When makeup and hair designer Nadia Stacey met with Greek auteur Yorgos Lanthimos about The Favourite—a black comedy of the 18thcentury, centered on Queen Anne and two rivals for her affections—she came prepared with ample historical research and her usual bag of tricks, and would have to throw much of it out.
“There’s a very specific hairstyle just for that little pocket of time. I started to talk to him about it and he said, ‘I don’t care about that,’” Stacey recalls. To create what Lanthimos was after, the designer had to contemplate how to “make something stylized, with a Yorgos slant on it, but make sure that it didn’t look like you’d got the period wrong.”
A “scary prospect” in many ways, The Favourite was also the creative opportunity of a lifetime, requiring the creation of a vast amount of wigs—more than the entire country of England could provide—on a very tight budget. “Sandy [Powell, costume designer] was making things from scratch; lots of wigs were made from scratch. I didn’t hire. We had to make them, because we didn’t have the money,” the designer shares. “We had to have a separate trailer for the wigs, which is pretty creepy, actually. Just one huge trailer full of fake heads of hair.”
Designing complex prosthetics reflecting illness and injury in an unforgiving historical moment, Stacey would face the challenge of letting go, succumbing to a persistent and intense vision.
What were your first impressions when you read over the script for The Favourite?
I think I got it about 18 months before we actually shot it. The dates kept moving, so I had this amazing script that I just couldn’t put down. Reading something with three strong female leads was incredible, and also the period element, because it’s not a period that’s done very much at all. Queen Anne is sort of a little missed pocket of history, actually. If you look in a lot of the history books here, there tends to be a lot about the other kings and queens, and it sort of skips past her, so it was really interesting that a film was going to be made about her.
Then, obviously, there was the Yorgos element. I was such a big fan, so trying to piece together what he was going to do with a period drama was obviously so intriguing. Everything about the project was a bit of a dream, to be honest.
In your earliest conversations with Yorgos about this film, what challenges presented themselves?
One of the biggest challenges to me was that obviously, it’s pre-photography, so everything that you’re looking at research-wise is oil paintings. He loved the movement of the hair in the oil paintings; it’s very freeform, and he wanted me to capture that. But he also banned hairspray from the set. The hairstyle is called a fontange, and it’s quite a high structure. He said, “I do not want it to look like a standard period drama,” so he didn’t want lots of curls on top of each other, and he said, “If I see a can of hairspray on the set, I’m going to scream at you.” To try and do that [without hairspray] was quite a challenge.
Did any other clear concepts present themselves in your work, in terms of revitalizing the British costume drama, or offering a different take?
The overall brief was he wanted it to look as authentic as possible, and the fact of the matter is that at that time, they would have been a pretty dirty lot. They wouldn’t have washed their hair. It’s a strange period as well because it’s actually probably the only period in time that men wore more makeup and wigs than women. So, the women’s looks were very, very natural, and you’ve got three leading ladies. Emma Stone had just won an Oscar, and this is her next project, and I’m saying, “No makeup, no hairspray, nothing styled.” It’s very strange that for three ladies, it was stripped back to absolute minimum, which is quite a scary prospect for me, and then the men are covered in makeup and all these wigs. That, in itself, is strange, and Yorgos really wanted to make the most of that. Emma came to set one day with makeup on her face, and he sent her back and said, “Take it off.” We literally were allowed nothing.
For the men, he liked the idea that the white makeup they were putting on their face back then was lead-based, so it was poisoning their skin, and their skin would have looked really pockmarked and horrible, and they would have sweated into that. If I made Nick Hoult look pretty with that white makeup—which actually was very easy, because as soon as you put makeup on them, they looked beautiful—Yorgos would want me to add sweat into it, to make the white of his face all chalky and nasty, like he’s had it on and slept in it.
Actually, it’s a really brave choice because on period dramas of that scale, everything is made to look very beautiful. Curls are perfect, hair is perfect. This isn’t, but I really am so grateful that it’s right.
If this concept was scary for you, how did your actors respond to it?
I think anyone coming into a Yorgos project knows that the rulebook goes out the window, that you are creating something with a particular slant to it and a particular vision. I honestly can say that there’s not one actor that came into the makeup bus that I had any kind of resistance [from] when I said, “Look, this is how Yorgos wants it to be, and we’re really going to go for that.” They all absolutely embraced it. The [women] really didn’t mind stripping back; the men didn’t mind what we did in terms of wigs.
When I met Nick and said to him, “You do know what the look is for you, don’t you?” he said, “Not really.” I showed him a picture, and he’s like “What? This is what we’re going for?” And actually, the more he got into it, the more fun we had. We had a different wig for him for different occasions. We also played with different marks on his face, when he gets dressed up, which were like an old way to flirt. The different positions on your faces mean different things. If you have one on your cheek, it means you’re feeling bold; if you have one near your mouth, it means you’re married. There’s a whole list of them. So, Nick and I would sit every day and look at the scene and say, “We should do it here now because you’re going to see the Queen.” We really played with that.
In terms of makeup, what went into all the physicality embedded in the film—capturing Queen Anne’s ongoing illness, for example, or the moment in which Lady Sarah is badly injured?
For Lady Sarah, we looked at different ways to do the injuries. In some of her costumes, when she strides into the room in some of them, there’s a kind of pirate thing about her. There’s almost something slightly masculine or slightly pirate about her physicality, or the cut of some of the costumes, and she really liked the idea that when she comes back with this scar, that it is actually like she’s wearing it like a badge. She’s strolled in, and she takes the tea and drinks it in front of Abigail, and she’s not trying to cover that up. So, Rachel [Weisz] wanted it to be something really obvious, not just lots of cuts and bruises. It needed to be something really big, almost like the cheek had caught from underneath, and had been very crudely stitched in the brothel. We did lots of different trials and tests with that, but again, we wanted to go bigger and bolder with it and do something strong when she comes back.
For Queen Anne, the gout, there were a lot of prosthetics for the swollen leg. Olivia [Colman] had put on a lot of weight for the role, but she’s got the skinniest legs that don’t put any weight on, so we kept saying, “Please, you’ve got to put some more weight on your legs.” Because Yorgos kept looking at these skinny legs and saying, “It does not look like you’ve got gout.” We created a prosthetic leg for those scenes when she’s being treated, so we did lots of study on how gout affects your leg, and the swelling, and the blisters and sores that you’d get from gout. There was lots of pressure to that. We had three different prosthetics across her toe, ankle, and then onto her leg, and then smaller prosthetics to add the different kind of sores for the different points we see. Then, we had to make a padding, which went underneath tights. When she was limping, when she comes into the dance, she says, “Do you like my festive stockings?” So, we had to pad her legs out underneath that.
Then gradually, there was just a decline obviously in health, so we started to gradually break her down. There were lots more scenes towards the end where she’s obviously not making public appearances, so we weren’t dressing her hair as much, and her hair would become lank and loose, [as we were] gradually breaking her skin down. Toward the end, when it was suggested that there had been a stroke, we actually glued down the left side of her face, her eye on one side, and her mouth on one side as well, so that her speech could be kind of impaired. That whole side of the face looked like it’s being dragged down.
How long did it take to apply these prosthetic elements?
It was probably about five times that we actually applied it, and the rest of the times we could cheat it. But that would have taken about an extra hour and a half on her time in the morning. It was about an hour and a half for prosthetics because it was separate pieces, and we had to do it so that she could walk and move and bend. It couldn’t just be one piece.
Could you give a sense of the visual arc you constructed for Abigail? Obviously, she moves through the film with the aim of regaining lost social status.
There was actually quite a story, hair-wise, with Abigail. When we first meet her, she’s come from the streets. We felt like she tried to dress up to impress her cousin, so she’s got a little hat on and her hair down. And then when she starts to work for the Lady Sarah, she wouldn’t have had a lady in waiting, so she would be doing her [hair] herself. It’s a more constructed hairstyle, but it’s simpler as well, so you believe it’s home done.
Then, when she moves up again, it’s really showcased in the scene where she’s having her tea party, when Lady Sarah bursts back in with scars on her face. At that point, Abigail has got this fontange hairstyle, which would be a lady’s hairstyle at that time—a lady of the court. That would have to be done by someone else, so we showed that at that point, she is a lady, and she has people that dress her, and do her hair. It’s a hairstyle that mirrors Queen Anne and Lady Sarah, in the beginning. So, she’s worked up in rank to who Lady Sarah was. Obviously, because you’re not shooting in sequence, there was a lot of change back and forward for that as well, to really arc that out, where she was going.
Could you offer a bit more insight into the details you put together for the men, divided between Whigs and Tories?
Because of the massive amount of wigs, we broke them up into Whigs and Tories. The Tories were more flamboyant in their look, so we tended to go for lighter colors and more powdered wigs. They would have been more flamboyant with the makeup as well, so they tended to have the white makeup with the pink cheeks and the darker eyebrows. The Whigs were slightly more elaborate, so lots of those would be bigger and fluffier, and some of them would have the little horns on top. For the wigs of Godolphin and Marlborough, because they were more connected to the military, there was a more conservative look, so we just made them darker in color and slightly more contained. Probably grander in their look, actually, but more grown-up and not as showy.
Generally, how long did it take to apply hair and makeup for your male characters?
We didn’t have lots of time in the morning, so probably about 45 minutes to an hour for Nick. But actually, the time in the chair wasn’t the longest thing. It was the dressing of the wigs afterwards, because those wigs are so heavy, and they get broken up so quickly that you have to redress them all the time. We had a relatively small team, as well. We didn’t have masses of crowd people all the time, so there was a lot of redressing of those wigs. So that was more of the time, actually, to get those ready for the next day.
Like I said, Nick had different wigs for different things. The scene when fruit is being thrown at the guy in the pink wig, with all the politicians around, Nick has a huge orange wig then. Nick named all his wigs as well, so he was wearing Lulu at the time. All the politicians around him at the time, they had really brightly colored wigs. Some of those are blue and orange and pink, so we had very specific wigs for very specific scenes. If we were finished with a wig in one scene, we might have to take that wig, deconstruct it and adapt it, and spray it in a different color and use it. Because we just didn’t have the budget and the amount of wigs [necessary], we had to keep handing them around.
On a project where the director prefers a certain natural messiness, how you you approach the challenge of continuity?
We’re always on set, and you try your absolute hardest to fix something that you feel is absolutely distracting, and also going to be an issue in the edit. If there’s a huge amount of hair in front of their face, I absolutely would go in and speak to Yorgos. But in the beginning and during prep, I had to really get my head around it, that the process was going to be different, that he wanted it to look messy and free.
With someone like Yorgos, you just trust that what he’s seeing, he knows that that’s going to work. So, you try as much as you can with continuity, but I think the kind of freeness of it works actually in the whole world. I’ve seen the film three or four times now, and there’s nothing that really jars me. It’s a different look for sure, but I jut trusted that it worked, and we all had to do that across the board. It was a real learning curve. Normally on those period dramas, you are given that time to go and make everything look perfect, and it just was not that.