Following his acclaimed courtroom drama The Trial of the Chicago 7, Writer-Director Aaron Sorkin returns to Amazon with Being the Ricardos, which follows a fictional week in the real lives of beloved TV icons Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, who are played by Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem.
Aided by these two Academy Award-winning actors, Sorkin expertly weaves a story about the various challenges that Ball and Arnaz faced during their career, including accusations of communism, infidelity, and how to handle Ball’s pregnancy onscreen in the conservative 1950s.
But, before you can get there, you have to surpass a more basic hurdle — making these two Oscar winners look like the people they are portraying. How do you make two of the most recognizable movie stars of our time look like two of the most well-known and well-liked television stars of the past century, two faces who remain etched in our collective imagination?
With the help of makeup department head Ana Lozano (Pain and Glory) and hairstyling department head Teressa Hill (10 Cloverfield Lane), Sorkin and his two leads managed to pull off a transformation that few people thought possible, and the team worked the same magic in turning J.K. Simmons and Nina Arianda into I Love Lucy co-stars William Frawley and Vivian Vance.
Lozano and Hill recently spoke separately to Below the Line about the gargantuan task they faced — one that they carried out expertly, rendering all four actors with believable looks that were never over-the-top and still allowed them to flex their acting muscles.
Read our combined interview with these two talented artisans below:
Below the Line: How did you first get to work on this project?
Ana Lozano: I have been in Los Angeles for seven years, working on things like The Assassination of Gianni Versace. Few films actually film here, but the passion of my life has always been to do the makeup of an American movie, about American looks. That has been my dream, and I think that dreaming is important. I came to the project because I’d worked with Javier Bardem and he and my agency proposed to Nicole that I do the makeup design. And by the way, no one hires a Spaniard to do an American, 1940s makeup [job]. But I know them because I have studied them and learned them, they have been my passion. I think they saw that in me.
Teressa Hill: I’d like to start off by saying that when I was approached to do this project and they sent me the script to read — it was Presidents’ Day — they said they really wanted me. I was very excited because everybody in the business knew about this film and everybody knew it was going to be made. To be honest, everyone I knew wanted to get this job because of the director/writer, because of the actors, because of the subject matter. Who doesn’t love Lucy? The hair for this is as iconic as the actors. To be able to do a period piece about an industry you work in, about people who are known to everyone, was a dream come true. And as you know, MUAH completes the wardrobe, so it’s critical.
BTL: Yes, Makeup and Hairstyling are critical components to award-winning performances — think of Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill or Meryl Street as Margaret Thatcher — so what’s the trick to doing it with such well-known actors playing such well-known people?
Hill: Well, the two decades at issue here are the 1940s and 1950s, and they are different. In the ’50s, the hair was shorter. In the ’40s, it was longer for women, with bigger curls, and the silhouette was fuller and broader, at least with most styles — fuller in the front, longer in the back. So that is what I went for immediately — just realistic and natural, nothing over the top. This is, of course, Lucille’s look — she wore it longer when she was Lucille, especially in the front, but shorter when she was Lucy.
And that was cool. Obviously, we were preparing Lucille, but also Lucy. And I work with everyone, with Ana, and with the art department, obviously with the directors and writers, but also with wardrobe and the set people. Finally, I get input from the actors. That is my process and that’s what I followed here. The sketches by Susan Lyall, wow. She is a genius. Of course, Aaron is a genius. I had the ultimate respect for him and had the best time ever working with him. I felt his trust.
The subtlety can be a difficult art with MUAH, and less is more in my opinion. When it comes to art and fashion, I really think that. It is about creating the essence and letting the story and the actors tell the story to the public.
Lozano: America in the 1940s and ’50s was [about] glamour. That did not exist in Spain, which is why I was so into it and knew it so well. So I first made some drawings with prosthetics, but I agree with Teresa — Sorkin told us he does not want a photograph of the actors, he wants a painting. If you do it too similar, it’s a caricature. Especially with Javier, because he looks very different from Desi. He has a bigger face — you can add to a face, but not take away. Nicole at least had a natural similitude. In any case, I also went for the subtle things that people may not even notice. A little darker shade, a little piece of nose. Remember that Desi went with a lot of makeup.
I really enjoyed how we got to the final project. We did a lot of research and studied a lot of existing pictures of the four of them, and also of actors of the time. We obtained products that people would have used to do their personal and also their acting makeup in the 1940s and 1950s. For example the makeup color palette — we got an authentic version of that. We used Bésame Cosmetics, and that on its own was inspired by Lucille Ball. The entire palette is based on her and the 1950s.
BTL: Nicole looked like Lucy in the TV scenes particularly. How did you do that?
Lozano: Very few prosthetics. Nicole had a little bit for the eyebrows because Lucille had such distinct eyebrows, meaning she had few and she had them painted on. We suggested other prosthetics but Sorkin did not want them. I also focused a lot on just sticking to the natural tones that people used in the 1940s and 1950s. And I had to make her a little younger at first, and span 12 years. Nicole had her hair darker when she started and then she decided to dye her hair red when she did the show, for which we made her have a subtler mouth outline. But before she did her show she had almost nothing on her lips. By the 1950s you can use a little more orange tones on her face and a very red tone on her lips, with liner. Even if she’s cooking — that’s how women cooked. And Lucille had a very unique lip form, almost grotesque, like her brows, but that was on purpose because she was a comedian with big facial expressions.
Hill: It takes a village. Credit goes to the cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth. The black-and-white helped, but… subtlety. As I said, we were prepping our movie, Being the Ricardos, we were prepping the several TV episodes of I Love Lucy, and we were prepping the movie Too Many Girls, with Desi and Ann Miller, when they meet. She is all beat up. And it was a limited budget, which was a challenge but ultimately a blessing in disguise that helped us stay subtle.
Let me tell you something that Aaron said. “Do not make a photograph of the characters. Paint a picture of them.” He said that to all of us. We are showing the essence of the characters. That really hit me and resonated with us.
BTL: Let’s get into the nitty-gritty. What materials and methods did you use?
Lozano: Makeup has a lot of weapons that prosthetics do not have. You can do contouring that takes 15 minutes and that does a lot — stretch a little here, stretch an extra there. By the way, the entire makeup would take up at least 45 minutes per actor. All of the women, Nina and Nicole had eyebrows of different styles in different scenes. We thought of a fake chin for J.K. but again, it was too much and I really have to credit Aaron Sorkin to say we did not need to make them exact. It just made it better.
Hill: For the hair, it was all wigs. Everyone had at least two wigs, but Nicole actually had four. Even J.K. Simmons had a hairpiece. I had over 100 wigs in my trailer. Basically trying to, again, not recreate the characters but show them. It’s very easy to make a caricature of Lucille Ball — pull a dress out of your closet with a big closet, and a Lucille wig and red lipstick, and that’s it. That was not our idea. Although Javier really wanted a showy wig for Desi, at least on the front curl. He really wanted to get that very exact. He is arguably the actor who looked the least like his character?
BTL: Teressa how do you get your wigs onto your actors?
Hill: You dress your wigs at night and when you dress them, you set them. You put them in an oven and they come out in the morning. Then you dress it again on the stand. Then the actor comes in, you wrap their head, you put it on, you do the final touches, and that’s it. There’s a lot of work before you put it on them. We actually had international wigmakers on this one because of the international cast. Massimo in Italy, Peter Owen out of London. Some of them did the wigs and they were overnighted to me. I do want to say that less is more and subtle pieces are important, like the little combover on J.K. It helps endear the character and build it, but not overplay it.
BTL: Ana did you use the same makeup for the black-and-white scenes or different ones?
Lozano: Different. You have to avoid browns — they become black. Anything too dark looks like a faded, not-good grey on his face. And it was tempting to use those to emulate Desi. And the problem is even worse for us as makeup artists with 4K. It’s great for the audience but the medium shows a lot of contrast and a lot of detail. So it’s not the best thing for skin and color tones. And by the way, Desi used a lot of makeup, so in those scenes, we had a problem. Eventually, we used not a lot of makeup despite it. I have seen pictures of Desi where it was clear that he had liner, shine, and powder. But I just did not want the cartoon version of them, so we used less than the real ones did. All of these things we had in mind. Honestly, when we saw the four actors on the camera, and then in pictures, we thought it was them. It was a beautiful task overall.
Being the Ricardos is currently playing in theaters and streaming on Amazon Prime Video.