Whoever said “plain as the nose on your face” may have been anticipating Derek Jacobi in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Broadway production of Cyrano de Bergerac. For his lead role as the swashbuckling, flamboyant Cyrano, the 46-year-old actor wears a bumpy latex beak, which at two and three-quarters inches makes Barbra Streisand’s shnoz seem tiny.
Cyrano’s brilliant honker was created by Christopher Tucker, 38, a British makeup artist who designed John Hurt’s head and body in the movie The Elephant Man and the prehistoric jaws and foreheads in Quest for Fire. Tucker’s inspiration was a line in Edmond Rostand’s 1897 play describing Cyrano’s nose as a “protuberance that precedes me by a quarter of an hour.” Tucker thought, “My God, Cyrano’s nose must be of heroic dimensions!” Yet Jacobi, whom Tucker made up for TV’s 1977 Roman soap opera, I, Claudius, rejected the designer’s first efforts as too small. “If people are going to pay money to see me play Cyrano, they’ve got to get their money’s worth,” Jacobi advised. “Make it bigger.”
Tucker obliged by sculpting another nose on top of a plaster cast of Jacobi’s head. From this he made a mold, poured in latex, let it dry and—behold!—proboscis magnifica!
Tucker first started making noses as a student at London’s Guildhall School of Music and Drama. When he was chosen to sing in Rigoletto, he experimented with makeup. “You can do a lot with false beards, mustaches and eyebrows,” says Tucker. “But I wanted to do more, and since I’ve got a rather well defined nose myself, I thought I’d have a shot at altering that.”
The result was, literally, a big success, and in 1974 Tucker gave up opera to pursue makeup full-time. Working out of an 18th-century Berkshire manor house that he shares with his Finnish girlfriend and assistant, Sinneka Ikaheimo, 36, Tucker has turned out false hunchbacks, jowls, lips and teeth, and even a pair of latex breasts for Glenda Jackson in the 1973 movie The Nelson Affair. Still, he says, “The art of makeup is in its infancy. Pretty soon E.T. is going to look like beginner’s stuff.”
For the nine-week U.S. run of Cyrano, which ends January 19, Tucker made 15 noses. Most of the wear and tear on them occurs postperformance. “I can’t wait to rip it off,” says Jacobi. But the worst moment is putting the nose on. “Breathing the spirit gum is deeply unpleasant. And once it’s on, I can’t pick it, blow it or scratch it.” So far it has managed to stay on, despite the physical rigors of Jacobi’s role. “If it ever falls off, there’s only one way to show true panache,” he says, solemnly. “I plan to sweep down, pick it up and eat it.”