For the FX Network series Feud, which depicts the interpersonal rift between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford in and around the 1962 film What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, series creator Ryan Murphy knew he needed the best makeup artistry and hair styling department available. Enter makeup designer Eryn Krueger Mekash and hair department head Chris Clark.
In Mekash’s case, she had a relationship with Murphy on previous shows, including American Horror Story, where Murphy’s respect for his makeup department head ran so deeply, he designated her a producer on that show. “He had talked about it for a while,” Mekash recalled of Murphy’s burgeoning Feud concept. “It had been on the back burner. He always has a million projects going on—all of a sudden, it became a reality.”
Not only did Murphy’s series encompass the events of Baby Jane, it also concerned other landmark events in the Davis-Crawford quagmire from the 1940s to the 1970s. “There were a lot of styles to cover,” Mekash revealed. “We knew we were going to be shooting in September of last year; we did some prep: makeup, hair, and costume tests. We’ve been getting a little more time with Ryan for testing.”
Though Mekash stated that the film and TV industry is leaning towards not testing makeup and hair, and regularly not leaving enough preparation for those departments, Murphy is sensitive to those crafts as a widely respected producer. “He’s always not doing what’s popular,” said Mekash. “He’s a step ahead—he’s seeing what needs to happen in the future; he’s predicting what’s going on. He’s really into practical effects too. That lends more towards the stuff we did on Feud.”
Considering that Susan Sarandon, playing Bette Davis, was nearly 70 when filming commenced, and Jessica Lange, playing Joan Crawford, was nearly 68, most of the aging makeups—and reverse aging makeups—were done practically on set, as opposed to incorporating ‘digital makeup’ techniques. “The 1940s looks were done with lifts and pulls and highlight-and-shadow makeup,” Mekash said, with select computer-generated imagery implemented to smooth out areas of the makeup. Mekash explained that her team created “out-of-kit makeups,” in favor of preparing and applying intricate prosthetic-based makeups.
Within an episode of Feud, events would flash back to various points in time via quick vignettes of relevant occurrences. “We were copying from actual film footage, actual pictures,” Mekash unveiled. “Some days we had 250 background [extras] and 25 makeup and 25 hair [artists]. With time periods, you try to go [artist to actor ratio] 1 for 10, 1 for 15. Modern day makeup you can do 1 in 25. That’s usually my formula.“
Due to their “comfortable relationship” from American Horror Story, Mekash and Lange worked closely together on Feud. “Jessica wanted this look that was Joan and not Mommy Dearest, which was over-the-top,” Mekash described. “We wanted to make her identifiable. It was a ‘30s look. Her eyebrows were extreme and [she had a] 40s-type lip; [however,] when you really do the research, the eyebrows are more natural than people think they are. Jessica is a tan person anyway; you would see a bit more natural skin tone.”
Sarandon’s looks were created by assistant makeup department head Robin Beauchesne. “Bette Davis was very natural, very casual,” Mekash noted. “We wanted to play up that aspect. Susan was involved in the Baby Jane makeup and what products we would use, what colors were available. We had a lot of scenes in Feud where we recreated [makeup legend] Monte Westmore [played by Charlie Schlatter] and what he would use on Joan. [The makeup team] would help with the prop department and set dressing for it to be really precise. We put 100% into it.”
Mekash regularly completed Lange’s makeup in an amazing 40 minutes. After 15 minutes to prepare Lange’s hair, the actress would sit for those 40 minutes in Mekash’s makeup chair, and then return to the hair department for the wig to be applied. “Those ladies don’t mess around,” said Mekash of her requisite efficiency. “They don’t want to be in the chair for very long. You get everything dialed in before you start rolling anything.”
When hair department head Chris Clark joined Feud’s production team, all he knew was that the show concerned the rivalry between the two aforementioned lead actresses of Hollywood’s Golden Age. “It began with a mountain of research,” Clark related of his preparation period. “As Ryan releases scripts, we were going from 1943 to 1978. Ryan said to me that he wanted the research to be presented: What Ever Happened to Baby Jane looks, every day looks, and high glamour.”
As it was common for Davis and Crawford to change their hair color, Clark knew that he would have to maintain a consistency of realism in his wigs. “Susan has had shades of red over the years,” Clark recalled. “We had the wigs made to match her hair. In the early 1960s, Bette Davis was red at the time; we chose to use Susan’s red color. Jessica is blonde—we went with the chocolate brown at the beginning of the 1960s.”
One of Clark’s major tasks on the series was determining the amount of wigs required. “For Susan, we built three initially,” he said. “For Jessica, we had two everyday look wigs—completely taken apart, wet down, put into rollers, washed, put into the wig dryer and styled every morning. I wanted to authentically dress the hair the way it would have been dressed in the early 1960s with wet-setting and rollers.”
While Clark personally took care of applying Lange’s wigs, his second hair stylist took care of Sarandon, and a third did a Hedda Hopper character, played by Judy Davis. “It’s better to do your own work,” said Clark. “Three of us in the trailer and up to 17 additional hair dressers, and two barbers in a hair/makeup trailer. It was a constantly unfolding adventure—a new script would pop up and we would have a wig custom made. Every new character would be a challenge of, ‘How do we achieve this?’”
63 lace-front wigs, 25 custom built, were mandated for Feud. “24 of them were made by Victoria Wood,” said Clark. “One wig came out of London. It could be ten days or five days to get a script before shooting. Victoria and her team would block out time; some were built in four days. She builds in pieces– people worked on different parts of the wig at the same time and put it together later. We were building right up until episode eight.”
As with Mekash, Clark noted that Murphy had ultimate deference to his department. “There have been times where we had to rework shooting days to accommodate wig making,” Clark said. “This helps tremendously. It never happens outside of Ryan’s world: [accommodation for] hair, makeup, and wardrobe. He brought Eryn and I on for a reason to do these shows—he knows that if we need something, we mean it.”
Feud completed filming the first week of February, so Mekash and Clark have been onto other projects in the intervening months. “It was so incredibly hard to do,” Clark confessed of Feud’s first season. “It aired so fast after we finished. I’m so proud of it as episodes rolled through—extraordinarily proud.
Back onto American Horror Story, Mekash reflected on Murphy as a producer and mentor. “I think that he makes subjects that he is interested in,” Mekash detailed. “He gets this idea, and it starts to formulate into a project. It gets better and better, and it marinates. He has a great grasp of what people want to see.”