joker bust closeup

Exclusive: Film icon Rick Baker on his creepy new Joker bust and his favorite movie creation

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Apr 30, 2018

When legendary movie makeup wizard Rick Baker announced he was retiring from movies, a lot of fans were bummed out. Then came a twist: Baker wasn't putting his away his tools; he only wanted to find new muses. And who better to inspire the genius behind the wicked creatures in Gremlins 2: The New Batch, An American Werewolf in London and the grooving monsters in Michael Jackson's Thriller than the Clown Prince of Gotham?

The Joker Bust by Rick Baker is the latest and creepiest collectible offered by DC Collectibles. As we showed you in an earlier story when the bust was announced at Toy Fair, this is unlike any other Joker design you've seen. That's no small feat, considering the character has been around nearly 80 years and been reinterpreted countless times across multiple mediums over those eight decades. Baker's rendition of Batman's arch-foe puts the emphasis on the distorted features of the Joker's face. From the sharp, sunken cheekbones to the scarred and wrinkled forehead, it's truly eerie. He looks more like a twisted carnival baker from an '80s horror film than he does a comic book villain.

Joker Rick Baker Bust

Credit: DC Collectibles

When DC first approached Baker about doing something, he would only agree to a project if he had complete creative autonomy. The frustration of having too many people poking their fingers and opinions into his work was a major factor in Baker's decision to retire from the movie business. So why seek out similar frustrations in another medium, like collectibles? "My daughter works at DC. She told me that they wanted me to do something for them. So I went on a tour there [at the DC Entertainment offices] and saw the collectibles, and I said the only way it would happen is if they leave me alone and let me bring a finished piece to them," he said. "To my surprise, they said yes."

It turns out, DC was seeking what Baker wanted to deliver: a singular artistic expression of one of their signature characters. "I doubted they would be true to their word, but they did," Baker said.

The Joker Bust by Rick Baker drops in October with an extremely limited production run of 200, retailing for $1,000. The life-size 1:1 scale design measures 22 inches in height. 50 of the busts from that production run will be part of an Ultimate Edition featuring a variant design created from Baker's original molds, and features the Joker wearing a black shirt and yellow vest. The Ultimate Edition is priced at $1,500 and comes with a signed COA by Baker.

SYFY WIRE had the chance to talk exclusively with the seven-time Academy Award winner about getting a crack at creating his own take on the Joker. Baker told us how the project came about and even explained how a Baker family Halloween outing was a sort of Prototype Day for this sculpt.

rick baker wip joker bust

Rick Baker working on his Joker bust

This is one of the scariest renditions of the Joker we've ever seen. It really captures the character at his most primal. How did you come up with the design, and some of the specific elements like the wrinkles in the forehead?

I always make up my daughters, my wife and myself for Halloween. It's a big deal here. They've been in makeup since they were born. It's always hard to come up with a theme that works. ‘What's a theme we can come up with that's one guy and three girls?' When my daughter Veronica started working at DC, we thought, ‘why don't we do elaborate versions of the Joker in our family?'

So I did Veronica as the Killing Joke version of the character, I did my daughter Rebecca as the Heath Ledger Joker, I did my daughter's boyfriend as The Man Who Laughs version, the 1928 Conrad Veidt movie that was actually the original inspiration for the Joker, and I did myself as The New 52 Joker, since that's the most grotesque version (laughs). I spent a lot of time looking at different Jokers, and I just thought about the whole backstory of the character. The fact he was in this toxic material that deformed him and … look, I like grotesque. I find beauty in the grotesque. And I just wanted him to be a scary-ass Joker. And I wanted to show that his skin was affected by the toxic materials and that he wasn't just white, but wrinkly and weird. The funny thing is, my daughter Rebecca says that everything I sculpt looks like me. And I've had people tell me that. ‘It kinda looks like you.'

And how do you take that?

I take it as a compliment! I've spent my life making scary faces. But ultimately, I wanted it to have this feeling of a classic Joker, but more twisted and with my spin on it. I really wanted it to be a crazy, intense, maniacal design.

Joker bust mold rick baker

Work-in-progress shot of the Rick Baker Joker Bust

Was there a particular part of the process that gave you problems?

Probably the most difficult part of the whole process was to mold it. I also said to the DC Collectibles guys, ‘I don't know how it usually works for you when you deal with sculptors. They probably just give you a sculpture and you make a mold of it.' But I wanted to have people I know make the molds, I wanted to paint it, and I wanted to give DC a finished bust. There's no mistaking this. It's totally me.

Originally, I was thinking I'd make the molds myself. But because of the angle of the head turn and everything else, all the details, I realized I needed to get my old crew back and have them make a proper mold of this. It's molded in water-based clay, which dries. So you have to make the mold before it dries out. Every night you're working on it, you have to cover it with wet rags and plastic. I have a home studio where I sculpted it. But the jacket for the mold - it's a silicone mold but it has a fiberglass jacket. In a residential area you don't want to be making fiberglass and stuff like that. We got it to a certain point where you cover the whole sculpture with a layer of clay that will eventually be removed and then silicone will be poured in. So we did that and built a box around it, packed it up and took it to a friend's studio to do the fiberglass stuff. That was what scared me the most and was the most difficult part of the whole thing. But Rob Freitas did a beautiful job with the molds. He's worked with me for many years on The Grinch, Men In Black, Hellboy and Planet of the Apes and others.

Would you do consider doing another project for DC?

Yeah, I don't know if I would do it right away. Because I'm doing so many other things that I'm doing for myself. It was a totally pleasant experience, but It demanded a pretty big time commitment, too. Let's see if people like this one, first. I was actually scared at first because this is different from what many people consider the Joker to be. I know a lot of the comic book fans can be pretty hardcore about things. I also know it's kind of older-looking than the other Jokers. I just hope that people get it and like it, and don't hate me for changing the Joker around."

When you retired, you cited the industry's reliance on CGI as one reason. But the filmmakers working on the new Star Wars movies have made a concerted effort to bring back more practical effects. Ryan Johnson even had an actual Yoda puppet used in The Last Jedi. Would a movie like that — and not necessarily talking about Star Wars — that focuses on traditional creativity like your expertise, be enough to draw you out of retirement?

I think I'm done for good. When I retired, I thought maybe I would be willing to do designs or consult. I like that stuff, but now, I don't think I would go back. I'm loving my life at the moment, without the other influences of producers and directors telling me what to do. Remember, I started out on low-budget independent films where you had a couple of weeks and a few hundred dollars to make what you could make. You did the best you could. After An American Werewolf in London, things changed. People asked how we could do things that hadn't been done before. Is it new material, or what? I just said, ‘ the reason it's better than what's been done before is that John Landis asked me what it would take, and I told him it would take more time and more money.

By the way, I first worked with John on Schlock in 1973, which was my second movie. I did that one for a deferred payment, which I still haven't seen. I'm beginning to think that after 45 years, I won't ever see that payment [laughs].

Ask ten different fans for a favorite Rick Baker movie, you'll get ten different answers. One might say Star Wars and the cantina sequence, someone else might say Men In Black, and some may even say Michael Jackson's Thriller (this would be my daughters' choice, BTW). But what Rick Baker project do you think doesn't get the attention it deserves?

Well, An American Werewolf In London put me on the map and I'm fond of it and had a lot of fun with it, but when I look at it now, there are things in there that I cringe at. I was thirty years old and my crew were kids. But my favorite creation is Harry from Harry and the Hendersons. if you watch the movie now, it holds up pretty well. I just liked the character, and his face was radio-controlled, and I was one of the main puppeteers as well so I was part of the performance. I got to work with the performer inside the suit, my friend Kevin Peter Hall, who unfortunately is no longer with us. But yeah, Harry is the one I like the most.