Vertou How did you come to work on Baz Luhrmann’s film, Elvis?
I started work on Elvis just before Covid changed the world. Two weeks after starting we were shut down. A force majeure was called and all crew stood down. Borders closed and the world was in lockdown. The future of the film was unclear at that time. Three months into the lockdown, the studios contacted me after restrictions had eased slightly and traveled me to Queensland to begin prep again. I pulled an amazing team together and we started over. [Director] Baz Luhrmann and [Producer/Costume & Production Designer] Catherine Martin asked me to design the film, and again we were up and running. To quote Tom Hanks’ famous line from the film, “He was my Destiny”.

http://fhaloanmichigan.org/blog/ What was the makeup and hair design process like for this film?
It was one of the most collaborative design processes I have ever experienced in my career. Reference, reference, reference… Mr. Presley was one of the most documented individuals ever, so I had a lot of material to draw from. Baz is super hands-on with all the design, as is Catherine Martin. Together, we created a whole world of Elvis beauty. I feel testing is the key to great design, so we tested very diligently every look that Austin Butler and every other character had to look like crossing three decades.

The film takes place over a few decades of Elvis’ life throughout the film, how did the makeup, hair, and prosthetic design help tell the story?
With a film like this, crossing over three decades, it is very important to be as accurate as possible whilst keeping nuance to change. Elvis’ hair alone was like its own character; he was so famous for his hair and eventually sideburns. So, along with the brilliant prosthetic designs of the great Mark Coulier, I plotted a path for the hair, Elvis’ eye makeup, sometimes sideburns, and Mark’s prosthetics. The talented Jason Baird and his crew applied the prosthetics to match all the stages in Elvis’ career – the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s.

Elvis was known for wearing makeup at a time before many men were doing so. How did you research and design his makeup looks over his career?
Baz and I had conversations about how Elvis was like the Punk of the ‘50s. I wanted to portray him as such for the early days and took reference from bands like The Stray Cats who with their look expressed a time of rebellion and change, just like Elvis. Later on, it was about movies and live performances, so to be seen as a Hollywood actor and on-stage performer, makeup was an essential part of the act.  All of this had to be adapted to work on Austin’s face to make it work for him and make him feel the essence of Elvis. Not to impersonate but to represent and respect.

How did you approach the design for Elvis’ aging and weight gain?
Along with using different prosthetics and six different wigs to cross the span of time, I played around with skin tone. In the ‘50s, I used fewer prosthetics so Austin appeared more round and fresh-faced with youthful rosy cheeks and lighter skin. In the ‘60s, Hollywood Handsome man had more chiseled features and warmer skin tones, and in the ‘70s Hawaii was one of Elvis’ favorite places so he was super chiseled and very tanned. This is the period of many different sideburns and very coiffed hair. The weight gain was achieved with suits made by JMBFX to show his slow weight gain over time.

What were the key elements to transforming Austin Butler into Elvis?
The key elements were showing changes between periods subtlety. Everything with his design needed to be executed with flawless precision to tell the story of his life seamlessly and always be true to Elvis Presley. To believe Austin was the essence of Elvis was intrinsic not only to tell the story but to be mesmerized by his beauty and talent. Austin embraced all of this so, so graciously.

Priscilla was and is such a strong beauty influence in entertainment. Was there any additional pressure to get this right given she is a living historical figure?
Yes, the pressure was on. Priscilla is a true beauty and style icon for the ages. She is so historically documented for this. I took on all of her iconic looks and adapted them to the beautiful Olivia DeJonge’s face. Priscilla wore big makeup, sometimes three sets of false eyelashes, and hair as high as the sky. Again, I had to represent rather than replicate to show respect for a living legend.

How large was your team?
My amazing team was made up of 20 full-time artists, as well as Jason Baird’s effects team, and some days 80 hair and makeup people in the crowd room with over 350 wigs from every period in the film! This was a little challenging at times, as we were right in the middle of a global pandemic.

Were you involved in the makeup design of Tom Hanks as Colonel Tom Parker?
Mark Coulier designed Tom’s makeup with Jason Baird and JMBFX team applying. My part was the wigs and hair for Tom. A great collaboration.

Are there products you couldn’t have worked on this film without?
Everything black from Chanel and hand sanitizer.

Words: Shannon Levy
Photos courtesy of Warner Bros.