger nose, a medium nose, and a smaller nose. Subtlety is always the key to my work. We start out there, and usually we hit it on the head.

AVC: You’ve also worked on bodies for shows like CSI. How do autopsy scenes work?

MM: Usually we have stock appliances depending on what needs to be done. And are we going to use the actor, or are we going to make a full body cast of the actor? And we have to decide, if we’re going to use the actor, then they have to have appliances on them, and is the chest open, or is it closed? If it’s opened, and the skin is open, and you see intestines, we can only make them flat, of course, because you have the actor there. And it’s a stock appliance that fits over their chest, and we cut it open, and there are flat organs that sit on top of their chest.

Advertisement

AVC: Are they set into the table a little bit, or are they on the table?

MM: Sometimes. If production will pay for a false bottom on the autopsy table, then we do that. We cut a hole in it, and fit them with a fake body that blends in with their neck. And then we use their own arms sitting next to the fake body and legs. And we can mesh the two.

AVC: Is it easier to use an actor or a dummy?

MM: Well, it comes down to money, too. We usually request about two weeks to make a body. And then it only takes us about a week to make appliances for an actor. Of course, you have to take into consideration that we have to apply the appliances on the day.

AVC: How did you get started doing all this?

MM: I grew up in Oklahoma on a farm, and I just got interested in monster movies and the first film that really grabbed me was 7 Faces Of Dr. Lao because it was just fascinating how the makeup artist took the actor’s face and turned him into different characters. I was just fascinated by that. And then of course Planet Of The Apes came out two or three years after that, and I was hooked.

Advertisement

AVC: What are some of the more challenging things you’ve had to make?

MM: I think it’s probably creatures, you know. People sometimes hate the man in the suit look, so to speak, and I always strive to apply appliances to the body so the body has more movement to it. And that’s always challenging to talk a production into that instead of a suit. Because of course it does take time to apply it during the day. It takes between three and five hours to apply that as opposed to just jumping into a suit. It depends on how much prosthetics they have.

It’s always challenging to do a penis. Because, what size do you want, and things like that.

Advertisement

It’s all challenging as far as I’m concerned, and that’s why I really enjoy doing what I do.

AVC: You worked on the original The X-Files TV show. Are you working on The X-Files reboot?

MM: No, I’m not. I actually talked to Chris Carter, and he said if they were in L.A., absolutely we’d be working together, but they’re shooting in Vancouver, so they have their people up there. So I was a little dismayed about that, but I understand.

Advertisement

Plus, I was actually working on Salem at the time—I go to Shreveport to work on that—and I was just there from January to June, working on the whole season two of Salem. And, as far as I know, we got picked up, so in January I’ll be doing season three.

AVC: When you travel, do you have to take a big case of stuff with you? How does that work?

Advertisement

MM: I usually take all my basic tools and everything, and then we order things from Dallas or Los Angeles and have them shipped in. But since we worked on the first season of Salem, everything was there, so we just load it into a trailer. And then Lee Grimes and I usually make a lot of the appliances in the trailer. And then my lab in L.A. will make the larger bits that we need.

AVC: People must stop by all the time to see what you’re up to.

MM: Absolutely, absolutely. They come into the trailer and watch us sculpting, and making wolves, and making pieces. And that’s what I really enjoyed Salem for, because we were doing things that I grew up doing, and actually making molds, whereas now I’m just running a company and sometimes I have to rely on my artists to do that because we go through so many jobs.

Advertisement

AVC: Well, that’s a good problem to have.

MM: Yes, it is. Knock on wood.