A futuristic dark comedy from Patrick Somerville and director Cary Fukunaga, Maniac was an exceedingly ambitious project, in terms of its makeup and hair design, with a series of characters that were visually reinvented for each new episode.
Starring Emma Stone and Jonah Hill, the miniseries follows Annie and Owen, two strangers who connect during a mind-bending pharmaceutical trial, which promises to tap into trauma and cure the mental illness that ails each. Over the course of 10 episodes, the characters are whisked away into drug-induced fantasies, where they take on new personas, and confront different versions of the people in their lives attached to their own personal experiences of pain.
Embarking on their first television series as a team, hair designer Fríða Aradóttir and makeup artist Judy Chin had their work cut out for them with Maniac. Taking Annie and Owen through a series of idiosyncratic scenarios—including a 1980s Long Island lemur caper, a 1940s mansion séance, and a fantasy epic à la Lord of the Rings—the pair were always working on the fly, finding surprising looks for the pair’s alter egos.
As far as worldbuilding through hair and makeup, there was also the series’ principal reality——a surreal vision of near-future New York City, with touches of the ’80s—and Neberdine Pharmaceutical Biotech, where a team of oddball scientists monitor Annie and Owen’s trials as they occur.
A trippy genre-bender, Maniac represented a kind of creative experience that neither Aradóttir nor Chin had had before. “People who do sketch comedy shows maybe have this sort of experience with their cast, but I’ve certainly have never had the opportunity to develop al these looks for one actor, or a cast of actors. We’ve had the fortune of doing some great characters in our careers in the past, but to do it all in one show was pretty incredible for all of us,” the latter artist reflects. “Reinventing every actor in multiple looks was really challenging. But even though we were crying, we loved every second of it.”
What were your first impressions when you read scripts for Maniac?
Judy Chin: I remember reading the first couple of episodes and thinking, “What on earth is happening here?” I was intrigued and excited to learn more. One thing that I knew would make the thing was the cast—but also, Cary Fukunaga. I’ve always thought that he’s a really interesting director, and I thought anything that he might be involved in, especially with this script to start with, was going to be interesting.
Fríða Aradóttir: I didn’t really get the scope of it, and what it was all about, until maybe the second production meeting, and it just kept growing from there. This was something that hadn’t maybe been done before, so that was exciting and intriguing.
What did your early conversations with Fukunaga and Patrick Somerville reveal, in terms of an aesthetic focus for the show, and the challenges you would have to overcome?
Chin: I feel like Fríða and I had a lot of moments where we were like, “Okay…” We would read elves. “What does that mean? How elf-y do you want it?” I feel like they knew exactly what they wanted, but they wanted us to fight for it and figure it out. We’d come up with images, and then we’d take them away. We’d come up with more images, and we’d be like, “No, that can’t be what they mean.” We’d just be like, “You know what? We’re just going to throw it out there,” and we would present ideas, and they were like, “Yeah, that’s exactly it!”
Aradóttir: It wasn’t so forthcoming always, what the reason was. It was obviously a bit in the script, and the biggest hurdle for us was, we were always shooting and prepping for the next episode. That’s what made the show so massive for us, because we’d in the ‘50s and prepping for the elf magical world [simultaneously]. It made for a lot of work sometimes, on the day.
Chin: Remember when we showed Cary pictures of Emma in her elf look for the first time? We were both terrified.
Aradóttir: Of course, we were excited about it, but it was nerve-wracking sometimes. But by the time this presentation came about, I think we had gained so much trust within our vision, with Cary Fukunaga, that he trusted that we would serve the show well.
What informed your principal looks for Emma Stone and Jonah Hill, within the show’s primary reality?
Chin: The makeup was very minimal. What I was trying to capture with both of them was a very raw, very real look. We needed them to also look attractive—and they both are attractive, no matter what you do to them—but I wanted them both to have a bit of an edge. What that meant for me was actually making them look a little bit worse, in an edgy sort of way, but with a little bit of sexy darkness, keeping it very bare at the same time.
Aradóttir: For Annie, I just wanted her as if she [didn’t] wash her hair all the time, and certainly didn’t fix it. She washed it, parted in the middle, and combed it, but I wanted her to stay quite raw and basic—never done. Because there were so many more looks to come that were so done and thought out.
But one thing I always wanted, when I saw that she was going to be multiple characters, was for her to stay blonde throughout the whole thing. Because I thought it was possibly too jarring for the eye, if you she was in multiple hair colors throughout. That was the main thing with her: Even though she was in massively different looks, she was always a blonde, just to keep one common thread to her.
Each of the lab workers at Neberdine Pharmaceutical Biotech has a memorable look. What inspired your approach to Dr. Azumi Fujita, played by Sonoya Mizuno?
Chin: Sonoya’s character had a lot of elements to her. She’s a nerdy scientist who’s passionate about her work. For me, it was combining the scientist look with a sexy girl, but not in a traditional way. You might typically think that a character like that might not wear makeup, but I wanted her to. I think you read her makeup, but in a way, you don’t feel it. She wears lashes, and her makeup is always the same. She has the same lip, the same eyes, but there’s definitely something very sexy about her. But it’s like she has no idea how attractive she is.
Aradóttir: Nerds in general can be very sexy. Azumi’s haircut and style was totally inspired, per Cary Fukunaga, by Rei Kawakubo, a Japanese artist and designer, [who] designs for Comme des Garçons. Then, all the other characters in the lab unfolded and came together after that.
Dr. Mantleray is another interesting case. What was the thinking there?
Aradóttir: There’s a long story behind what he ended up being that I cannot really reveal, but the darkness and denseness of his hair was a little bit inspired by Asian hair. I hope this is not a [politically incorrect] way of describing it, but we wanted him to sort of stay in the same family as Azumi. They were similarly kind of nerdy and weird, with the dense, dark hair.
Chin: His character was really fun because it’s like his hair was just a little too black, his skin was just a little too tan, a little too sculpted.
Aradóttir: He was always a notch off.
Annie and Owen’s drug trial takes them into a new fantasy realm in each episode of the series. Were the varying looks each character takes on mapped out far in advance of the shoot?
Aradóttir: I create the best in the moment. I can’t really foresee and plan terribly much in advance. So, it all sort of happened organically, as we started to think about the next episode, or two episodes down the line.
Chin: That’s exactly how every look went. We’d read the script, we’d think we had a plan, but the thing is, we never really had the time to properly test them out. It’s so great when you can look at something, you test it, and then you have the time to breathe, and tweak and change it…
Aradóttir: …But there was none of that.
Chin: No. [Laughs] Having a strong idea of the vision of what we wanted to do, we knew what we were going to try to grab off our tables and put on our actors, but we never really had a lot of time to work things out. It was a lot of hoping and praying.
Aradóttir: There was next to zero prep for us in the beginning of the show. So, you rely very hard on the people that are supporting you and your team, to try to catch up. We were always trying to catch up and prep for the next, and this is where your partner is really crucial. Since it’s all happening in the moment, and we have similar aesthetics, we work well together. That’s what Maniac was for me. It all sort of unfolded back and forth between the two of us.
In today’s world, you can also be a little bit more spontaneous because there’s so much available on the internet. Back in the day, you had to go to the library; you had to collect books and magazines. But now, it’s more of a push of a button. We can collect a bunch of images, bounce it off of each other, and make a mood board.
Which of the worlds explored in the show was most interesting to you?
Aradóttir: One of my favorites is the one at the mansion that takes place in the ‘40s. I just love the ‘40s—the wardrobe, and the red lips, and the beautiful, sculpted hair. It’s so rich and luxurious, and such a definite silhouette, from head to toe.
One more [interesting] thing is the reoccurring twins. I think the first time we did them was in the ‘40s, and that’s when Judy and I decided that they should stay [as a recurring visual motif]. Then, we decided that whenever they came back, they should always be in matching hairdos, and matching makeup. They were so much fun to recreate for all these different episodes.
Chin: For me, the ‘40s and the elf looks stand out the most, because they were the most fun to do. They were the most beautiful and most challenging, in many ways. For the elf world, we created an entire world, down to the background actors who played the soldiers, and the facial hair we applied to all these guys, and Trudie [Styler]’s character. And the twins, the way they kept reappearing in each episode in different looks, it was like, “Okay fine, we’re reinventing all these people. We may as well add two more twins!”
As you mentioned, Stone and Julia Garner are transformed into elves for Episodes 7 and 8. What kinds of challenges presented themselves in their magical domain?
Chin: Well, the elves have pointed ears. [Laughs] With the schedule we were keeping, it was really challenging to get their ears lifecasted, and then sculpted and approved, on such a short time schedule. But when you’re talking elf ears, there’s a fine line between Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter, and Yoda, even.
Emma’s ears are hacked off in a rough way; she sort of hacks them off herself, because they’re really raggedy, and she doesn’t want to be an elf. Her character is supposed to be half human, so hers are different from Julia’s. Again, as things evolved, it was like, “Oh, this actor is going to have ears, and this actor’s going to have ears.” And we’re like, “What? No! We don’t have time to make ears for everybody.” It turned out to just be Sally [Field] and Julia and Emma, but that was a really fun world to make because it was just total fantasy.
Emma’s look was really fun to do because she’s done so much in her life, but no one’s ever made her look like this before. Beauty, and grunge, and fierceness, all mixed up.
Aradóttir: She’s quite the warrior, and being that I’m a Viking, that’s where my first inspiration came from—images of Vikings and warriors from 1100 years ago, what I imagined they would have looked like. Lots of extensions, lots of braids, lots of fabrics piled in. And the outcome, between the makeup and hair, was quite impressive.