What was the hair and makeup design process like for The Queen’s Gambit?
I design as I read the script. It all starts with how I feel it should look. Interestingly, Beth (Anya Taylor-Joy) is supposed to have mousy brown hair but when I read the script, I magined her with red hair. Both [director] Scott Frank and Anya also thought she had red hair. So, the design of that character started there. The thing about designing is that you’ve got to give your characters a backstory, as well. For instance, in my mind, Mrs. Deardorff was in the second world war, probably an army nurse, a major, so she was quite military, quite proper and never really changed. She had the same hair in the 1940s in the 1950s. The design process is based on script, of course, and then how I imagine these characters to be and what their backstory is.
Where did you draw inspiration for Beth Harmon’s character in transforming her from orphan to glamorous chess champion?
Again, it’s in my mind’s eye. We chopped the little Beth’s (Isla Johnson) real hair off and gave her this fringe. That was something I wanted to do to show where she was coming from and where she ended up, in this institution, with this rather severe look that all the little girls had. I had an idea of what I wanted, then I did the research. I actually think the look is rather charming. The transformation went in several stages and stages within stages. Anya has long blond hair that we couldn’t cut because she was growing it for her next job. As she came out of the orphanage, I gave her a bit of a different look with various wigs. Some of the actresses I took inspiration from where Jean Seyberg and Natalie Wood. A lot of my inspiration was taken from Hollywood for her overall look. I wanted it to be very stylized. It was to have her looking very much the period. And the older she gets, the more sophisticated she becomes.
Do you have a favorite look from The Queen’s Gambit?
I’d say my favorite is the last shot when she sits down to play an old Russian chess player in the park. She’s got the costume, makeup and hair that says: I’ve made it and I’m happy within my skin and myself. Gabriele Binder did great costumes. That last costume — meant to portray the white queen — mixed with the red hair and very lovely 1950/60s makeup with the eyeliner and everything.
The Mariska Veres-inspired eyeliner during one of Beth’s benders really stood out, how was that look executed?
It’s always difficult to do bad makeup. It goes against the grain; pale, washed out, bad eyeliner. The original Mariska Veres makeup is very clever and quite good. Beth is meant to copy the makeup in her drunken drug-induced haze. She thinks she looks fantastic but she doesn’t. It took a few attempts to find the right balance of not quite as bad as it could be which is what Scott Frank wanted.
What were some key products for creating Beth’s signature look?
To be honest, there’s no real key products. When she was younger, there’s a wonderful pencil that’s my go-to by MAC called Coffee that I use on everybody. Then I went on to other eyeliners such as Tom Ford liquid eyeliner, MAC Blacktrack Fluidline and Bobbi Brown’s gel liner, depending on what I wanted to portray, what the feeling was in the scene and the flick, depth of line, and also how matte or glossy the line was. I used tiny eyelashes by Shu Uemura that I love. There’s no knot on the bottom and they’re absolutely beautiful. Lipsticks were all kinds from MAC to Guerlain. Again, different things and then I would mix the lipsticks, as well. All of it helps tell a story. Anya has very beautiful but sensitive skin that she looks after very well, so the foundation we mostly used was Chantecaille. We also used a bit of By Terry and Armani. I’m not big on products because I feel that one could do an awful lot with very little; it’s more about how you apply it. Sometimes you do need a specific product but I’m still very happy to use Kryolan Greasepaints. For shading, I use Kryolan because I can mix the colors I want exactly and it stays well. For eyebrows, I use Suqqu Eyebrow brush which is lovely.
What is the biggest challenge you face when designing both makeup and hair? I’ve designed the two for a really long time. I tend to be more of a makeup artist. I’m not really a hairdresser; I design hair. One can’t do everything so I make sure my designs are what I want and I get the best possible person, whether it’s makeup, hair or prosthetics. I have my people I’ve been using for years and decades, and we all get on very well, so it’s always a pleasure to wok together.
During those big chess tournaments, what was important in staying in the period with all the background actors?
There was a lot of overhead shots and I was saying to my crew, those partings on the men’s hair have to be absolutely perfect! It makes a difference and puts you into the period. With all of my projects, I pay enormous amount of attention to all my extras. They absolutely have to look right because if you get one extra out of sync, the whole façade collapses.
Anything else you’d like to add about this project? It was a very enjoyable project to work on with Scott Frank, our leader, and our producers were absolutely lovely. There are four main design departments – DOP Steven Meizler, the costumer Gabriele, the production designer Uli Hanisch whom I’ve worked with before. When you’ve got the four design departments working together as one, things work really well. Like the way the red hair was set off against the sets; everything just works. To work together like that is lovely.
Words Shannon Levy
Photos Phil Bray/Netflix