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A Bloated History of the Movie Fat Suit

Photo: Lionsgate

At some point between Orson Welles and Tyler Perry, America turned against the fat suit. (Witness this spring’s debate over January Jones’s use of one on Mad Men.) If we had to pinpoint the exact moment when it transitioned completely from costume to comedic prop, we’d say it was upon the release of Eddie Murphy’s The Nutty Professor. But if Sherman Klump was the originator, Madea is the perpetuator. Tyler Perry has won millions of fans and just as many haters by strapping on a fat suit in at least half a dozen recent movies, the latest of which hit theaters this weekend. That makes this the perfect time to reflect on the fleshy prostheses that have entertained and annoyed so many, as well as to ask professional weight guesser and comedian Frenchie McFarlane how much these artificially inflated characters weighed.

Materials: No longer the young stud he once was, Welles still wasn’t grotesque enough to play Hank Quinlan in Touch of Evil. To change that, makeup artist Maurice Seiderman taped plastic bags under his eyes and stuffed his oversize suit with more than 60 pounds of padding.   What Welles said: Welles once spoke of the “terrible, enormous makeup that took forever to put on” and the “padded stomach and back, sixty pounds of it, and horrible old-age stuff.”   What Vulture says: By turning into an actual “massive, sweaty, rumbling figure” (to  quote Roger Ebert) later in life, Welles essentially validated the quality of this fat suit.   What our weight guesser says: 310
Materials: Unlike the soft and fleshy fat suits that came later, Mr. Creosote’s belly was made of a helium balloon fitted to an iron wire that shaped his enormous gut. The glutton’s flabby jowls were sculpted on with foam.   What Jones said: “When I was not in the costume I just had this huge face and I was just walking around in a vest and underpants and I looked really misshapen and strange.”   What Vulture says: It’s not that people can’t get this large (we’re thinking of some TLC shows), it’s that they probably wouldn’t be able to get to the restaurant very easily.   What our weight guesser says: 605
Materials: Hawn’s face, neck, and arms were covered in foam to plump up her exposed areas, while special effects gurus developed a new gel-based material called “flabbercast” to create “realistically jiggly rolls” under her clothes.   What Hawn said: Not much, though she did seem to think her fattened-up self was a pretty girl.   What Vulture says: From her flabby arms to her bloated face, big Goldie is a picture of homely perfection. Hell, she looks more real than half the befores in subway weight loss ads.    What our weight guesser says: 180
Materials: The task of transforming Eddie Murphy into four fleshy Klumps earned makeup artist Rick Baker an Oscar. He used latex masks to add fat cheeks and chins to Murphy’s normally skinny maw. Polyurethane foam fat suits helped him fill out his giant pants. But water-filled latex bladders that jiggled like jelly were the secret weapons to making Klump plump.   What Murphy said: “No one recognized me. In fact, people wouldn’t even look at me. I’d cross the street and not a single soul would make eye contact with me. When you’re overweight, it’s like you’re invisible.”   What Vulture says: To witness the incredible, life-like movements that Baker’s creations were capable of, watch Sherman Klump’s inspiring workout montage. The bouncing is mesmerizing.   What our weight guesser says: 402
Materials: Based on drawings of Sumo wrestlers, the three fat suits designed for Fat Bastard were composed of foam latex. And in a revolution that surely made Myers happy, they were water-cooled. The suits also introduced a hair and mole-covered surface that allowed Fat Bastard to parade around with his enormous man boobs exposed.   What Myers said: “After a couple of days of sweating in it — and I sweated a lot — I smelled like an 800-pound sewage filter system.”   What Vulture says: The hair and moles and squeezable man boobs that took the fat suit to a new level of realistic grotesquery. Mike Myers is the D.W. Griffith of fat suits.   What our weight guesser says: 375
Materials: Oscar-winning makeup artist Greg Cannom developed a method of hand-sculpting silicone prostheses that could be worn much longer than the gel and foam types that came before them. Big Momma’s massive suit was made of breathable fabric that Lawrence could wear as long as fourteen hours in a day.   What Lawrence said: “It was hard looking at [Nia Long] while I was in that fat suit though. I’m thinking, ‘Goodness you fine,’ and I’m in this fat face and all that.”   What Vulture says: It always seemed like Big Momma’s muumuus were hiding a less-than-perfect body structure underneath. She made up for it in the sequel, though, by showing off Über-realistic cellulite and pokey nipples on the beach.   What our weight guesser says: 282
Materials: Gwyneth had foam latex on her face and neck, with padding all around her body. She wore fat pants, a fat shirt, and fat arms all made of pillowy fabrics. When needed, latex fat gloves were also used. Given the highly unrealistic appearance of the bare suit, though, the Farrelly brothers brought in a body double for shots of her arms and legs.   What Paltrow said: “I felt no sexual energy from men. When I come to the set with the suit on and feel none of that, it is palpable.”   What Vulture says: Gwenyth’s torso seems too filled-out throughout the entire film and her chins are a little overboard. Just look at Ivy Snitzer, her body double. That’s what she should have looked like.   What our weight guesser says: 372
Materials: The future sexiest man alive had the same old silicone jowls as the fake fatties who came before him. But rather than have stuffing packed around his body, Reynolds was inflated with an inflatable fat suit.   What Reynolds said: “Feels strange. Definitely feels strange. We’ll see how some of the girls react.”   What Vulture says: The body and cheeks and neck look perfectly realistic, but building up everything on Reynold’s face except for the chin leaves him looking … like he’s wearing a fat suit.   What our weight guesser says: 267
Materials: Travolta beefed up his face with a heavy silicone material, while his butt, hips, and torso were padded with soft stuff. Lightweight foam prostheses extended from the fat suit to cover his arms and legs, allowing them to be exposed when he wore his pretty little dresses.   What Travolta said: “Every man and every woman wanted to feel those breasts and feel that ass — and I was, to be frank, a slut! I said: ‘Go ahead and feel me!’ I didn’t care, and I think I would be shameless as a woman. I learnt a lot about women. They have a lot of power, man!”   What Vulture says: Travolta’s fattened body works in a voluptuous, Divine sort of way. But it’s hard to get past his weird face, which looks like a beady-eyed cantaloupe.   What our weight guesser says: 380
Materials: Cruise wore a latex mold around his neck and chest, along with a nasty apparatus people call a chest wig. To bulk up his upper body he resorted to good old padding. And Les Grossman’s enormous hands? They were prosthesis.   What Cruise said: ‘He’s a fun character.”   What Vulture says: Spectacular. Be honest, if you saw side-by-side pictures of Les Grossman and Harvey Weinstein, who would you think was in a fat suit?   What our weight guesser says: 170
Materials: The technical wizardry involved in turning Tyler Perry into Madea hasn’t yet been fully revealed, but it’s safe to assume rubbery latex is used to fatten up his face and a padded suit that looks nothing like skin (notice how he/she always wears long sleeves?) rounds out his body.    What Perry said: “It’s too much. It’s the wig and the hair and the makeup and the fat suit. It’s all too much. But as long as people want to see it, I’ll do it.”   What Vulture says: As fun as it is to pile on Tyler Perry, his rotund alter ego actually looks like someone you’d see on the street. For as much as the guy plays to the cheap seats, at least he resisted the urge to turn Madea into a black Violet Beauregarde.   What our weight guesser says: 285
A Bloated History of the Movie Fat Suit