Babylon’s Makeup and Hair Design Department Heads on the Grotesque Glamour of Damien Chazelle’s Sweaty Hollywood Epic – Below the Line

Li Jun Li as Lady Fay Zhu in Babylon/Paramount Pictures

The origins of cinema might be traced again to the 1800s with Thomas Edison‘s invention of the kinetoscope, which allowed one individual at a time to view a shifting image. Audiences grew and so did filmmaking expertise with the introduction of the “silent” film in the Nineteen Twenties, again when stars like Clara Bow first graced the silver display. Bow was the uncommon performer to efficiently make the transition to “talkies” in the Thirties, and she maintained her stardom all the method by means of the Nineteen Fifties. In these days, Hollywood was like the wild west, with no guidelines or laws to control their tales and dialogue, which gave method to loads of scandals each on and off digicam.
In the epic new movie Babylon, Director Damien Chazelle unapologetically explores the grotesque conduct and debauchery of quite a few Hollywood stars in addition to the crew, below-the-line gamers, and studio executives earlier than they have been slapped on the wrist by the Hays Code (Motion Production Code) to maintain the sinful indulgences and rudeness in test.
Makeup and hair have been an particularly bold enterprise and they performed an enormous position in telling the story of Babylon, which featured greater than 250 solid members and extras, together with seven major performers — Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, and Diego Calva, in addition to Li Jun Li, Jovan Adepo, Jean Smart, and Tobey Maguire — who saved hair division head Jaime Leigh McIntosh (Blonde) and make-up division head Heba Thorisdottir (Don’t Worry Darling) extraordinarily busy and on their toes on account of an abundance of touch-ups. Thorisdottir isn’t any stranger to both Pitt or Robbie, having beforehand labored with them individually on Inglourious Basterds and The Suicide Squad, in addition to collectively on Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
Below the Line just lately spoke with McIntosh from her dwelling in New Zealand and Thorisdottir, who checked in by way of Zoom from Los Angeles and was on her method to the Babylon premiere. Having labored collectively earlier than, they have been on the identical web page when it got here to discussing the relentless schedule of getting each the principals and the background solid/dancers prepared for his or her close-ups. The two of them labored very intently with Chazelle to attain simply the proper appears to be like for example his imaginative and prescient for the wild and loopy characters and the world they inhabit.
For Robbie, they referenced Clara Bow together with a well-known feminine rock star, and McIntosh talked about the inspiration for the completely different hairstyles, on condition that the film takes place over a number of a long time. Meanwhile, Thorisdottir reveals the make-up methods utilized in the movie’s huge social gathering scene, proper right down to tattoo protection. They additionally mentioned the many movie-within-a-movie scenes which required much more sweat than lipstick and glamour.
Jaime Leigh McIntosh picture by way of Brett Stanley
Below the Line: How would you describe navigating your day on this movie with so many solid members to work on?
Jaime Leigh McIntosh: Starting with our mornings, we might at all times be closely scheduled as a result of we had so many courses to get by means of. And additionally, in the crowd room in the background, that they had so many individuals that they wanted to get by means of. You solely have a lot time to get all people prepared and get them to work on time, so most mornings have been fairly busy. Then you’ll get by means of some large scenes and you’d be like, ‘Yeah, we did it.’ In most films, you might have a little bit downtime and then it will get busy once more. But this was simply day after day. It was identical to, ‘Okay, we obtained that social gathering shot; now we’re going to maneuver on to the subsequent one.’ [laughs] It was relentless however in a very thrilling method.
BTL: There is a big social gathering scene early on that illustrates the massive quantity of individuals you needed to work on from a hair and make-up perspective.
Heba Thorisdottir: We had, I feel, wherever between 25 and 30 make-up artists. There was make-up wherever from clown make-up to Studio 54 to the ’20s. If you have been to see this social gathering scene with none make-up, all people could be lined in tattoos. I feel the largest make-up finances on the film was for the tattoo cowl for that specific scene. Because the movie is ready at a carnival, we had clowns, and it wasn’t simply clown make-up; it was a “distressed clown,” as in the event that they’d been partying there for hours. It wasn’t like we may take any of these 300 individuals and say, ‘Come digicam prepared,’ like we are able to do with so much of different movies. So each single individual, like, all people’s tooth, have been sort of knocked down, like, the sheen on them — together with Margot Robbie’s. There have been no shiny tooth. So it was simply super work, and I feel we shot [that] for, like, 13 days. The continuity was super.
Margot Robbie and Diego Calva in Babylon/Paramount Pictures
BTL: That’s so much of group. Jamie, talking of the Nineteen Twenties, what was your analysis into that period like?
McIntosh: As far as analysis goes, I feel we needed to most likely do extra analysis and dig deeper into it than we usually would for a Nineteen Twenties movie as a result of Damien needed to simply demolish the expectations of a interval piece. So we wanted to search out all these reference pictures and footage of issues that folks aren’t used to seeing and don’t essentially relate to the ’20s. It wasn’t simply ‘yeah, I do know what the ’20s appear to be.’ It was finger waves and bobs, and that’s what we’ll do. So the analysis course of was additionally very lengthy as a result of the movie had been delayed as a result of of COVID. We have been capable of sort of return and forth for fairly an extended interval of time, which was superior. Between Heba, Damien, and myself, we had an insane assortment of reference pictures to sort of decide from.
For a scene like the social gathering scene, that was extremely useful as a result of each single background artist, dancer, and musician had been styled. It had been effectively thought out. They’d gone for a becoming, we’d seen what the costume was, and it was pulling from these references what loopy and great issues we may do with them. For Li Jun Li, as Lady Fay, she has the prime hat, so we needed to sort of actually get rid of so much of her hair and simply sort of pop it to the again and do a form of flat bun to get rid of it. But I used to be identical to, ‘Oh, that’s simply so uninteresting; I want some little bit of jazz to occur someplace.’ I simply love the concept that she was carrying a tuxedo and a prime hat and that it had an androgynous really feel to it, so let’s put one thing there that would characterize sideburns however is tremendous cute. So we simply went with the beautiful little kiss curls.
BTL: What have been some of Damien’s different necessities, so to talk?
McIntosh: Damien had sort of given Costume Designers Mary Zophres, Heba, and myself this checklist of, ‘I need to see anyone painted gold; I need to see an individual dressed like this.’ He additionally had a listing of particular characters he hoped to see noticed at this social gathering. And then you definitely’d get to set, and he’d do not forget that checklist and ask, ‘So the place’s my man painted gold?’ What he can preserve in his thoughts is staggering. It was such an superior collaboration to get that entire factor to return collectively.
Heba Thorisdottir picture by way of Kyle Christy
BTL: Let’s discuss the principals, beginning with Margot Robbie, and the way you created her appears to be like as the character Nellie LaRoy.
Thorisdottir: With Margot, Damien was very particular that he didn’t desire a typical ’20s look. We needed to dig so much deeper and discovered this mugshot e-book from the ’20s and ’30s, the place we took so much of inspiration. It began as our analysis bible, and there have been so much of ladies there who have been poor. They don’t personal tweezers, they don’t do their make-up like the film stars, and they don’t appear to be film stars. That’s what the studios then made you appear to be, so he needed to be very particular about that.
In the scene in her home, the place they lived principally like rats, they don’t have something, and it’s a multitude. He needed to essentially present that in the make-up and the hair. So we begin the film together with her coming to the social gathering. Mary Zophres was like, ‘Yeah, she has, like, scorching pants and a shawl that she makes right into a gown, and she borrows lipstick from anyone.’ So we purposely don’t contact up her lips all through the social gathering as a result of they must fade, and she doesn’t personal the lipstick or actually have a purse. She doesn’t have something to the touch up, she simply goes and has a blast.
BTL: How does her look change when she goes in entrance of the digicam and turns into a silent movie star?
Thorisdottir: Damien was very particular with that. When it got here to her premiere, [for] each Li Jun Li (as Lady Fay Zhu) and Margot, we used actually darkish lips a pair of instances in the movie as a result of we needed to be sort of pondering such as you’re a black and white [film]. However, the inspiration was merely the period. Obviously, we checked out films, pictures, and every little thing else about Clara Bow. We did discover some pictures the place she seemed like this; let’s sort of try this. But principally, she’s simply wild-looking.
McIntosh: She begins with a wild mane, and I suppose we did so much of testing to search out her hero look. We tried every little thing from micro bangs to tremendous quick bobs, akin to cheekbone-length bobs, to lengthy, wavy appears to be like. Damien appeared to be going again and forth, again and forth — ‘I like the lengthy, however I favor the quick.’ We figured for her studio makeover, she’d get the hair lower off, and we see it in these inflexible, structured varieties of finger waves for that one social gathering, and then she goes again to the wild texture, and we see Nellie, the wild baby, come by means of. Damien and I have been passing again and forth a plethora of reference pictures starting from the interval to the modern.
Lots of Janis Joplin saved coming by means of, sort of like her performing reside on stage and throwing her hair round. He knew the complete dance routine and the eventualities that Nellie LaRoy could be in, in addition to how the hair would play a job in them. Once we obtained that look sorted out, we had wigs made in order that Margot could be snug in them and she may put on them as her personal, fling them round, get her fingers in there, and it might all nonetheless learn as her head of hair. It was so much of enjoyable. Damien wished for her to have a way of freedom and wildness. She undoubtedly rocks up, and she’s obtained that hair going, so it was a good selection.
Brad Pitt and Diego Calva in Babylon/Paramount Pictures
BTL: Who had the privilege of giving Brad Pitt that Clark Gable look as film star Jack Conrad?
McIntosh: I did Brad’s hair, and his longtime make-up artist, Jean Black, took care of his make-up. By the time I spoke to him, I feel he and Jean had already talked about him going darker together with his hair coloration and simply wanting it to be very timeless and traditional. He needed to be that traditional film star, however we didn’t need to use something in his hair that was too inflexible, so when he does transfer round or will get loopy when he comes dwelling from partying and stuff, his hair can sort of flop down and transfer round. I feel he was the solely character Damien was okay with having a mustache like that, like an actual sort of interval mustache, as a result of as soon as he noticed it, he was like, ‘Oh yeah, that appears good.’ [laughs]
Thorisdottir: Jean Black designed the pencil-thin mustache. It was all her, Damien, and Brad’s dialogue. I don’t know the place it got here from, however that undoubtedly existed again then.
BTL: Would you agree that Jean Smart’s reporter character Elinor St. John was the most glamorous?
Thorisdottir: She’s simply beautiful inside and out, that lady. I gave steering on her make-up, but it surely was accomplished by a make-up artist who labored beneath me, Jeong-Hwa Fonkalsrud. I sort of gave her the character breakdown, saying that she is kind of the anchor in the story and there’s not likely any continuity in her character as a result of we don’t actually observe her dwelling or something. She simply pops up at events in the most superb costumes, and that sort of units it off together with her crimson hair coloration. We sort of simply went with that. But she’s improbable, and it’s uncommon to get to work on a movie the place make-up and hair play such an necessary position in telling the story [of] all of the characters. Back to Nellie… I’ve by no means had such a front-and-center character that we may actually inform the story with the make-up when she’s in entrance of the digicam, when she’s behind the digicam, and how the make-up simply sort of strikes the story alongside.
BTL: During the movie-within-the-movie scenes, I’m picturing Damien saying, “extra grime, extra sweat!”
Thorisdottir: [Laughter] There’s at all times extra with the sweat. In our first check, he was like, ‘When you assume you might have accomplished sufficient sweat and grime, go like 100 instances extra!’ He’s like, ‘I wanna see it drip.’ I need to see them moist and sweating. And I used to be like, ‘Okay!’ So we had labored up fairly a sweat, and then he exclaimed, ‘More, extra!’ There are a number of other ways to do it, relying on what you’re doing. He needed a lot of it that we simply moist it with water. We put some stuff and a form of sheen on the actors, however then we have been simply bridging with water as a result of if we had accomplished the sweat with glycerine in it, that might simply be in the actor’s eyes, so we solely used water. We would prep the pores and skin and do issues to the pores and skin, however what we really sprayed on them was simply water. For the grime, we used make-up grime. It’s a powdery grime that we combined with some adhesive as a result of the sweat was making it troublesome to maintain the grime in place.
McIntosh: We had a number of ranges of sweat that we wanted to do on Margot when she was doing her first movie, the place the combating occurs and she will’t hit her mark. We’d go from dry to, like, the sweatiest of sweat, and then we’d have to return to, like, mid-dry, half-sweaty, all that sort of stuff. It was identical to, ‘What sweat degree are we at?’ Heba and I have been hiding exterior the door each 5 seconds.
Thorisdottir: We have been virtually in the scene as a result of we couldn’t stroll away as a result of there wasn’t sufficient time. She would simply come out for that starting shot the place Damien needed her to begin dripping sweat on her script, and he wouldn’t shoot it in continuity. He would go, like, ‘Okay, now we’re on stage seven of sweat.’ And then she would come again in, and we might get up actually quick to reset her hair and make-up, and he was like, ‘Okay, now again to the starting.’ Then he needed stage eight of sweat. So it was simply loopy holding observe of that.
Jovan Adepo in Babylon/Paramount Pictures
BTL: There is a scene the place the trumpet participant (Jovan Adepo) has to blacken his face. What can we see him use to perform that?
Thorisdottir: That was really actual cork — burned cork that was used again in the day — that we ordered from eBay. We labored with props, and they ordered some. We had a number of of them, and one went dwelling with him for him to follow. I feel that should be the most emotional scene I’ve ever accomplished or will ever do. For Jovan, he reads the scene, and clearly, I assume he mentioned it with Damien earlier than, however what you don’t take into consideration is capturing for, like, two or three days, so he needed to simply preserve doing it and preserve staying in that emotional area, and it was simply heartbreaking.
BTL: What would every of you say was most difficult?
McIntosh: Overall, my largest problem was simply getting out of the cliched Nineteen Twenties. That stability is difficult since you need to be period-correct, however you additionally want to search out the area, the place, and the types which can be going to work for every individual. If the costume was extra ’20s, then possibly you’d pull again on the hair, or if the costume wasn’t overly ’20s, possibly I may amp up the ’20s hair a little bit bit extra. Once I had that in thoughts, I additionally tried to speak that to a complete group of individuals. It’s one thing that you simply haven’t seen in a Nineteen Twenties interval piece earlier than. I feel that was an ongoing problem that was very satisfying.
Thorisdottir: What wasn’t difficult? [laughs] This film began with 550 extras, and general we had over 250 talking roles and 500 background actors, and it simply by no means let up. It simply obtained large. We didn’t simply have a movie-within-a-movie. We had a film inside a film as a result of so much of it was shot on an outdated digicam in black and white. We completed the first day and it was identical to, ‘Oh yeah,’ and then ‘and then tomorrow…’ and it by no means stopped. It’s undoubtedly the largest, boldest factor I’ve ever encountered. That was the thrilling half, too, as a result of they don’t actually make so much of films like this anymore, shot on movie with actual backgrounds and no CGI apart from an elephant. It’s all sensible and current. It’s an unimaginable expertise to be a component of.
BTL: This movie actually gave you the alternative to expertise each the grotesque facet of Hollywood and the glamour.
McIntosh: I cherished it. I imply, you’re studying the script, and the first eye-popping factor occurs, and you’re like, ‘Oh, I’m hooked. I’ve obtained to maintain studying this. This is superb.’ And then the extra you retain studying, the extra you’re like, ‘oh my goodness, oh my goodness. I can’t wait to see this film. I must work on this film. I really like being confronted by stuff after I watch movies. I need to give it some thought for days afterward. So, for me, that was thrilling to assume that I may get to work on one thing like that. The selection in your work week is unimaginable since you go from excellent little wealthy individuals hairdos to them being vomited on. [laughs] It makes for a really entertaining line of work.
Thorisdottir: I feel it was very thrilling, and it was like day by day was a brand new day. On so much of movies, you might have, like, one make-up look that you’re involved about, and you might have possibly three months to excellent it. You’re at all times tweaking a little bit bit. And on this, there’s a lot motion, there’s a lot make-up, it’s so exterior of the field, and all people simply kills it each single day in creating one thing new.
Babylon is now enjoying in theaters nationwide courtesy of Paramount Pictures.

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