How the Sausage Gets Made: Inside Hollywood's Prosthetic Penis Craze
Hulu's 'Pam & Tommy' is one of several shows and movies to embrace full-frontal male nudity as of late.
“I mean, the talking penis thing—never heard that before.”
After 40 years in the special-effects business, Oscar-winning makeup artist Matthew Mungle thought he’d seen it all. With more than 250 credits to his name, he has created prosthetics that resemble every body part (as well as supernatural creatures like Dracula), but there’s no talking penis on his résumé. “That’s a new one,” Mungle says.
The chatty prosthetic in question comes from Pam & Tommy’s headline-generating portrayal of Tommy Lee’s (Sebastian Stan) famous appendage (voiced by Jason Mantzoukas), specifically a scene in which Tommy debates whether to settle down with Pamela Anderson (Lily James). The idea itself was inspired by Lee’s 2004 memoir, Tommyland, which was co-narrated by his penis, but the blindsiding moment demonstrates Mungle’s belief that “with prosthetics, the sky's the limit.” The use of makeup effects in full-frontal scenes has become more common since Boogie Nights threw the doors on the sausage factory wide open 25 years ago when Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg) first unzipped his pants.
2022 has only just begun, but Hulu's Pam & Tommy is far from the only penis causing a stir. There’s also Euphoria, which almost single-handedly rebuffs Hollywood’s historical reluctance to show male genitalia on-screen, with nearly 30 penises in one episode alone. Even And Just Like That got in on the action, with Kristin Davis confirming on Watch What Happens Live that Harry’s erection in a recent episode was prosthetic—a first-time experience for the actress. And before that, The White Lotus, The Righteous Gemstones, P-Valley, Watchmen, The Boys in the Band, and Normal People all showed peen.
Sometimes actors are willing to strut their own stuff, but often, silicone alternatives are used instead of the real thing. Thrillist spoke to the designers charged with creating these bodily replicas, makeup artists, and intimacy coordinators to find out why prosthetics seem to be hotter than ever.
A 'Noticeable Surge'
2021 was “the year of the penis,” according to special makeup effects designer Jason Collins. He estimates his company Autonomous FX, which usually works on effects-heavy projects like Blade Runner 2049 and Grey’s Anatomy, has made 15 different dicks over the last 18 months or so. “I would say that it did start with Euphoria, probably about two years ago,” he says, estimating when he started getting an uptick of phallus requests. For the first season of Euphoria, his team created three different penises, which included the prosthetic worn by Eric Dane in the pilot. And Dane has another prosthetic moment in Euphoria's second season, when Cal drunkenly urinates in the foyer of his home in Episode 4.
“The penis has to make the Christmas card because we've done so many of them,” he jokes about the noticeable surge. “I do think that the culture and the zeitgeist are changing with regards to what's taboo and what's not taboo anymore. Frankly, it's about time for all that.” Indeed, intimacy coordinator Ita O’Brien—whose credits include Normal People, Watchmen, I May Destroy You, and Sex Education—has seen a positive shift that supports Collins’ observation: “Everybody's being able to be more creative, more detailed, and more precise with all of our intimate content. We're getting more of a rainbow of good intimacy.”
When a Euphoria scene calls for a prosthetic, Collins talks through the technical aspect with makeup-department head Doniella Davy. Is the penis erect (like in the Season 2 premiere), or flaccid? Will it require liquid? If so, “It's a tube running through the [prosthetic] penis itself, and it's being pumped out," Davy says. “If a person just needs to stand naked in a room, or walk naked through a room, his real penis will be filmed as long as the actor is comfortable with it. We only use penis prosthetics when penises need to do specific things other than just make an appearance.”
Before Euphoria, though, prosthetic genitalia was a comic staple in movies, including Step Brothers (2008), We’re the Millers (2013), and The Overnight (2015). Mungle, who established W.M. Creations in 1987, noticed an uptick in requests a little over a decade ago but recalls another trend that kicked off first. “About 1993, I started getting requests for pregnancies, and they wanted to show more pregnancies and actual flesh on-screen,” Mungle says. “So I started being known as the pregnancy guy.” It wasn’t until the following decade, when his team was producing effects for 2008’s Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay, that W. M. Creations was tasked with prosthetic genitalia. “We started with that and it just started growing about that same year,” he says, noting that the creative process isn’t impacted by specific genre conventions. “It's having similar conversations. I mean, you know, a penis is a penis. It's the length, the width, and the testicle size, etc, etc.”
Does Size Matter?
When Matthew Rhys guest-starred on Girls in 2017, his character took out his penis and placed it on Hannah Horvath’s (Lena Dunham) leg. Rhys discussed preparing for the scene during a Hollywood Reporter roundtable the following year, in which he recalled being presented with a selection of prosthetics big and small before telling the props guy, “I’ll leave it in your capable hands.” Pretty much every other actor taking part in the roundtable had questions about whether he got to pick, but in some cases, size parameters are baked into the story. “Sometimes the script includes a physical description of the size of the penis, and sometimes the actor gets to weigh in on size,” Davy says about the Euphoria process.
Even before the stolen sex tape featuring Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee hit the internet, the Mötley Crüe drummer had a reputation for his impressive member. “There's a lot of reference out there,” Collins says about the material that was available to him. However, it isn’t a case of copying the original inch-by-inch. “We were able to say ‘Okay, he is of sizable mention. How long, big, or how thick do we want to go?’” Collins recalls. “We also have to bring [Stan] into play as well because body types are completely different.” This was something the Boogie Nights team discovered when they made a prosthetic based on ‘70s porn star John Holmes’ measurements. During a Grantland oral history, Boogie Nights editor Dylan Tichenor explained the accuracy issue: “Mark [Wahlberg] is like eight or nine inches shorter than John Holmes. It was more than one-sixth of his body.” Collins said they had to find “medium ground” for both the erect and flaccid versions sculpted for Stan on Pam & Tommy.
Whereas Collins’ Pam & Tommy work deals with one specific character, he says prosthetics on Euphoria are utilized multiple times. “You might ask me questions about a specific penis, and if I don’t know the answer, I'll be like ‘Well, we made it—I just don't know exactly which one it was because we've done so many,” he says. There are two different types of prosthetic appendages available to productions from Autonomous FX. The first is a glue-on portion that can only be used once because the oil required to remove the glue “renders it useless for further applications.” The team makes a “hero” and a backup. (“Generally they keep the backup and use them in other scenes,” Collins says.) The other type is referred to as a “strap-on” and is attached using clear bands, similar to invisible bra material, that will be erased in post-production. This option is chosen as a time-saving method—the full glue job takes two hours—or for wider shots, according to Collins. A custom-made prosthetic penis averages between $6,500 and $9,000.
“If I’m honest, it’s always a little humorous,” Davy says. “I mean, literally, I’ll text Jason that I need an erect micropenis strap-on prosthetic or a flaccid dangling penis that flops around naturally and is rigged to pee on command. Then he’ll send me pics, and I’ll respond back with ‘more squishy and floppy’ or ‘can you put more fake hair on the balls?’”
Sometimes adjustments need to be made mid-shoot. For example, the prosthetic worn by Dane in Season 2 “required a whole new paint job during the middle of that scene, and my team and I did that on set while the fake one was attached to Eric.”
More recently, Mungle was contacted by the Red Rocket production team for actor Simon Rex (who had a brief OnlyFans-style stint in the adult-film industry when he was 18), who plays a washed-up porn star named Mikey Saber, a moniker that hints at his sizable stature. “I sent them pictures of different prosthetics I had, and they picked one and we went with that,” Mungle says. Since Red Rocket debuted at Cannes last year, the production team has not confirmed whether Rex wore the prosthetic W.M. Creations made. (“We want to keep it a mystery. We don't want to spill the beans yet,” Rex recently told GQ.) Mungle can’t confirm either: “I did send it to the set. I was never there. I never know if they actually use it or not.” Either way, if Rex did, in fact, wear Mungle’s creation while running naked through a deserted street (accompanied by *NSYNC’s “Bye Bye Bye”), it speaks to the quality of his work.
While prosthetics are common, the refusal to confirm either way suggests that not all actors want this personal information revealed to the world. Even before the prosthetics are developed, Collins' first call is usually from the production's intimacy coordinator, who might talk to the actor to explore available options and address any concerns, especially if the actors are nervous. “It could be someone's incredibly comfortable with all the intimate sexual content, but they're very body-conscious and so anytime you ask them to do any degree of nudity, it makes them very vulnerable,” O’Brien says.
Body issues run the gamut, and “concern about the size of their penis being judged” is something that can come up when a scene calls for someone to appear in the buff. No matter how many seconds the full-frontal moment is on-screen, we live in an age in which anyone can screen-grab the shot and let it live on in perpetuity — something Chris Pine found out when his knob appeared for literally half a second (or 12 frames) in Outlaw King. O’Brien recalls an on-set moment with an actor who was worried about going au naturel and the comfort a prosthetic alternative offered: “It really wasn't suitable for that person to perform this moment of natural nakedness—being naturally himself—but when a prosthetic was offered it was like, ‘Phew, great.’”
Amanda Blumenthal, an intimacy coordinator who has worked on projects like Euphoria and The White Lotus, says, “For a lot of performers, they do feel a bit more comfortable, in some ways, wearing a prosthetic because they're not being asked to reveal their own genitalia. It's like a costume piece, and it's also part of a character. It's not you. I think it does provide some shielding in some ways, and some performers feel less vulnerable.”
Because there is the option of a prosthetic, it has helped level the playing field in terms of the range of performers “baring” all. "It's bringing more parity of nudity and nakedness with those with penises and those with vaginas, and that can only be a positive thing,” O'Brien says.
Not Your Typical Package
“They're all basically the same, you know?” Mungle says about the process for creating fake penises. “It's all about length and girth, and length of testicles. Is it just the testicles hanging out of the underwear?” Of course, the mechanical penis created for Pam & Tommy is a bit different.
“You're walking a line of something that's completely ridiculous that could take the audience out of it,” Collins acknowledges. Lee's anthropomorphic schlong went through a lot of tests in the Autonomous FX workshop, but first, the artisans had to conceive its look. “You do a whole plethora of design work until you and the producer decide on a way that's not taking them out of the moment, but still fun and naturalistic,” he says. “That's why we go with anything caricature or overextended.”
Pam & Tommy’s mechanized penis is a “whole different sculpture” than the other prosthetics Stan wears, and the practical element delivered a level of spontaneity. “There is something to be said for having a real puppet onstage that somebody’s wearing, because you have two puppeteers that are actually playing along who have learned the lines of the penises’ point of view and are interacting with Stan, who's able to riff at that point,” Collins says. “Any more tools you can give an actor to play with—no pun intended—is an asset to what their performance brings.”
Pam & Tommy’s costume designer, Kameron Lennox, also has to consider details that could make the appendage too distracting. Stan’s custom-made silk G-strings were overburdened by the initial version, as “his prosthetic was so big that once you put it in the G-string it looks like he's got serious health problems,” Lennox says. Collins’ team made a separate “garment penis,” and Lennox also used packers (basically crotch stuffing) for different scenes, depending on the costume.
Davy says she always has the intimacy coordinator present during conversations with actors about prosthetic appendages. That person “acts as a liaison between the makeup department and any other departments that we may need to collaborate with, like the costume or props department.” Even with a prosthetic, she says, “It’s still awkward and funny. It never can’t be funny, but we won’t be the first ones to laugh. Ultimate professionalism and serious demeanor until the actor laughs or cracks a joke, then we all have a chuckle together. It’s important to sort of break the ice in these situations.”
What Happens Afterwards
When Wahlberg appeared on Late Night with Seth Meyers in 2014, he mentioned he still had the prosthetic he wore as Dirk Diggler, which prompts a question: Where do the dicks go when production is done with them? Wahlberg is not alone in taking this piece of his character home, as Mungle reveals about a prosthetic W.M. Creation made for Chris Hemsworth’s role in the 2015 comedy Vacation—or at least that's what he has been told. “Production, I heard later, took it and put it in a shadow box and gave it to him," Mungle says. "The word is he has it on his mantle at his house with the Thor hammer—so he's got both hammers there.” (Hemsworth's reps did not respond to Thrillist's request for comment.)
And what about Tommy's junk? “I keep the puppet penis as part of my asset build and safeguard it for production for reshoots or sequels,” says Collins. “Autonomous FX still has the molds, so theoretically if they needed to make more Tommy penises they could.”
As productions continue to explore these options with regard to full-frontal male nudity, Collins hasn’t ruled out uncharted territory. Just picture Steve Zahn’s swollen testicles in The White Lotus, or look back at the 2015 Sundance comedy The Overnight, for which Mungle designed two prosthetics on opposite ends of the size spectrum: one micropenis for Adam Scott and one massive dong for Jason Schwartzman, both of which needed to be worn in a swimming pool. “How much of a deviation can we do?” Collins wonders. “A penis is a penis is a penis. But you'd be surprised—a penis isn't a penis isn’t a penis.”