If you ever cruised along LA’s Sunset Boulevard during the 1980s, you surely noticed the 14×48 billboards featuring a buxom blonde woman dressed in hot pink with her signature “Angelyne” signed in cursive above her provocatively side-lying body. If you were extra lucky, you might even see her weaving through traffic in her novel pink Corvette. Oddly enough, nobody ever questioned who Angelyne was; she was just accepted as a curious fixture of Hollywood. Over the years, a collective curiosity deepened as journalists set out to uncover her true identity. The Hollywood Reporter finally solved the mystery in 2017, revealing Angelyne as Ronia Tamar Goldberg, who was born in 1950 to two Holocaust survivors.
The streaming service Peacock recently explored the story in a new series titled Angelyne that aims to separate fact from fiction, and stars an unrecognizable Emmy Rossum, who looks completely different than she did as Fiona on Showtime’s long-running series Shameless.
The folks responsible for physically transporting Rossum back in time, and transforming her into Angelyne throughout the aging process, were Emmy-winning Prosthetic Designer Vincent Van Dyke (Star Trek Picard, Nip/Tuck) and Makeup Department Head Kate Biscoe, who won an Oscar for her work on Vice and an Emmy for her work on Behind the Candelabra.
The award-winning duo worked hand-in-hand to sculpt Rossum from her eyes down to her torso, spanning Angelyne’s teenage years through old age. For Van Dyke, that meant designing 13 different overlapping prosthetic pieces to illustrate maturation. The meticulous process began with two sets of contact lenses, pieces for the nose, lower lip, earlobes, chin, and hands. The piece de resistance was a breastplate for her ample bosom that began under her breast, circled around her neck, and up through her jawline. After the prosthetics were applied, a very specific makeup application was designed, culled from Biscoe’s extensive photographic research of the mysterious Angelyne, who was not involved with the project beyond giving it her blessing. The color palette included lots of pinks and purples, and Van Dyke and Biscoe had to get the shapes and contours just right, especially Angelyne’s challenging heart-shaped lips.
Anyone who lived in Los Angeles during the ’80s has an Angelyne story to share. Van Dyke and Biscoe shared their own with Below the Line via Zoom from their respective homes. They discussed their collective goal, which was to recreate the essence of Angelyne by allowing Rossum to wear the character like a second skin. They also talked about the daunting challenges faced by the series, which nearly stalled out due to Covid, though the cast and crew persevered and went on to deliver one of Peacock’s best shows.
Below the Line: Do you have an Angelyne story that you can share?
Vincent Van Dyke: I grew up in L.A., so, knowing of Angelyne and [that] she was a household name, so to speak. I definitely saw the pink Corvette drive around Hollywood and it was definitely a bit of a “unicorn” experience when you saw her. More than that, I didn’t know anything about her backstory or what her history was until diving into this project. I kind of knew the allure and the mystique behind her.
Kate Biscoe: I came to L.A. in ’95 so I remember seeing the billboards everywhere. I remember asking but nobody really knew; there were always the rumors that you heard. I’d seen her around over the years. I’d heard of her also because I read about her, especially in musicians’ autobiographies, talking about the scene. She was always somebody that was there at all the shows and the openings and the parties.
BTL: With that knowledge of her, how excited were you about this project?
Biscoe: I was excited but at first, I was a little hesitant because I didn’t want it to be another exposition of somebody who had purposely not wanted to be exposed. But when I read the script it wasn’t that and [it] expressed many different points of view, and nobody actually ever claims to be the real truth. They all do. You don’t necessarily have to be what you are born as and what society dictates you have to be, which is a pertinent theme to what is going on now. So when I read those themes in the script, I was excited, and also, that is what Emmy and director Lucy (Tcherniak) wanted to do as well.
Van Dyke: For me, it checked so many boxes that really excite me in terms of the work I really enjoy doing which is realistic character makeup, [and] old-age makeup. I’ve had a soft spot in my heart for that ever since I was a little boy. I always thought it was really cool to create things that would fool people to think that they’re seeing something that’s real. It’s a seamless blend to make sure you’re not taking the actor out of it. You’re not taking the audience out of it, but everything just is there. The biggest compliment is when somebody doesn’t even realize that they are wearing a prosthetic element or makeup at all. That to me is what this project screamed. It was very daunting and very scary but very excited.
BTL: How did you begin with the transformation of Emmy into Angelyne?
Van Dyke: The first thing we did was life-cast Emmy. Essentially, we did a full head lifecast of her. We did a full torso of her, from her fingertips to her waistline; her entire upper half. We were then able to make molds of this and produce her in plaster so that we [could] create sculptures of each different stage that we’d need to replicate, going from age 17 to age 70, roughly. It’s a huge spectrum of work, from a nose prosthetic to 13 different overlapping prosthetic elements that are on her at her oldest age. Even prior to that, it’s the research that Kate did. We were pulling late nights at the studio and just diving into the research. Kate would build these beautiful boards for every year of the greatest angles and exactly the eras that we were looking at. We had these up while we were sculpting every one of these looks, harmoniously tackling all of this at the same time. In retrospect, it was a really good way for us to do it because there is a cohesive look throughout and they blend together. We were just bouncing between these different plaster heads of Emmy and dialing each look in collectively at the same time.
Biscoe: It was just research from photographs and archival photographs. We had the boards going back from the earliest photographs to the present-day photographs. I tried to do as close to what Angelyne did on Emmy as possible. It seems like Angelyne stuck to a look. She went through a phase where she would use matte purple eye shadow for a block of years and a certain color lipstick; let’s say 1986-1991. We lined it up in the way that Angelyne did her makeup and does. It was trying to make the creation look as much like Angelyne as possible but also [something] suiting Emmy. I do have to say, it doesn’t look like Emmy Rossum. I have a friend who said, “That’s Fiona?!” [from Shameless]
BTL: Can you take me through all the prosthetic pieces that you designed?
Van Dyke: We had top-of-hand prosthetic pieces. We had inner arm pieces that would help age inside the arm a bit. She wears a very large prosthetic breast and neck piece that literally comes from underneath the breast line, up into her armpit area, and then wraps around her clavicle shoulder and her entire neck, and terminates just under her jaw line. This is one seamless, continuous piece to help age her neck [and] her chest, and then, obviously, [her] breasts. She then has a chin and lower and upper lip prosthetic piece, her cheeks, nose, and nose bridge piece, [a] forehead [piece], and earlobes. Then, in addition to that, she has old age stipple on her eyelids to help age the lid. She’s wearing two sets of contact lenses, one to change the color of her eye to blue and a scleral lens on top of that to diffuse and change the white of the eye to age that. It’s about as full-on as you get in terms of prosthetic makeup and how much coverage she has going on. Then there is an elaborate paint job on top of that, character and beauty makeup, a beautiful wig, and the costume that helps set it all off. It’s such a collaborative team effort to get this look complete.
BTL: At the end of the day was Emmy dying to take it all off?
Van Dyke: The interesting thing about it is, with prosthetics, when they’re glued to you, every square inch is glued to you so you don’t have something that is hanging or weighing off you in a way that feels weighted. Everything becomes a second skin. It distributes that weight on you really well. The only thing that was weighted or felt heavy would be the breasts, and the breasts weighed about four pounds. That’s a lot on Emmy, the weight of her chest for sure, and all these pieces she went through! She just had a wonderful attitude going through that long of an application, and then [to] act an entire day is pretty amazing.
BTL: Once all the prosthetics are applied, what happens with the makeup?
Biscoe: I have to mention Mike Mekash and Abby Lyle, [who] were a huge part of the application. We all did this old-age application. We would get everything glued on, airbrushed, and paint as much as we could. We would call it, ‘Kate is going into her “K Hole!”’ and everybody would have to leave the trailer because I needed the 45 minutes with no distraction and hyper-focus. It had to be super precise and there couldn’t be bumps in the trailer. Also, one of our makeup artists was pregnant at the time and we didn’t want her breathing in any of the airbrush fumes, so she would split. I practiced this stupid lip shape over and over. Vincent actually made me a practice head so I could get this heart-shaped lip shape because it was so important. Emmy has these beautiful full lips and Angelyne has a different shape, almost like a 1920s lip. I would do those lips in my sleep. I’d drink these Mexican cokes with real sugar in them right before to get it all on as fast as possible knowing everybody was waiting. Also, by that point, she’d been in the chair for four hours.
Van Dyke: Then there’s that magic moment where she would come out of the trailer and be revealed. It was such a rewarding moment to look over and there she is. Even though you’re in there and the prosthetics are being glued down, it doesn’t really become Angelyne until Kate has that moment and the wig (designed by Martin Samuel) goes on, it’s a really beautiful moment.
BTL: What is your philosophy on exact likeness?
Van Dyke: If you’re gonna go for an exact likeness of someone, you cannot go and achieve 100 percent of a likeness almost ever. One of the reasons is [that] you can wind up covering your talent to the point that they’re wearing essentially a mask. A lot of the time, a producer or director may hear that you have 13 overlapping prosthetics on and will be fully covered and the only thing that’s you is your eyelids. That can be a scary thing to hear. Our job is to design that in a way where you can be fully covered, and some of the prosthetics are literally tissue-thin and some ¼ inch thick. They’re just enough material to push us into the essence of that character rather than bury them in something that is lost completely when your only goal and focus is that likeness. We’re always trying to find the balance of the essence of that likeness and not hindering the talent and their performance.
Biscoe: It’s trying to create the right proportions of shapes. You can have a two-dimensional design of what you want the makeup to look like. However, there is a human being in there. Really, what’s important is that the humanity of the character comes through. So much of that is left up to Emmy. You want it to look like the person you are portraying but it has to be subtle enough so Emmy can bring that life to the character. She does have to act through all of the inorganic material. For the sake of storytelling, you may want to pull back on certain things because you know that Emmy’s gonna bring it. Our costume designer, Danny Glicker, likes there to be little flaws here and there because he does want the humanity to show. In terms of makeup, we need to have the human essence come through.
BTL: What were the biggest challenges and when all was done, the greatest rewards?
Van Dyke: We had to create extremely realistic characters that you see go through age progression and not take you out of the story. The thing that makes you want to do something is what scares you the most because the stakes are high and there’s really no room for failure. There’s nowhere to hide on any of these makeups so the caliber has to be as high as you can possibly achieve. We were lucky to be on this early on and discover what worked and have that collaboration with Emmy so she could weigh in. This was very much a dance between the three of us early on while we were doing these tests. This project was special, but one is that we got on prior to Covid, and then Covid hit while we were doing test makeup and it was, ‘Get out of that trailer. You all have to leave until further notice.’ I literally had moments where I thought, ‘this is never gonna get made,’ which was tough because I was so excited for this project from day one. I love working with Kate and we were both heart-and-soul committed to making all these looks that felt special and unique, and for that to maybe go away was heartbreaking. When we all came back, the same team… for us to see this through… I’ll look back on this with a fond memory.
Biscoe: Our mantra was, ‘failure is not an option.’ None of us had ever done anything like this before to this scale, but we’re gonna get each other through it, so it was a pact to not let each other fail. Her hands took a hit because, after Covid, she had to wash her hands all the time so we couldn’t have the same type of prosthetics on them as before because she needed to be able to wash her hands at any moment. So we needed a different approach rather than have the piece on there. Instead, we did a really solid paint job. When we came back from Covid we had the addition of David Williams as department head, which helped me out tremendously so I could concentrate on Emmy and not have to oversee the rest of the characters. The rewarding thing about it is that we made it through. It wasn’t like [we were] limping to the finish line. It seemed, like, insurmountable in the beginning, but we actually came through. It was more like flourishing… and here we are.
Angelyne is now streaming on Peacock.