What sort of research and preparation did you do for Fosse/Verdon?
With five decades of research to do, the prep and research never stopped. I bought the Sam Wasson Fosse book that this mini-series is based on, but I had many other books on Broadway musicals and DVD’s of Bob Fosse’s films to watch. I also had access to Bob and Gwen’s daughter, Nicole Fosse, who allowed us into the Fosse/Verdon Legacy Archives. I had to research all his musical numbers that we had to duplicate and mimic the looks exactly. And the actual producers, writers, composers, pianists and others that were with Bob on each project. All of the background extras that needed to be period specific from 1940-1987, every daytime and evening beauty makeup for each time period and mustache and sideburn length for the men. I had six weeks of prep prior to shooting but continued my research every day during the six months of shooting. I left no stone unturned. I would email detailed information to every makeup artist with reference photos and specific makeup to use for each era.
How large was your makeup team?
As you can imagine, I needed a huge team. I was the makeup designer. Department Head was Blair Aycock, Key was Dave Presto, Personal to Michelle Williams was Jackie Risotto, background makeup supervisors were Sherri Laurence and Nicky Illum Pattison, Art Sakamoto made the teeth for Michelle Williams, Vincent Van Dyke did the prosthetics for Sam Rockwell and Michelle Williams. Plus an amazing team of additional background artists.
How did you go about researching the looks for the Fosse dancers through the years?
The costume designers, Melissa Toth and Joseph La Courte, and Abby in the art department were instrumental in helping me get the research I needed for the musical numbers. Along with watching many Youtube videos and going to see musicals like Chicago, many of the dancers who have studied or worked with Bob Fosse were helpful as well. It was a group effort in every way. Once the costumes and the wigs that Christopher Fulton designed were on, everything came together beautifully. Filming the musical numbers were some of my favorite moments during the whole shoot.
What was the design process like?
Every actor, dancer and background artist who went in front of the camera had a fitting. I assigned a specific look based on the year they were a part of and the character they portrayed. I had reference photos of the real person they might be portraying and photos of makeups/facial hair for that specific time period. I then assigned an artist to that actor and it all came together, every morning. Some mustaches and sideburns were lace backed, but a majority were hand-layed. Every day was a unique challenge. Not to mention aging Sam Rockwell and Michelle Williams and those around them. I chose very specific upper and lower lashes for the dancers, and put a bag of character specific makeup together to reduce any guesswork, and to get everyone through the work as fast as possible. We had three-hour precalls many days to get everyone ready. Once everyone was done, we would do a lineup with the makeup, costume and hair teams to make sure all looks were approved before anyone went on camera.
Fosse had a very distinct makeup style for his female dancers in Sweet Charity, Cabaret and Chicago – they almost always look like dolls. But these shows are set in different eras. Did you gain any insight on that direction?
When researching Cabaret, specifically the Mein Herr dance number with Liza Minelli, I came across a German artist by the name of George Grosz who was known for painting unique, caricatural faces of the 1920s. It became very apparent that many of the makeups were based on these paintings. It was such a beautiful discovery to see what inspired him during the filming of that movie.
What was your biggest challenge on the project?
Everything was a challenge on this project. We sometimes had three eras to shoot in one day. Aging Sam and Michelle, and many of the characters around them over the years, took a lot of creativity on tight scheduling. We had 9-10 days per episode, so we had to work fast and be prepared with prosthetics and facial hair ready.
Michelle Williams really looks like Gwen Verdon, can you tell us how you achieved this?
Nicole Fosse was a treasure trove of information regarding the makeup she remembers her mother wearing, along with Ann Reinking. She was incredibly supportive of our work and was very complimentary when she saw each character walk on set for the first time. I’m sure this was not an easy time for her, reliving a lot of tumultuous events in her life; but was also a way to release the past by experiencing it in a more positive way in the present. I always tried to include her when there was a question regarding specific looks for her mother.
Must-have products on set?
For the musical numbers, I was lucky to have the support of MAC (chroma colors, blushes, lashes and fixer sprays) and MAKE UP FOR EVER (Aqua XL makeup, water cake and eyeshadows). I used a lot of Kryolan once I realized that’s what they used on Cabaret when filming in Berlin. Westmore Beauty for body makeup on Sam Rockwell, Vitaliberata for tanning products and body makeup on the dancers. Anastasia for brow pencils.
Words Shannon Levy
Photos courtesy Eric Liebowitz, Craig Blankenhorn and
Michael Parmelee, all for FX