Pee-wee star Paul Reubens blows the lid off Hollywood's biggest secret: digital retouching of actors

Paul Reubens Jamie McCarthy NBC Getty
Paul Reubens Jamie McCarthy NBC Getty

Jamie McCarthy/NBC/Getty

Though Pee-wee Herman has shown up for the occasional cameo and Broadway special in recent years, actor Paul Reubens hasn't done a full-fledged movie wearing the famous gray suit and red bow tie in close to three decades. Netflix, with the help of Judd Apatow as producer, is ending that drought with "Pee-wee's Big Holiday" when it launches on the streaming giant March 18.

And if it looks like Pee-wee hasn't aged since 1988's "Big Top Pee-wee," Reubens is the first to admit that a lot of digital wizardry has gone into making the character look great for his comeback.

The digital retouching of actors' faces and bodies so they look pristine in high definition has been going on for some time now, but it's one of those tools of movie magic that Hollywood doesn't want you to know goes on.

However, in a new profile of Reubens in the New York Times Magazine, the 63-year-old actor was very open about his face being digitally retouched for "Pee-wee's Big Holiday."

"I feel I'm too old to be in a Pee-wee Herman movie without that," said Reubens in the piece, referring to the digital retoucher he personally hired to meticulously go through the footage to give him a more youthful look, and clean up any visible makeup or tape that was used during shooting to hide sagging skin.

"Pee-wee doesn't work, to me, with age mixed into it," he went on to say. "So I knew I wanted digital retouching, and that was my biggest concern from the get-go, with Judd [Apatow], when it came to budgeting, because it costs a fortune. I could have had a facelift and we would have saved two million dollars."

Pee wee Herman Big Holiday final
Pee wee Herman Big Holiday final

Jamie McCarthy/NBC/Getty
Reubens isn't exaggerating.

Mashable did an in-depth piece in 2014 on the secret world of digital retouching in Hollywood, and a former studio executive admitted, "We were seeing hundreds of thousands spent on this, anywhere from $500 to $2,500 per shot — maybe more if there's a lot going into the scenes."

There are numerous shops in Hollywood that specifically do this kind of work. Sometimes they show up in the end credits, but often it's agreed upon that their work will not receive a shout-out.

In a business where vanity is almost a requirement to succeed, Reubens' comments are a shocking reminder of the lengths actors will go through to stay forever young in the public eye, especially when they are now seen in 4k.

Reubens told the New York Times Magazine that digital retouching is "a huge secret in Hollywood. People aren't really aware that stars have secret riders in their contracts" guaranteeing that a retoucher will come on during post-production to make sure their appearance will look timeless.

Here's the teaser for "Pee-wee's Big Holiday." He looks pretty good, huh?

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