Troy High School graduate John Caglione has a pretty neat job. At numerous times in his long career, he’s demanded Al Pacino’s complete attention, and he gets it.
A makeup artist in New York City and Hollywood for 40 years now, Caglione’s latest piece of work is the transformation of Pacino, an Oscar, Emmy and Tony Award winner, into former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno for the HBO movie, “Paterno,” which premiered on the cable channel last week.
Caglione, reached at his home on Long Island last week, said his latest in a long series of gigs as Pacino’s makeup artist required him to spend 30 minutes each morning with the actor during the four weeks of filming.
“There’s not a lot of time spent on TV films so for 30 minutes every day I would do the makeup for him,” said Caglione, a New York native who grew up in Troy and graduated from high school there in 1976. “It was great. I got a phone call from Al asking me to do it. I started out by researching Paterno and taking a good look at him. Then I called Al back and got his take on it. You don’t want to go too far. We want to give the impression of the character. You don’t want to obliterate Al Pacino under tons of makeup.”
Caglione first got his hands on Pacino for Warren Beatty’s 1990 smash, “Dick Tracy,” in which Pacino played Big Boy Caprice. Caglione was the chief makeup artist for the film and it earned him his first Academy Award.
“Warren Beatty hired me and brought me to Hollywood and that was where I first met Al,” said Caglione. “I designed all the characters in that film, and I’ve continued to work with Al ever since. I’m a freelancer, and I often get requested by actors. Al’s been great requesting me, and I’ve also done a lot of work with Russell Crowe.”
In a statement given to The Gazette last week by HBO officials, Pacino heaped praise on Caglione.
“John Caglione is a makeup artist supreme,” said Pacino. “I want John around for every character I play. He makes it happen. What a gift.”
After high school
While “Dick Tracy” may have made Caglione a “star,” so to speak, he got into the business right after high school, heading to NBC in New York City at the urging of legendary makeup artist, Dick Smith.
“I was a crazy kid, into all the monster movies back then, and at 15 or 16 I wrote a fan letter to the greatest makeup artist of all time, and he took me under his wing and mentored me,” said Caglione, who was working as a dental technician before heading to NBC as an apprentice in 1976 at the age of 18. “Dick was thought of as the first makeup artist in TV history. He got me into NBC and I was on staff there for six years. I left there in the early 80s and have been a freelancer ever since.”
The year before Caglione started at NBC, the network was putting on a new late-night show, “Saturday Night Live.” By January of 1977, when the writers developed a new sketch about the “Coneheads,” Caglione was put to the test.
“I was working on this new show, called ‘Saturday Night Live,’ and I had to build these coneheads and soul patches,” said Caglione. “It was a lot of fun, following around Danny [Akroyd], [John] Belushi and Bill Murray. NBC hired me to do a lot of character stuff and that was great, but much of the time I was doing game shows, soap operas and working on David Letterman’s show.”
Before his huge success in “Dick Tracy,” Caglione was beginning to make a name for himself in films like “The Cotton Club,” “Zelig” and “Birdy.”
“I ended up staying in LA for only about six years,” said Caglione, whose brother Paul still lives in the Capital Region. “Then my wife and I took our two daughters and moved back East. Hollywood just really wasn’t for us, so we moved back to New York. So I travel a lot. I go to a location, work, and then I go home.”
Caglione earned his second Oscar nomination for his work on Heath Ledger in another Batman movie from 2009, “The Dark Knight.” His other work with Pacino has included HBO projects such as “Angels in America,” for which he won an Emmy, and “You Don’t Know Jack,” for which he earned another nomination.
“I have to pinch myself when I think about my career,” said Caglione. “It’s been great, and along with all the prosthetic work I’ve done, I do a lot of beauty makeup and I really enjoy that, too. I’ve worked on Emma Stone, Jennifer Connelly, Rachel McAdams. What’s great about this business is that you don’t really know what’s around the corner. I’m 60 now and I’m still having fun. As long as I have a steady hand and can see well, I’m going to stay at it.”
At least as long as Pacino keeps calling.
“He really is a giving and caring guy,” Caglione said of Pacino. “He makes you relax, so you can just bring it and do what you have to do. I don’t think I’ll have another relationship with an actor like I’ve had with Al.”