They’re called ”lifts”: bits of skin-colored netting that are stuck to an actor’s cheeks, then pulled back with a connecting band to smooth out wrinkles. Leading ladies have used them for decades — Lucille Ball got stretched for 1974’s Mame — but the boldest practitioner of the next best thing to plastic surgery may be pint-size tough guy Joe Pesci. As a Brooklyn-born lawyer in the surprise hit My Cousin Vinny, Pesci, 49, wears industrial-strength lifts to look like the thirtysomething boyfriend of costar Marisa Tomei, who’s in her mid-20s. On days when Pesci’s toupee also had to be applied, his time in the makeup chair topped three hours.
”It’s all hidden in the hairpiece,” says Carmen Willis, one of three Vinny makeup technicians. ”We attached tabs where a plastic surgeon would do tucks in the face, and then we tightened it through a tiny hook-and-eye system around the back of the head.” The high-torque hydraulics were forever slipping, snapping, and showing up as ”a grayish blob” on Pesci’s cheeks, forcing many scenes to be reshot. Even so, the tabs are sometimes visible in the finished film. Pesci never let the tension get to him, says Willis, and while he may not take home an Oscar for Vinny, right now he sure looks like this year’s Best Supported Actor.