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Natalie Shea Rose and Elle Favorule on Crafting the Hair and Makeup for The Iron Claw


A scene from The Iron Claw (Credit: A24)

Recreating the world of The Iron Claw was no easy feat, especially since the iconic Von Erich wrestling dynasty has been so extensively photographed and recorded. Writer-director Sean Durkin went to great lengths to make a film that closely mirrored and captured the experiences of the real people, and two of his most important collaborators were hair department head Natalie Shea Rose and makeup department head Elle Favorule.

Below the Line had the chance to speak with Rose and Favorule about their own interest in and knowledge of wrestling prior to coming to work on this film, and what challenges were presented by Durkin’s shooting style, which often included long fight scenes that didn’t allow for hair and makeup retouches until an entire take was over.

Rose and Favorule discussed the collaboration between their two departments, and the different approaches they needed to take with each of the actors based on their looks and how they compared to the people they were playing, including spending unexpected time on Holt McCallany’s ears.

BTL: What were your previous experience with wrestling before this movie? 

Natalie Rose

Natalie Shea Rose: For me, my only previous experience was probably watching Hulk Hogan with my brother when I was a kid, and that was only for a little bit, maybe a few weeks before my parents put an end to that because my brother and I were tearing up the house.

Elle Favorule: I actually wouldn’t say I was experienced necessarily in wrestling, but I did work on a show called Lucha Underground, which Robert Rodriguez created, and that was such a beautiful experience where I learned so much about the wrestling world and how athletic and beautiful and dedicated those people were to such a craft, something that I had never seen before. It really stuck with me to the point where when I read the Iron Claw script I was like, I know what is going to go into this, and I need to do this.

BTL: Elle, you also worked on Magazine Dreams, which premiered last year at the Sundance Film Festival. Even though he’s not fighting people in the same way, it’s a comparable look to the Von Erichs. Was that experience at all similar to this? 

Elle Favorule

Favorule: No, only in the sense that there was way more action. There were choreographed fight scenes in Magazine Dreams. I don’t want to say that was a more typical film where there’s a fight scene. The way we shot The Iron Claw was, you’re looking at nine, ten, twelve, fifteen-minute fights non-stop. With a movie like Magazine Dreams, you have a coordinated fight, so you’re like, okay, let’s make sure we get this left hook and then they fall to the ground. There are beats that you have to hit and the camera goes in and makes sure you get each one of those beats.

With The Iron Claw, you are shooting a match straight through, and so the choreography of something like that, there’s no stopping, there’s no cutting, there’s no, oh, hair and makeup gets to run in to fix something. They were just shooting straight through, and we were on the sidelines biting our nails to see, what does it look like when they’re done? They would call cut and we’d all rush in and make sure everything looked okay.

BTL: What challenges were you presented with working with sweat and movement?

Favorule: Natalie and I coordinated and collaborated on every ounce of this project, because things were so overlapped, like sweat and blood. There were times where they’d be like, hey, the lighting looks really good. Let’s get the close-up on Zac before we shoot the wrestling match. And so, Nat and I would have to run in and be like, okay, how sweaty would he get while he’s doing a ten-minute match, and we would just drench them because, realistically, after a match, that’s what they would look like.

Sometimes, it was a little bit of that, anticipating what the sweat was looking like, and then, other times, we would shoot the match, watch, and pay very close attention to what they looked like. Then, when the camera took ten, fifteen, twenty minutes to flip the setup, Nat and I would go in and be like, okay, now we have to match what they looked like during that for the close-up stuff. It was definitely a lot of collaboration and really focused attention on each of the individual actors and what they had gone through in those match moments.

Rose: Oh yeah, definitely. I do remember there were times, like she said, on the sidelines where we’re just gritting, biting our nails. There was a time that I think my nails, or my knees, buckled because like I just saw a hand grab the wig. And I was like, oh, no, not my baby! But yeah, following through with sweat and continuity and then, for me, there’s the lace that goes on that I’m gluing down for the wig.

Part of the sweat is their own natural sweat. That was another effect that I had in the Louisiana heat and the humidity. Their body heat would steam, so we could soak the wigs, but there were points where the steam from their body heat would literally steam-dry out the wigs. So it was like, oh, it’s drying out a little fast. Is it just me? There’s nothing you can do about it.

A scene from The Iron Claw (Credit: A24)

BTL: My understanding is that Sean was very particular about wanting everyone to look like the real family. What challenges did that present for both of you?

Rose: Sean and I worked together very specifically, especially with all four of the brothers. Jeremy, we did Capelli K-tip extensions in, because his hair, his natural texture, was so similar to Kerry’s. It wasn’t exactly the same, but it was so similar, and I was like, if we keep this natural texture, it’s going to look so much better than having another wig and something else that could look fake, and then we’re chasing three wigs and trying to make them not look like wigs. We just needed to add a few more inches onto him.

Those types of extensions, even close up, you can’t really see any of it, and it doesn’t do any damage, because he had to also leave and finish shooting another movie and come back. We had to be able to take him out so his continuity would match and then put them back in when he came back. So that was what we did for Jeremy. 

But then with Kevin and David, they both had custom wigs made for them, for Zac and Harris. We had two for Zac, just because his character went through almost twenty years within the film. We wanted to give him a slight bit of a change from when he got married on, just to give him a more adult look, so that he had a little more length to his hair. It wasn’t that short little boyish cut. Especially for Zac, that was probably something we more worked on together, because his hair changed a lot more. It was very similar throughout his career, but it gets longer and has a couple different shapes.

So we started out with all of them, they were custom-made and they were much longer, and then we cut it up and we were like, okay. We danced around playing with it because I was like, we only have one shot at this. If it’s too short, it’s too late. Same thing with hot colors and highlighting, so we highlighted it to match and we basically blended a few different looks that Kevin had throughout his career, and what we tried to hone in on is what would be the closest to give a nod to different looks he had throughout the career without having multiple wigs, because we didn’t have the time within the schedule to sit and change wigs constantly. 

Then with Harris, his hair probably changed more than any of the other brothers throughout his career. Sean picked out like one specific reference photo from David, and that was the closest to the color that we had for Harris in the final cut. His hair was a little more reddish, it had a little more of a red tint to it, but that color just wouldn’t have looked right on Harris’ skin tone. It would have washed him out in a different way, and then he really wouldn’t have looked like him. You really have to dance around. It was like, okay, I could make it red, but I don’t think that’s going to look good. I think he’s going to look sick before he’s supposed to look sick.

A scene from The Iron Claw (Credit: A24)

Favorule: For makeup, it’s a little different for us. I think the first question that I always ask the director is, are we doing a likeness makeup or are we doing the essence of the character? I think it was leaning definitely more towards the essence of a character with getting as close to the characters as possible. It was more Sean and I discussing, let’s make sure they’re period appropriate, and let’s make sure the elements that match each of the boys, like no tattoos, the facial hair, the tanning, whatever it was, let’s get as close as we can without making it a likeness makeup. We went through each of the characters and really decided where we were going to take it.

Holt, for example, we did a test in the very beginning before we started shooting. He had noticed that Fritz’s ears came out further. I remember doing a test where we added a prosthetic to push out Holt’s natural ears, and, at the end of the day, you have to make a choice. One, is this something that we need? Is it servicing the story? And two, is it going to be distracting? And then on top of it being distracting, is this something that’s going to take an hour or two hours in the morning, that’s going to extend Holt’s day?

When you’re battling a schedule that is so compact and tight as it is, you want to make sure that the makeups are servicing the story, but not hindering the schedule. It was fun in the beginning to play with some of those likeness makeups to see what we could do. But, ultimately, we decided against the ears. Holt’s character Fritz is a drinker. He’s in the sun all day. He doesn’t really care for himself. So we did broken capillaries and sunspots and veins and aging on him, because that really was going to service the story. He’s not going to have this flawless, perfect skin like what Holt has.

That was our thing that we held on to for Fritz and then for the boys, it was really just covering up their tattoos, doing any of the body shaving for Zac and the boys, it was tanning. For Jeremy and Harris, they work outside a lot as well, so let’s give them that sun-kissed look on their shoulders and a little on their face, but let’s not take it as far with the tanning. You find those moments to service the story without distracting from other things.

The Iron Claw is now available on VOD. 

Abe Friedtanzer
Abe Friedtanzer
Abe Friedtanzer has been the editor of MoviesWithAbe.com and TVwithAbe.com since 2007, and has been predicting the Oscars, Emmys, Golden Globes, and SAG Awards since he was allowed to stay up late enough to watch them. He has attended numerous film festivals including Sundance, TIFF, Tribeca, and SXSW, and was on a series of road trips across the United States with his wife, Arielle, before they moved to Los Angeles. He is a contributing writer for Above the Line, Awards Radar, AwardsWatch, Below the Line News, CinemaDailyUS.com, The Film Experience, Film Factual, and Gold Derby.
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