Jan Sewell garnered nominations for both makeup and hair design in the period and/or character categories of the Make-Up Artists and Hair Stylists Guild awards set to take place on Feb. 20 at the Paramount Studios Theatre on the Paramount Studio lot in Los Angeles.
Sewell, who physically transformed Eddie Redmayne into physicist Stephen Hawking for the Theory of Everything, works her art transforming Redmayne into transgender pioneer Lili Elbe for The Danish Girl. Sewell affirmed the tremendous preparation that the Oscar-winning actor puts into creating the characters he inhabits, “Certainly for Eddie, the work he puts in, and the care he puts in, is astounding. He brings so much to everybody. He brings so much to me.”
Redmayne asked Sewell to do the film, but the makeup designer still needed to go through the process with director Tom Hooper. “I met Tom and we got along very well,” noted Sewell, who started collaborating with Redmayne in the summer of 2014, seven months before the production commenced.
To get the feeling of the 1920s, the time period of the film, Sewell talked to the director about a time line and he suggested she look at the paintings of Lili by artist Gerda Wegener (Alicia Vikander), Lili’s wife before she transitioned to Lili from being Einar Wegener.
Sewell met with Redmayne and his movement coach, Alex Reynolds to talk about the nature of femininity. “It was Alex that enlightened me to the fact that as people start to transition, they become over-feminized. I was very keen to put that in the film,” revealed Sewell.
Very early on, Sewell went upstairs to the Working Title library, spending around eight or nine weeks researching. She started with the Edwardian look. “I was very keen to have Eddie have a twenties feel about him because I felt that was correct for the feel of Lili. In the twenties, women were cutting their hair off; they were taking their corsets off, becoming free. I felt Lili was very much part of that.”
Sewell noted that online there are early photos of people literally cutting off their Edwardian hair, which illustrated perfectly what they wanted to show in the film. She also referenced Gerda’s paintings that had Lili painted with very dark auburn hair. Sewell tested all colors on Redmayne, discovering that he looked fabulous with the very dark colors.
“That auburn was a winner. We put that on and it worked with his coloring. It made his eyes pop,” Sewell shared.“All three of us looked at the pictures and thought this is going to work.”
After a short hiatus, the team did more camera tests on Redmayne’s hair and makeup and Sewell started to “hone it down.” She stated really looking at the makeup because she knew one of the biggest challenges in the film was that the shooting would be in high definition, a format that can pick up every little thing, especially in a closeup.
“I didn’t want him to look like a man wearing makeup. We always talked about Lili as a she. We talked about Lili presenting as Einar, but there was always a she. We very much wanted that to come across,” commented Sewell.
In the second round of tests, they found the “over-feminized Lili,” which was needed for the story and the character’s journey. “It is the first time she goes to the ball. The makeup is not meant to be totally right; because it’s the first time she’s done it,” Sewell detailed. “I wanted to put that in it, but I also knew that later on, I had to make it look real and I had to soften Eddie’s look down.”
Additional tests were shot while adding more and more makeup to see how far they could go with Eddie.
One of the harder makeup designs for Sewell to create was finding a more natural-looking Lili. “The Lili after she’s had the operation. The Lili that doesn’t need to over feminize, because she’s now got the body that she always wanted.”
From the start Sewell’s hair design included the use of an extensive number of wigs. Redmayne wears wigs all the way through the film, even when he is playing Einar. The red wig is established as a wig in the story.
There were many subtleties to Sewell’s makeup design. When Eddie was Einar, she strengthened his face, “By adding more shading and high-lighting, I brought his jaw line up more, and his bone structure to make him slightly more masculine-looking.” In the end when Lili is ill was one of the harder scenes Sewell had to do. She had to strip away all the makeup, in reality make it look like Lili had no makeup.
Sewell knew the film’s color palette having conferred with production designer Eve Stewart. She even went to a factory that put together palettes for her in all the color tones she needed, so she could get the looks she wanted. Small things, like lipstick, could take some time to select the right color. For Redmayne more of an orange base worked, the blue-base “looked awful. It just didn’t work at all.”
Minute details, like the shape of Eddie’s lips during different points in the story, had to be addressed. Many little things that Sewell didn’t want people to see. All the time she had to keep in mind not to stray too far from the 1920s.
As she started to feminize Lili, the look was softened down. Even when she was going back to being Einar, the character was softer. The highlighting was eliminated. The shading, the whole makeup was softened. The very subtle changes in Redmayne’s makeup were mapped out in Sewell’s continuity where she breaks the film down. The intent was always about “finding the inner Lili.”
“I know exactly how I want the actor to look in every scene before we start shooting. Of course it’s based around tests I do with Eddie. Eddie very much manages the process as well and that’s how I like to work.” Sewell elaborated, “I’m not frightened to try something that’s not going to work and I will say that to my directors.”
Sewell went back to the paintings when designing Gerda who was blonde. Vikander was brunette, so Sewell knew she “had to wig her straight away.” Sewell chose a slightly longer style with a bohemian feel for Gerda in Copenhagen when the character was a free spirit. As she became a more successful artist and went to Paris, Gerda’s look was heightened to take on the Parisian look of the twenties.
“We always felt Copenhagen was more provincial, and we wanted to show that with her because we weren’t showing that with Einar, Eddie’s character,” stated Sewell. “Then when Gerda got to Paris and became more successful, and they went to the parties and it was more about her art than his, we gave her the little twenties bob. We had a little time jump to create there as well.”
Most of the characters in the film are wigged. Hundreds of wigs were used. Ulla (Amber Heard) was probably the only main character whose own hair was styled. With four international locations, a lot of heads of hair were shipped out.
The supporting artists were important. The background showed the timeline. They progressed from very early twenties’ Edwardian, all the way through to the end of the decade. One of Sewell’s favorite scenes had the women at the harbor in Copenhagen with their newspaper hats. “The makeup is important, but the hair is the silhouette,” said Sewell. “It’s the silhouette that gets you into your timeline.”
Sewell admitted, “The film was a joy to work on from a design point of view because it wasn’t just designing Eddie’s makeup. It was Alicia’s. It was the supporting artists. It was that whole world.”