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What Hollywood’s Prosthetic Penis Genius Can Teach You About–Ahem–Growing Your Business

Kevin Bacon is calling for more male nudity in movies. Matt Mungle is ready.

What Hollywood’s Prosthetic Penis Genius Can Teach You About–Ahem–Growing Your Business
[Photo: Influx Productions, Getty Images]

If you’ve seen The Overnight, a raunchy, well-received new movie currently on a screen near you, then you know all about the abundance of man parts.

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In the months leading up to filming, the movie’s producer, Naomi Scott, had many in-depth conversations with her husband, Adam Scott, who happens to play one of the main characters in the movie, about how this nudity would unfold. It was an important question, partly because it is still relatively rare to see fully naked male bodies on screen, while female full-frontal nudity is much more common.

In fact, Kevin Bacon is currently campaigning for more male nudity in Hollywood in an effort to even the playing field between male and female actors. He just made a tongue-in-cheek P.S.A. with Mashable where he makes his case: “In so many films and TV shows, we see gratuitous female nudity, and that’s not okay,” Bacon says. “Well, it’s okay, but it’s not fair to actresses, and it’s not fair to actors, because we want to be naked, too. Gentlemen, it’s time to free the bacon. And by bacon, of course, I mean your wiener, your balls, and your butt.”

Kevin Bacon demands more male nudity in Hollywood.

Scott, meanwhile, was somewhat reluctant to “free the bacon” in The Overnight, but it seemed like the right thing to do in a movie that revolves around a midnight sexcapade. The other lead actor, Jason Schwartzman, was happy to comply. And, ultimately, The Overnight portrays some of the most explicit examples of male full-frontal nudity in a comedy.

Part of the joke in the film was that Schwartzman’s character is particularly well-endowed, while Scott’s is less… blessed. What they needed was prosthetics. And there was only one person in Hollywood who was up to the job. “I emailed David Wain [the director] and asked, ‘Hey, remember Joe Lo Truglio in Wanderlust? We want a penis that looks as good as that penis did,’” Naomi Scott told Vulture. “He got back right away and said, ‘Try this guy Matt Mungle, who’s pretty well known in the Valley.’ ”

You may not know Matt Mungle, but you’ve probably seen his work. Since he landed in Hollywood in 1977 fresh from college, Mungle’s worked on everything from Edward Scissorhands to Schindler’s List to The Butler. You know all the creepy decomposing bodies on CSI? Yup, Mungle worked on those. Now he’s doing makeup work on a slew of current shows including New Girl, The Big Bang Theory, and Shameless, among others. His studio has won two Academy Awards for Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Frida, among many other awards and nominations.

Matt Mungle working on Oprah Winfrey behind the scenes of The Butler

Mungle is on the set of CSI when I speak to him. He tells me about the call he received from The Overnight‘s crew. “We had done penises for Get Hard and quite a few other projects, including Vacation, starring Ed Helms and Christina Applegate.” Mungle says, laughing. “I know; it’s so weird.”

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Given that the movie had a limited budget, Mungle recommended that they use existing penis molds that he had developed. “We worked out that they could be glued and they could hide their own privates underneath it,” Mungle says. Adam Scott and Jason Schwartzman didn’t even need to be personally fitted; they just received the molds and could fit them at their leisure.

But the truth, apparently, is that it’s not that easy to put a fake penis on.

The Overnight portrays some of the most graphic male full-frontal nudity ever seen in a comedy.

“It’s not all fun and games,” Adam Scott told Slate. “You have to shave all around, all over your legs, because there’s attachments and glue… It’s kind of like wearing a sports bra or compression hose since it’s tightly applied, then it goes right up the back.”

Despite the complexities of attaching the penises, Schwartzman says it was ultimately quite liberating hanging out in the mostly nude. “I was nervous until we shot the scene,” he told Slate. “Then, once you’re naked–it’s so naked–that it felt very casual to be swimming around in the pool for a little while.”

So how did Mungle become one of the best-known prosthetic masters in Hollywood? Mungle says it’s all about having a down-to-earth, hardworking approach, even when clients are coming to you in hordes. This is especially true if you have an unusual talent.

Don’t Miss The Fun Part

Mungle was born in 1956 and grew up on a dairy farm in Atoka, Oklahoma. But as he helped his parents with scrubbing down cow barns, he knew that he wanted to work on creating movies. On weekends, he loved seeing bizarre creatures and worlds unfold in films.

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In the 1960s and ’70s, Mungle would head into town to buy books about movie makeup and prosthetics. Back then, the most creative work was being done on horror films like Frankenstein, Dracula , and The Mummy. “The only way we could learn about how this profession worked back then was to read a book from front to back and immerse yourself into that craft,” he says. “That’s what I did because I was so hungry for that. I had to fight for it.”

Fortunately, Mungle’s father was very supportive of his dream. But passion wasn’t enough to get him to Hollywood. Mungle is self-taught: In his teens, he saved money to order professional movie makeup and prosthetic materials from stores in bigger cities; he then tried re-creating face casts on his friends. He attended Oklahoma State University as a theater art major, then trained at the Hollywood-based Joe Blasco Makeup Center, one of the top programs for the work Mungle wanted to do.

“A lot of kids these days want to immediately get ahead in their careers,” Mungle says. “But I think that that they’re missing the fun of it. The fun of all of this is growing and taking one step at a time up the ladder, and not taking three steps up the ladder only to fall back four.”

Still from The OvernightPhoto: courtesy of The Orchard, Sundance

Go Beyond Reliable

Mungle doesn’t mince his words. He knows that Hollywood is a competitive, cutthroat place. “It’s all about this moment,” he says. “Who’s just won an Oscar? Who just did the makeup for that movie?”

But Mungle quickly realized that playing into these trends was a fool’s errand. He wanted longevity in the business. In 1987, he set up his own studio called W.M. Creations, with his business partner John Jackson. At his company, his policy was to be very honest with prospective clients about what he could do–but also what was unrealistic. He refused to make promises he couldn’t keep just to get a job. If the film’s budget is too tight and unworkable, he simply turns the opportunity down. As a result, he’s never bungled a job. “That’s why producers say they come to me,” he says. “They can call me and they know I will deliver.”

Over the years, Mungle has relied on word of mouth to get jobs. The Overnight is a perfect example of his business strategy at work. Mungle likes having his work speak for itself, rather than talking his work up. “A lot of people do a lot of schmoozing,” he says. “If you go in and do the job like a thief in the night, I believe they’re going to notice you more than if you talk their ear off.”

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But this means that Mungle can’t ever let his work slip, even when there are plenty of clients knocking on the door.

Every Business Is Collaborative

Mungle’s work is highly technical. He must understand the newest materials that are available in his industry–like silicones and other plastics–to constantly think about how they can best be used for his prosthetics work. Every day he’s on set, he must be very particular about the makeup he does, so that there are no discrepancies between a character’s face from one day to the next. Audiences can notice even the tiniest differences when they are blown up on a movie screen–continuity counts a lot.

But he also believes that what has made him successful is his ability to engage with actors and directors, to learn exactly what the movie is about. After all, his work must reflect the details of the movie. Mungle sometimes spends hours a day with an actor in the intimate act of touching his or her face to get the makeup and prosthetics exactly right.

He remembers doing this in the late ’80s with Johnny Depp on the set of Edward Scissorhands, which was one of his first big jobs. As he assisted Ve Neill, the head of makeup, working on Depp’s face, he realized that the work was deeply collaborative: The actor and the makeup team needed to work together to understand the spirit of the character. “We’re the first ones the actor sees in the morning and the last ones they see at night,” Mungle says. “I always tell young people coming up that succeeding in this job is 60% how to deal with actors and 40% your artistic ability. What really counts is how you work with people.”

So how does Mungle feel about being Hollywood’s go-to prosthetic penis genius? “That’s one of many of my talents,” Mungle says, chuckling.

He’s noticed that particular prosthetic work comes in waves. There was a time, after he worked on Arnold Schwarzenegger’s body in Junior, when he kept getting calls to do pregnancy work. Then, he started getting call after call asking him to do facial scarring. Right now, prosthetic penises are having a moment and Mungle is the guy producers are calling to make this happen.

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With Mungle’s help, audiences may be seeing more male full-frontal nudity on screen. Kevin Bacon, for one, is psyched.

About the author

Elizabeth Segran, Ph.D., is a staff writer at Fast Company. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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