Our below-the-line Oscars preview continues with our latest nominee interview — Nadia Stacey, the hair and makeup artist responsible for Emma Stone’s memorable look in Disney’s Cruella.
Stacey faces stiff competition this year, as Cruella’s fellow nominees include Dune, Coming 2 America, House of Gucci, and The Eyes of Tammy Faye. Whoever wins will receive their Oscar an hour before the live telecast, though their acceptance speech will be edited into the show.
Over the past few months, BTL has been fortunate enough to chat with Dune makeup artist Donald Mowat, who talked about creating the prosthetics that adorned Stellan Skarsgard’s body, as well as the prosthetics designers for Jared Leto’s body suit in House of Gucci and Lady Gaga’s personal hair and makeup artists for that crime film.
But Stacey’s makeup, which we said helped Stone achieve a “fresh, younger bicolor look” when we reviewed Cruella last year, could very realistically take the Oscar for makeup and hairstyling given the prominence that craft has in the film.
Read on as we discuss Stacey’s creative process with the Oscar nominee, who dishes on what it was like to work on such a big-budget production with Cruella director Craig Gillespie, and how she made Stone look so fabulous with the help of Naomi Donne and Julia Vernon.
Below the Line: After a series of indie projects, your career arguably reached new heights with The Favourite, and now here we are talking about your first Oscar nomination. What has this journey been like for you?
Nadia Stacey: Surreal. I’m so grateful, because I got to go to the Oscars with The Favourite, but not with a nomination for me. That dry run has prepared me, I think. But it does feel amazing to be celebrated for a film that you are very proud of. And honestly, I did not think we would get recognized because it does not have prosthetics, which tends to be what this branch likes. So, to get here on the basis of hair and makeup alone, to be honest, is quite an honor.
BTL: Very true, and congratulations! So how did you first get involved with Cruella and what was your reaction to being asked to join the project?
Stacey: I was at home on a weekend making dinner and I thought I was sewed up, about to say ‘yes’ to do another project. But I got a phone call and it was Emma [Stone] and she said, ‘Do you want to do Cruella for Disney, it’s set in the 1970s.’ And obviously, this was a huge opportunity for me [and] I said ‘yes’ immediately. I had not met with Craig or read the script, but I did have to say ‘yes.’ We had become friends during The Favourite and all the time we spent together during that award season. I had always hoped we’d worked again together, but this news was out of the blue.
BTL: You give Cruella a unique look in this film, but one that also incorporates familiar elements. How do you start a process like this when the character is so well known, and how did you go about creating that look?
Stacey: Not ever having done anything of this magnitude, I just did it like I approach all my smaller projects. I read the script and I ask, ‘where is this based, where is this set?’ I actually did not anchor myself too much to this being Cruella, because in some ways we are creating a new Cruella. This was a character in London in the 1970s. Frankly, if I had realized how huge it would end up being, it would have been daunting. I’m so glad I approached it like everything I have ever done.
BTL: Talk to me about the hair — are we looking at Emma’s natural hair, or are we seeing wigs or extensions, or something similar?
Stacey: You never see Emma’s own hair. It was wigs all the way through. It was wigs for creating Estella, her real-life persona, and also for creating Cruella. For Estella, it was a very consciously dyed-red look, and then for Cruella, the two colors of course. Also, Estella and her friends go to so many places and do so much stuff that she ends up with a lot of disguises and, therefore, a ton of wigs.
What I never anticipated was how hard it would be to get the black and white wigs correct. It is really hard from a hairdresser’s point of view. Something about those two colors throws you off when the costume designer [Jenny Beavan, also nominated for an Oscar] tries to dress her, and it throws even me off with the imbalance between the two colors. And the process of getting white hair includes a lot of bleaches, so you end up with one texture on that side. Then you put rolls on the entire thing and the rolls do two different things on each side, so you can’t make them look the same. I never, ever imagined that would be the hardest thing!
BTL: What sort of makeup do we see as she becomes Cruella more?
Stacey: The hair and makeup are a huge story point for this because she’s using it to hide from the Baroness [Thompson’s character]. In fact, she uses hair and makeup to disguise herself all through her life, including to hide her black and white hair. Everything for me became like a mask. When you first see her, it’s this very painted, white face with a red lip, but heavy makeup she’s hiding behind. Later, she hides behind actual costumes, too — feathers, garbage can dress, etc. We changed the game every time she changes her physical costume because she is playing and hiding herself.
BTL: How many hours a day did it take to prepare Emma? And, how did you get that “mask across the face” look?
Stacey: Not as long as you’d think, and again, I think it’s coming from the indie background. I’ve learned my craft [and had] to be very quick in those situations. It was about an hour with my assistant. Also, I wanted to make sure that her makeup looked like something she had done herself, not over the top, and materials that she could get her hands on. The entire cosmetic apparatus for her was meant to be a mask, but you had to be careful not to overdo it. The mask across her face was an airbrush, using a stencil.
BTL: What can you tell me about creating looks for the other memorable characters, such as the Baroness?
Stacey: She needed to look like she came from a different world, in terms of her wealth, and also her 1950s look. So, completely different [from] Cruella. It has to be an older look that is going away, a “set in your way” 1950s look. For the other characters, the hair and makeup were so important. Anita [Kirby Howell-Baptiste], for instance, is a journalist working at the forefront of fashion, so she needed to look very “fashion 1970s.” I always put myself in their shoes if I can and try to figure out what makeup they would have had access to and what look they would have wanted to go for.
Artie [John McCrea] is that gender-neutral owner of his own vintage stop, which was fantastic for a Disney film. And with that character, inspired by David Bowie, we could play with gender fluidity, and with the music he likes. It was sort of glam-rock makeup.
BTL: What was the collaboration process like with other below-the-line crew here, as well as with the director, Craig Gillespie?
Stacey: Well, I’ll start with Craig. He set the tone that he was making a punk movie with a killer soundtrack. He comes from an indie background, too. So, by doing that and sticking to that, it gave us the freedom to not be shackled by the thought [of] ‘oh, this is a Disney movie, we have to do this, we have to do that.’ He never really held me back.
In terms of Jenny Beavan, the costume designer, she started ahead of me. She was actually in that 1970s scene in London at the time, and she had first-hand knowledge, so she’d say ‘oh, we used to go here and buy this type of makeup.’ But she had a lot of shapes ready and that helped inspire me for the makeup as well.
Actually, the collaboration with the production designer [Fiona Crombie] was helpful because the idea she had about where the Baroness [came from] helped me figure out what sort of person she was.
BTL: How was working with Emma Stone again?
Stacey: It’s great working with her, we have a great collaborative relationship now. She’s very honest and not afraid to offer opinions. For instance, I wanted to push Estella’s look further and she said, ‘let’s not do it, it will be too big a jump when we go to Cruella.’ And she was right. I mean, she lets me do my work but she is involved in a good way.
BTL: Well, thank you for your time, and good luck at the Oscars!
Stacey: Thank you.
Cruella is currently streaming on Disney+.