You’ve worked with director Taika Waititi several times. How did you come to collaborate on Jojo Rabbit?
I had worked on three films with Taika prior to Jojo Rabbit, all of which were career highlights for different reasons. We had our son, Austin, in 2016 so I had been busy being mama and doing a couple of smaller films since then. I had some contact with Taika and producer Carthew Neal over this period which ended up with them asking me to join them in Prague — it was an exciting prospect to be working in Prague and with Taika again — you always know something special will come of it. My husband, Tom Eagles, was editor on the project too, so it was a great family adventure.
What was the process of transforming Waititi into Jojo Rabbit’s imaginary friend, Hitler?
Taika was never meant to be a carbon copy of Hitler; he is Jojo’s imaginary version. We decided on the obvious iconic references the hair silhouette, moustache and jammed from there. Having worked with Taika in an acting and directing combination before, I knew that we would need to keep the makeup as streamlined as possible because he has so much going on. We had obviously decided not to go down the exact replication route. I was working with a Maori actor playing a Caucasian character so needed to find a place that felt comfortable to us all in finding this new version of Hitler.
I decided that lightening his skin tone by a few shades would be enough to take Taika there. I used the Skin Illustrator gels to do some shading under the eyes and nasolabial folds. We also wanted to nudge his ear profile out a little. Taika has quite petite ears with a tight profile to his head and Hitler had quite prominent ears — we thought this
could be an interesting subtle nod. I worked with Jack Firman, a local fabricator and prosthetic artist, and came up with a small vacuum form design that was pushed in behind Taika’s ears and held in place with silicone. The moustache was obviously a key part of the character, I researched various versions of Hitler’s moustache over the years, and worked out a silhouette that worked best with Taika’s face.
Where there any challenges in making up Waititi as Hitler considering he was also the director?
Always! From previous experience, I knew that I have to be nimble and expedient in my application and maintenance with Taika. I have limited time with him in the chair and he’s often multi-tasking when I do have him! I often had to spilt the process between blocking scenes, or start the process in the trailer and finish up on set, so I needed to be ready to move at all times. There were advantages to having the director as a lead character too. It’s why I chose to do his hair and makeup myself. It’s precious one-on-one time that I wouldn’t otherwise have with the director to discuss subtleties of design choices.
What did the look for Thomasin McKenzie’s Elsa entail to portray she had been hiding in an attic?
We wanted Elsa to look like she had realistically been hiding in this space for some time without access to normal bathing, but not totally neglected. I have some favorite
products that give that lived-in look to clean hair so we massaged these into the roots mainly. Thomasin has such natural radiance that we basically used her own skin with
minimal anti-shine, and did a very washy dirt breakdown that made sure she didn’t look fresh and sparkly clean, but not downtrodden and filthy.
What sort of research did you do for this project?
I researched the period extensively. I basically researched how it all really looked, then proceeded to break the characters down separately including contemporary references. Taika has a very specific aesthetic that is kind of irreverent and unique and separate from whatever time period the story is set in. It’s like I did the research to understand how and what rules I was going to be asking my team to break. Taika wanted there to be a timeless, almost contemporary aesthetic — of course referencing the period looks but not strictly adhering to the rules.
How did you create the scar on Roman as Jojo Rabbit?
I worked closely with Jack Firman to design the scars. Taika didn’t want the scars to be too horrific or distracting after the reveal, so we experimented with different levels and
placements to find something we were all comfortable with. Jack sculpted the scars to make Pros-Aide transfers which were applied and coloured daily by Andrea McDonald.
What was the design process like for Sam Rockwell as Captain Klenzendorf and Rebel Wilson as Fraulein Rahm?
Captian K was a great character to realize. Taika wanted him to look a little rough around the edges to show his fatigue and disenchantment with the regime — we chose to have his hair a little grown out and not impeccably styled, some stubble which was out of character for a man of his rank. Sam was keen to explore the fact that his character had been really celebrating his sexual liberation so wanted there to be quite a full on camp element and there was a lot of dialogue and testing between us to find that sweet spot. We decided to go with smeary, greasy rock-n-roll eyes that were a great element in the final beaten look.
Rebel was equally as engaged in the design process for her character. We had several Skype meetings before her arrival to make sure that we were on the same page. Rebel had some great offers regarding her character’s hairstyling so we definitely collaborated closely utilizing resource material to find the right silhouette for her.
Words Shannon Levy
Photos Kimberley French, Larry Horricks/20th Century Fox