Michel Hazanavicius’ new film, The Artist, brings audiences back to the freewheeling world of silent films in the roaring twenties. Without question, this black-and-white period film about movies themselves required close attention to detail in all departments including cinematography, costume design and art direction. But the makeup department had to work just as intensely to create believable appearances for all on-camera performers, notably lead actors Jean Dujardin playing silent film star George Valentin and Bérénice Bejo playing his muse, the young dancer, Peppy Miller.
Makeup veteran Juile Hewett was up for the task, having supervised makeup on numerous star-driven films, recently including Ides of March, where she focused on stars Ryan Gosling and Evan Rachel Wood. “Evan is beautiful at 5 a.m,” she noted. “She has such symmetry, so as a makeup artist, she is like a porcelain doll with perfect features. That film, a straight modern drama, required the makeup to become invisible to the untrained eye. “When you are dealing with such amazing actors,” she said of her basic approach, “you know exactly what you want – minimal and natural. I would watch the monitor and be amazed.”
However, her approach on The Artist was, in her words, “exactly the opposite – black and white, very painted and with a heightened reality.” Working often with George Clooney, Hewett had modified her makeups for black-and-white previously on The Good German. “You have to take the knowledge that you had before on that film, do some testing, and get to know how the DP is processing the film,” she explained. “It doesn’t have a formula, so what I really wanted were the faces to be a portrait come to life – that luminescent look but not artificial.”
To prepare for the project, Hewett studied old black-and-white films. “The contrast is so harsh,” she observed. “The Artist was actually shot on color and transferred to black-and-white, but the monitors were in black-and-white. The end result was spectacular – a beautiful cinematic work.”
Her task was made easier by the director and cinematographer’s specificity about what they liked and wanted. “The one thing that I thought you did in a black-and-white film was make the skin tone a little paler for a beauty makeup,” she revealed. “In this instance, we actually kept the skin tone warm – we erred on the side of warm. That gave it the luminous look that you’ll see in the film.”
One would think that doing period beauty makeups that had to work in black-and-white would be incredibly time-consuming, but on The Artist, though makeup was laborious, hair was even more difficult. “The women’s hairdos were what took the most time,” Hewett recalled. “You’d have an actor starting in makeup, going to hair, then back to makeup. You’d also have to stay on top of facial hair and moustaches.”
Lastly, Hewett noted that all of her work in makeup and hair had to look crisp on black-and-white. “You have to train your eye,” she said. “It’s like putting on a different pair of eyes. You don’t want the red lipstick to look black. Your eye tells you to put a certain shade on, but you have to do what works for the black-and-white translation.”