“Blonde” and “Elvis” could continue a trend of Oscar-winning transformations, but the digital prosthetics of “The Whale” could be a game changer. (Constantly updated.)
The last five Oscars for Makeup and Hairstyling (MUAHS) have gone to remarkable transformations into legendary figures: “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” “Bombshell,” “Vice,” and “Darkest Hour.” This season, the trend continues with Ana de Armas as Marilyn Monroe in Andrew Dominik’s impressionistic deconstruction, “Blonde” (Netflix), and Austin Butler as Elvis Presley in Baz Luhrmann’s delirious biopic, “Elvis” (Warner Bros.).
Even more impressive are the innovative digital prosthetics behind Brendan Fraser’s 600-pound English teacher in Darren Aronofsky’s compassionate “The Whale” (A24) and the unrecognizable Colin Farrell as Oswald “Oz” Cobblepot (a.k.a the Penguin) in Matt Reeves’ noirish “The Batman” (Warner Bros.).
They are joined by other outstanding work devoted to showbiz, social change, and superheroics. This includes Naomi Ackie as Whitney Houston in Kasi Lemmons’ bittersweet biopic, “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” (Sony); Danielle Deadwyler as Black activist Mamie Till-Mobley in Chinonye Chukwu’s galvanizing biopic, “Till” (UA); Vicky Krieps as Empress Elisabeth of Austria in Marie Kreutzer’s subversive biopic, “Corsage” (IFC); Ryan Coogler’s eagerly awaited “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” (Marvel/Disney); Gina Prince-Bythewood’s rousing “The Woman King” (Sony); the Daniels’ metaphysical “Everything Everywhere All at Once” (A24); and Taika Waititi’s crazed “Thor: Love and Thunder” (Marvel/Disney).
Also competing are Damien Chazelle’s impressive ensemble of Hollywood stars in “Babylon” (Paramount), David O. Russell’s wacky ensemble in “Amsterdam” (Searchlight), Sarah Polley’s thought-provoking “Women Talking” (UA), and Olivia Wilde’s mind-bending “Don’t Worry Darling” (Warner Bros.).
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In “Blonde,” the transformation of Cuban-born Spanish actress de Armas into Marilyn Monroe (in both color and black-and-white) was a tricky challenge for makeup artist Tina Roesler Kerwin (“Top Gun: Maverick”) and hair head Jaime Leigh McIntosh (“Black Panther”). Naturally, they wanted to find Monroe through de Armas, who must battle the painful divide between Norma Jeane and her superstar persona in the ’50s and early ’60s. Finding the right blonde wig was key. In fact, there were several shades of blonde that were worn throughout the actress’ life, and each morning the prep began with a partial bald cap to block out de Armas’ dark hair. Eye coloring changed from green to blue, her famed beauty mark was added, and there were nice recreations of a lot of the makeup colors that Monroe wore, particularly with her lipsticks.
With “Elvis,” the transformation of Butler into The King was a progression from the ’50s through the ’70s, led by Shane Thomas (hair and makeup designer), two-time Oscar winner Mark Coulier (prosthetics designer), and Jason Baird (prosthetics supervisor). As with Marilyn Monroe, the key was getting the iconic hairstyle right. Although they colored the actor’s hair for the early ’50s, wigs were used for the late ’50s through the ’70s, going higher, higher, higher, at director Luhrmann’s request. Facial prosthetics were applied and became more chiseled as Presley got older and his jawline hardened. And his dreamy eyelashes and eye makeup completed the look. Additionally, Tom Hanks’ portrayal of nefarious manager Colonel Parker required complex prosthetics. Hanks’ entire face was reshaped, especially the jowls, and a fat suit was provided. During his senior years, prosthetic hand and arm appliances were added.
For “I Wanna Dance with Somebody,” Ackie’s transformation into Houston, led by makeup head Tisa Howard (“Wu-Tang: An American Saga”) and hair head Brian Badie (Emmy nominee for “True Detective”), traces her journey to musical superstardom beginning in the ’80s, her pivot to acting in the ’90s, and her valiant struggle with addiction along the way. The frizzy hair is key, but the overall facial look is convincing for the late diva without overly tampering with Ackie’s appearance.
“Till” dramatizes the true story of Till-Mobley and her fight for justice after the 1955 lynching of her 14-year-son, Emmett Till (Jalyn Hall). The team of makeup head Denise Tunnell and co-hair heads Louisa V. Anthony and DeAundra Harris-Metzger transformed Deadwyler to have a strong resemblance to the courageous Till-Mobley while also being an exemplar of elegance. Tunnell kept Deadwyler’s skin fresh and dewy with a healthy glow by prepping with toners and serums. She applied lipsticks and nail polishes that were appropriate for her skin tone and represented the time period. For the hair, Metzger recreated Till-Mobley’s haircut that fell at the nape of her neck and applied the same techniques from the ’50s. She curled it tight, used oil, and pin-curled her hair, creating the signature vintage look. Anthony oversaw and perfected all of the characters’ wigs in keeping with various looks of the period.
“Corsage,” Austria’s international Oscar pick, is a black comedy that redefines the defiant 19th century Empress Elisabeth of Austria. Krieps, who insisted on paring down the beauty makeup for Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Phantom Thread,” demanded almost no beauty makeup here. But her hair styling became an exercise in bold anachronism from hair and makeup designers Maike Heinlein and Helene Lang. They took the famous braided hairstyles of Elisabeth and twisted and modernized the looks. The actress had five different wigs throughout the film: some were elaborate stylings for official occasions while others were to show the extremely long, open flowing hair that the Empress had in real life. They put a lot of effort into texturizing the wigs in different ways for emotional impact.
In a World of Their Own
“Babylon” explores the dramatic transition from silents to talkies in late ’20s Hollywood. The challenge of doing makeup and hair for the team of Heba Thorisdottir and Jaime Leigh McIntosh was letting go of everything they knew about the period. Director Damien Chazelle encouraged a deep dive into finding the more obscure and unseen looks of the time. So they struck a balance of honoring the era while offering a big, bold, unapologetic re-imagining of what goes on behind and in front of the cameras. If Thorisdottir wanted to lean into the classic period, McIntosh would go the other way and vice versa. And that’s not counting the diverse looks for the parties.
The same team of Thorisdottir and McIntosh also worked on “Don’t Worry Darling,” which visually evokes a ’50s utopian world in a Palm Springs-like oasis with a sense of mystique. Because of this, it meant there was more room to create while pulling inspiration from both the ’50s and ’60s. Starting with the sumptuous costume designs of Arianne Phillips, the duo brought complementary looks and styles for Florence Pugh, Harry Styles, Olivia Wilde, Chris Pine, Gemma Chan, Sydney Chandler, and Nick Kroll.
In “Women Talking,” several Mennonite women meet in secret after learning they’ve been repeatedly drugged and raped by men in their community. The challenge for the team of makeup head Shauna Llewellyn and co-hair heads Patricia Cuthbert and Susan Exton-Stranks was to achieve the ultimate no makeup look by using just enough product to make the ensemble cast — including Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, Jessie Buckley, Judith Ivey, and Sheila McCarthy — camera ready. They reversed modern appearances by adding individual eyebrow hairs to thicken so the characters didn’t look as groomed; they covered tattoos, added subtle breakdowns, and hints of a hard working life and sun exposure. The goal was to complement the desaturated look of the film while honoring the minimalist traditions of the culture (including braiding in yarn with a mix of egg whites and sugar, and to mimic natural hair colors with highlights only from the sun).
In “Amsterdam,” three friends from World War I — a doctor (Christian Bale), a nurse (Margot Robbie), and an attorney (John David Washington) — become prime suspects in a ’30s murder tied to “one of the most shocking secret plots in American history.” The team of makeup head Nana Fischer and co-hair heads Lori McCoy-Bell and Adruitha Lee kept to the era without idealizing it. Major influences for the looks were Marlene Dietrich, Katharine Hepburn, Jean Harlow, Myrna Loy, Clara Bow, Errol Flynn, Clark Gable, and William Powell. They also referenced books of ’30s mugshots.
For “The Whale,” Aronofsky wanted to push Fraser’s weight to the severest extreme without covering his face and obfuscating his emotional range of expression. To accomplish this, the director tapped go-to prosthetic makeup designer Adrien Morot, who pioneered the first-ever all-digital prosthetic makeup for a major feature. Morot streamlined the entire process inside a computer. He used 3D modeling to create a digital sculpture and then jumped straight to 3D printing, skipping the clay sculpting entirely. The detail was intricate, the airbrushing technique brought out the transparency of skin and the blue of the veins beneath. In addition, Morot reinvented the fat suit to be more organic, comfortable, and transparent. The suit had a built-in cooling system much like those used for Formula 1 drivers, though it was still very hot. Because of the need for facial prosthetics, the challenge was creating a seamless line between actor and body.
Although “Black Panther” failed to gain a nomination for Best Makeup and Hairstyling, the team of hair head Camille Friend and makeup head Joel Harlow has another chance with “Wakanda Forever.” They creatively took inspiration from African tribes (including the all-female Dora Milaje special forces, inspired by the Agojie, which is the subject of “The Woman King”) for a “Black is beautiful” rallying cry. In addition to the diverse range of Afrofuturism that will surely get some new looks, the introduction of the Atlantis-inspired Talocan underwater civilization as antagonists offers a visual contrast that reflects Aztec and Mayan influences.
After winning the Oscar for “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” makeup designer Sergio Lopez-Rivera and hair stylist Jamika Wilson reunited for “The Woman King.” In the role of Agojie general Nanisca, Viola Davis’ makeup was mostly defined by dirt, sweat, blood, and scars, which were strategically placed to provide backstory. (For example: The scar on her back looks gruesome, even though it’s fully healed, but reveals the ugliest badge of honor.) The placement of blood was a large part of the look as well. For Davis’ hair, it was a combination of 19th century authenticity and modernization, so they went with a mohawk and braids. While her hair is up during battle, the mohawk has puff rolls going back as a beautiful adornment, along with a headband to show a softer side.
For the maximalist kung-fu epic, “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” makeup designer Michelle Chung created mood boards for each design in keeping with the different multiverses traversed by Michelle Yeoh’s Evelyn. She took inspiration from artists, fashion, popular culture, and photos she’s saved throughout the years. Without time to test, several of the makeups were organically done on the day of shooting. Evelyn was described by the directors as the worst version of herself, someone not living up to her true potential. With her main look, Chung made sure Evelyn was believable as a tired and worn woman. She pared down the characters’ makeup, made her look more exhausted and drained. This was an important contrast to many of her other dramatic looks in the movie, where she’s fulfilled her potential.
For Colin Farrell’s Oz in “The Batman,” Matt Reeves envisioned a low-level, envious gangster reminiscent of “The Godfather’s” Fredo (John Cazale) for his penguin-like nose, or even Warner Bros. heavy Sydney Greenstreet (“The Maltese Falcon”) or Bob Hoskins (“The Long Good Friday”). Only the actor didn’t want to put on extra weight. The director tapped prosthetic makeup artist Michael Marino (an Oscar nominee for “Coming 2 America”), but he wanted the character to be more underworld figure than Penguin caricature. He also requested that the prosthetics wouldn’t inhibit Farrell’s funny, volatile performance. Marino delivered a total transformation: scarred, swollen face, bald forehead, fat suit to add more girth.
For “Thor: Love and Thunder’s” gruesome baddie, Gorr the God Butcher, former Batman Christian Bale underwent extensive makeup and prosthetics from the team of Bart Mixon (makeup artist) and Adam Johansen (creature and prosthetic designer/supervisor). The results they achieved were impressive: creepy eyes, chalky white skin, scarred face and body, twisted veins, decaying teeth, dark bile that oozes from his mouth, and clawed nails.
“Elvis” (Warner Bros.)
“Everything Everywhere All at Once” (A24)
“The Batman” (Warner Bros.)
Note: Only films that the author has seen will be named frontrunners at this time
“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” (Marvel/Disney)
“Bones and All” (UA)
“I Wanna Dance with Somebody” (Sony)
“The Whale” (A24)
“The Woman King” (Sony)
“All Quiet on the Western Front” (Netflix)
“Amsterdam” (20th Century)
“Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” (Marvel/Disney)
“Don’t Worry Darling” (Warner Bros.)
“The Northman” (Focus Features)
“Thor: Love and Thunder” (Marvel/Disney)
“Three Thousand Years of Longing” (UA)
“Women Talking” (UA)
Previously published on biographymask.com