He has bloodied Adonis Creed, brought comic book mutants to life, zombified an 18th century pirate quartermaster, and brutalized Civil War soldiers.
With credits to his name that include working as a special makeup effects artist on X-Men, Pirates of the Caribbean and Lincoln and heading that department on productions such as Creed and Sleepy Hollow, 25 years after breaking into Hollywood, lifelong Tampa resident Corey Castellano is among the best in his field.
And if he were to create a makeup effect that symbolizes his reaction to this success, it would be an exploding head.
"My mind is constantly blown," Castellano, 54, said on a call from Georgia, where he is heading the special makeup effects department for the X-Men spin off television series, The Gifted. "It’s crazy I have actually made a career out of this."
His work can next be seen in the historical adventure drama Alpha, which premiered in theaters this week. Castellano was head of the regular makeup department for that film about an injured young hunter who, along with a wild dog, must survive a journey home during the Ice Age.
"A lot of dirt, injuries, giving them frostbite," Castellano said. "That is what we call character makeup."
Special makeup effects departments differ, he explained, because those artists sculpt or mold prosthetic materials onto an actor to create an on-screen illusion such as a swollen eye in a boxing match, gruesome war wounds, elf ears, or skin that looks like stone.
Among Castellano favorites is Moloch, or the "big bad," as he called the character from the Sleepy Hollow television show.
"Moloch manifested as a 7-foot-tall demon with hooves," he said. "My team and I took five hours to turn the actor into that creature. It was a full body prosthetic."
Golden Globe-winning film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a highlight of Castellano’s career heading regular makeup departments, but for what might seem like an odd reason.
"No one mentions my work making the actors look drunk or grimy, and that’s good," he said. "You don’t want people noticing that kind of makeup. You want the actors to look like real people who are drunk and grimy."
Still, Castellano’s talent is not lost on his peers.
"Pirates, X-Men, Lincoln," said Tampa’s Marcus Koch, a special makeup effects artist in the horror genre, as he rattled off Castellano’s credits. "Corey is a hell of a professional. He’s someone I look up to."
In a recent interview on comic website BloodingCool, Gifted actor Jermaine Rivers, who portrays Shatter, the mutant with crystalized skin, called Castellano "the best in the business." And Sleepy Hollow producer Aven Metzner once told Entertainment Weekly that he considers Castellano to be the "makeup master."
"It’s strange to hear people compliment me," Castellano said. "I still think I’m that same kid dreaming of doing this."
Castellano was 8 when his interest in special makeup effects was piqued. After watching Planet of the Apes, he wanted to make his own primate mask.
"I created a poor man’s papier-mache mask with masking tape," he said. "It wasn’t pretty."
He began experimenting with liquid latex, purchased "how to" books and subscribed to horror magazines that regularly provided tutorials:
"I think everyone in my industry starts off as a horror nerd who likes haunted house stuff."
As a student at Hillsborough High, he said, he had the best Halloween disguises. One year, "I rigged a mask with pumps that oozed blood. It was disgusting."
He would go on to earn a history degree from the University of South Florida and work as a fitness trainer. But then the film industry came calling. Local independent movies in need of a special makeup effects asked for Castellano’s assistance in return for "deferred pay — French for ‘free,’?" he said.
To improve his craft, he took a mail order course offered by Dick Smith, whose makeup credits include The Exorcist and Tales from the Darkside. And he turned his garage into a lab for creating prosthetics.
"I still have body parts and heads in there," he said. "I’d hold my son when he was a baby and he’d be holding a severed head."
Then, Castellano said, it just came down to wanting to work.
He would take the smallest of makeup jobs — such as tanning a beachgoer’s skin — just to get on a Hollywood set in Florida.
As makeup department heads took notice of his skill and eagerness to learn more, Castellano said, they would add to his responsibilities and hire him for projects around the world. There was The Last Samurai made in New Zealand, for instance, X-Men: The Last Stand produced in Canada and Tropic Thunder filmed in Germany.
In time, he was pegged to lead departments.
"It’s been a blur really," said Castellano who has nearly 90 credits on his resume and serves in an ongoing job as Robert Redford’s personal makeup artist. He spends a lot of time away from home, but two adult children and friends keep Tampa as his home base.
On a recent set, a young member of the makeup crew was as excited to meet Castellano as he was Redford.
"He asked for advice," Castellano said. "It was the first time I realized how lucky I am. It was 25 years ago I was asking for advice. Now people want mine. Crazy."
Contact Paul Guzzo at [email protected] Follow @PGuzzoTimes.