Actor Struggling to Breathe Under his Mask

I have an actor under a full-multi-part foam latex mask (previously, he was wearing a half-silicone mask over nose and mouth only). His nose is covered (because this alien as no nose) but his mouth is fully open.

Results: he was faint and we had to stop and remove make-up on both make-up tests and didn't start to "recover" until his nose was uncovered.
- He was not over-heated or anything like that.
- He was "okay" until he stood up.
- His mouth was fully able to open at all times.

I am thinking about putting in a cannula breather into the nose that snakes out for more fresh air under there. Ideas? Has anyone had this happen?


  • This is a tricky one.  Sometimes when a performer becomes aware that they can't breathe through their nose they get so focused on their breathing that it stops being an automatic process, which can lead to forgetting to breathe. Most people are not used to breathing just through their mouth and tend to rest with their mouth closed.

    The stress and claustrophobia of wearing the makeup, the anxiety of focusing on breathing, and the heat on set can all add up pretty quickly and wear on a performer.  And that's before you even incorporate performing.  Since this problem is mainly psychological (unless the performer has a medical condition that prevents or restricts breathing through the mouth) the best thing you can do is make the performer comfortable, try and keep their mind off breathing, and let their body take over.  Having a fan on them can also help, since feeling fresh air moving helps address the claustrophobia and helps keep them cool.

    Adding the breathing tube could help if it has a pump or fan providing it with air, since lengths of thin tubing can restrict the flow of air. As the seal with the nostrils is not perfect it may also result in the makeup contracting and expanding around the nose during breathing.  Then you may have noise concerns due to the pump/fan.

    Another option would be to add breathing holes or slits to the makeup around the nose to provide airflow, and then digitally patch those holes in post-production.  The expense of this depends on the number and length of shots with the character facing the camera, and the nature of those shots (closeups require more work).

    Performing in heavy makeup is a skill that requires a lot of hard work and focus, and performers who are new to it may require more time to acclimate to the makeup and learn to work with it.  Supporting your performer and ensuring they have all the resources to address and work through challenges is also important.  More complex characters may require additional training and practice. 

    If you have time to do a third makeup test with the actor, you could have them do some training on their own prior to the test, ideally for a few days.   For example, they could get a set of swimmer's nose plugs and practice wearing them for longer and longer periods of time.  This would help them acclimate to breathing only through their mouth, without all the added stress of being in makeup surrounded by people focusing on them.  And if the nose plugs work with the makeup, they could wear it during the test as well.  Having the nostrils physically plugged would help resist the urge to attempt to breathe through the nose, discover it's not possible, and increase anxiety. 

    And while it's not ideal, finding another performer could be an option.  Nothing is more important than safety, and if a performer is having difficulties that can't be addressed by support, training, changes to the production, or changes to the makeup, it might be safer to bring someone else in.

  • Thank you, Chris! This gives me a lot of ideas and potential options. I really appreciate it.

    - L
  • Well, I re-engineered some of the headgear that went under everything to make him more comfortable and he wore the swimming nose stuff to practice breathing after you mentioned it and wore it while we put on the prosthetics this time.

    He did a lot better at first, but by the time I was finishing up the last face piece he broke out into a sweat, heart started beating fast, had a hard time breathing and felt like he was going to vomit. He even got super pale. Had to emergency remove stuff again. Is it possible that these are symptoms of an allergy to the latex? 

    None of these symptoms happened during life-casting his head and shoulders (and we all know that takes some real chill). He was totally awesome throughout that. Hence, I wonder if he is allergic. He as no other outward symptoms other than what is listed above.

    Unfortunately, casting an new actor is not an option at this time. So, I gotta figure it out.
  • Latex allergy symptoms are usually blistering, rashes, skin redness, runny nose, sneezing, itching, throat irritation, or watery eyes.

    The symptoms you describe sound exactly like a panic or anxiety attack to me.

    With the nose plugs my hope was they could try wearing them for longer periods of time over a few days to get used to breathing through their mouth.  It seems pretty clear that the performer is having an extreme stress response to wearing the makeup.  I honestly don't know what the best steps moving forward would be, since continuing will likely result in the same outcome and induce more panic attacks.  The stress of knowing it's all riding on them making it through the application may also be compounding things.   My concern is that continuing with this performer may be unfair to them, especially if they have no professional support in dealing with the anxiety.

    While I know you've already gone through the lifecasting process and created prosthetics to match this performer, it may be possible to adapt them to fit another performer with a similar build/features.  I would try and find someone as an emergency backup just in case no other solution can be found.

    Otherwise, if they are ok with most of the prosthetics and just not the full nose, you could try the option of adding breathing slits and digitally patching them in post.  It's not too complicated a process in software like After Effects, and there are great tutorials out there on sites like "Video Copilot," but it does add time/expense.

    So sorry to hear you and the performer are having such a rough time with this application.  Hopefully you can find a solution that works for everyone.

  • Update.

    If your actor will let you ask some "medical history" questions, you may find out that they had a concussion in the past and the headgear you have for them was not as good of a fit as they let on, and they were powering through and causing a reaction.

    Current plan, refit all the inside of the stuff under the mask (like oversized lenses) and reduce any pressure points that can be identified. Don't let your actor try to "power through" and not be honest about discomfort. All makeups have discomfort, but sometimes your actor needs to be mindful of their own personal medical history and communicate.

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