Working collectively on projects that include The Lord of the Rings trilogy, King Kong and Netflix original series Marco Polo, makeup and hair designers Davina Lamont and Tash Lees faced massive challenges on Genius, working in a way they never had before.
Covering a period spanning from the 1890s to the 1950s, and countless visual iterations of Albert Einstein—ultimately portrayed jointly by Johnny Flynn and Geoffrey Rush—the pair oversaw the aging through prosthetics of not only those two actors, but nearly 150, in total.
Speaking with Deadline, the collaborators discuss the inspiration they drew from Walter Isaacson’s book, on which the series is based, and the process of crafting hairpieces from scratch for their actors.
What attracted you to Genius?
Davina Lamont: What first attracted me was the amount of aging that we had to do. Also, the era, going from the 1890s up to the 1950s was something that you don’t tend to do a lot, going through that big a period in a job.
Also, to be able to create an Einstein is pretty wonderful.
Two Einsteins, in fact.
Lamont: Exactly. [laughs]
Tash Lees: Being able to create things through the different time periods was awesome. I didn’t necessarily know that much of the private life of Einstein—you hear a lot about all his theories, but it was really interesting to be able to dig a bit deeper and find out what actually went on.
In preparing for the project, was there a lot of reference material available?
Lamont: We had the Einstein book [Einstein: His Life and Universe], which we did a lot of research on. Obviously, Google takes over after that. Because we were going from ages 16 up to 75 for Johnny Flynn and Geoffrey Rush, there was a lot of references that we had to pull, and nearly every three or four years [covered], we were having to create a different look for Einstein. It was a lot.
There wasn’t that much in the way of younger Einstein reference pictures, so we had to take some small liberties when it came to that. We all knew that he had to have the curly hair, so we brought that in. I guess the book, in particular, had a vast amount of material that we could pull from.
What was the process of collaboration like with your two leads, Johnny Flynn and Geoffrey Rush?
Lamont: First of all, we had Johnny Flynn in the chair, and he was our blue-eyed, blonde-haired man from England. We had to turn him into a dark-haired, brown-eyed Einstein. We had to talk about how we could do that, and what was available to us.
We had to curl his hair from 1890, when he was 16, up until probably when he was 18 to 20, and then we started adding some toupees and wigs into his look, which he was really excited about. We started off with no mustache for him. He has kind of a baby face, and we kind of pushed the elements with him, which was fantastic.
He started to age in front of our eyes, and as soon as we put the mustache on him was the first time that he said, “Now, I’m starting to feel like Einstein.”
Of course with Geoffrey Rush, he grew his hair for the show so that we could use elements of his own hair, even though we used four different toupees and wigs for his look, as well.
He was into it right from the start. He would see emails and pictures and looks, and we collaborated on every single look that we did together. The references that we pulled and the looks that both Tash and I made, we were kind of astounded in our own work, to say the least. It was pretty phenomenal to watch them both morph into Einstein. It was brilliant.
Lees: The transformation was pretty great. Every day, the last touches were putting the contact lenses in, and the mustache on them both, and I think that really helped get them in the mood and get the real feel for it. Every day, it was making the Einsteins from the start.
Can you explain the decision to go to wigs and toupees? Did you dye Johnny’s hair, as well?
Lamont: We kind of went backward and forward with Johnny. Right off the bat, he was into dyeing his hair. From the early stages, we really didn’t want to try and do too many wigs with him, because it’s always an issue of length and stuff like that. We wanted to see what we could do with coloring his hair.
We dabbled in the fact that maybe we’d perm his hair, so that for the parts we had to go from a summer humidity into a winter where, if we were to curl his hair every day, it would naturally start dropping out.
We started to curl his hair right from the start, and then we went into a top piece toupee, which worked amazingly. Tash probably would have been happy with the fact that she didn’t have to perm and dye, and probably at the end of the day, damage his hair.
As he grew older, we had to start adding grays, getting Johnny slightly older and wilder with his hair before he transitioned into Geoffrey, the older Einstein. We had to find a point where we could transition them both, and that was to start dealing with wigs.
Lees: Johnny was interested from the start in becoming the character, so he was up for anything. He was okay with coloring and perming, but just from a hairdresser’s point of view, there is a lot of damage when you’re doing both processes on the type of hair he had.
He was a great sport, kind of rocking it in his normal life—the dark hair and the perm—to create the Einstein. We could also pre-curl any hair pieces that we used on him, just to cut down the time a wee bit in the makeup chair because there were a lot of other things to be doing, as well.
We kept some hair pieces and wigs pre-set and pre-permed so we could utilize those, and then only using bits of Johnny’s own hair, to not have as much damage for his own life.
With facial hair, what determines when you go natural, and when you create hair pieces for your actors?
Lamont: Where we could, we tried to utilize men that had their own facial hair. Where it became an issue was when you started to get characters like Philipp Lenard. We needed to age him from his thirties up until his eighties. You start to lose a little bit of control, if we had to start dealing with his own facial hair, in the sense that we jumped all over the place. We didn’t do it in chronological order.
I think maybe two characters, we left their own facial hair, and added pieces, or started to add some grays to it. But for the majority of the characters, we actually had to shave them all and make hairpieces for every time that we had to age them.
My hair department was incredibly busy—we basically had a team of three, constantly knotting and pulling out facial hair pieces and wig pieces that we could utilize for every era that we had to go through.
How does one go about crafting the mustaches and beards we see on screen by hand?
Lamont: You have a piece with small holes that you can knot on any kind of angle and literally individual hair. It’s kind of like a crochet or weave that you do— you can end up with between 350 grams to 500 grams worth of hair into one wig. Maybe to make a mustache, it can take a couple of hours for one person to do that. It was a rather large build over a five-to-six month period.
Can you expand on the logistics of the aging processes at hand in Genius?
Lamont: The aging process, I was looking at first when I had Johnny in, looking at some of the reference pictures of the younger Einstein that we could pull. Albert Einstein had this slight droop in his eyes that was one of the elements that I wanted to bring into both Johnny and Geoffrey, so we applied two prosthetic pieces to Johnny for his whole timeframe every day. Then, of course, we added it into Geoffrey’s prosthetics as well.
Johnny had what I would consider amazingly beautiful skin—he is a man in his thirties, but could honestly pull off a gentleman in his late teens to early twenties. Einstein got rather sick in his thirties, and that’s where we started to add a lot of prosthetics to Johnny. We would start to age around his eyes a little bit more, add some droopiness into his cheeks. We pushed a little bit, just with color, grays in the hair and mustaches.
Once we hit Geoffrey, we had about four different stages with him. His later stages, we had an amazing prosthetic man called Göran [Lundström], who made his older pieces for us. We had a forehead piece for one of his looks that would go from below his brow back to the crown of his head, and then we had a wig to go over top of that.
Then, once we had his older stage of 75, we had a different forehead piece that would go all the way back to his nape and then we attached more cheek pieces to give the aging around the eyes. Just those two pieces, alone, worked amazingly well and aged Geoffrey phenomenally.
Lees: We also did a more subtle aging on a lot of the women, but that was more between the ages of 20 and 40. It was a tough one because, in this day and age, you don’t really notice a big amount of aging, but back in the day, I suppose people aged earlier, and also their life expectancy was less.
We had to add them at an earlier age than you’d see now—go to the eye creams and all that sort of stuff.
Lamont: We had something like 150 different characters throughout the whole series that would come in, and literally every single one of them was aged in some way, the majority with prosthetics, or graying of the hair. It was a massive task to take on.
Lees: There weren’t many people who turned up and went straight on-camera. Everyone was in character makeup or quite a specific look. Out of the 150, everyone had something to establish them as their characters, which was great, but it was a lot of work, going through this whole season.