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Makeup Acts as a Character in Promising Young Woman


Promising Young Woman
Carey Mulligan in Promising Young Woman

Promising Young Woman follows Cassie (Carey Mulligan) as she radically transforms her appearance during the after-hours to encounter and confront multiple sexually driven males that take advantage of women in pursuit of avenging her friend that was a victim of rape many years ago. The film is written, directed, and produced by Emerald Fennell (Killing Eve, The Crown) in her feature directorial debut. The makeup plays a vital role in the film as it portrays and represents its own distinct character. The makeup is applied by Makeup Artist Angie Wells (Sylvie’s Love, Harriet, Mudbound).

Cassie’s normal everyday look depicts a sweet, wholesome woman. Wells described, “When she is Cassie, my plan for that was a very natural, very soft, clean faced, young, and sweet look. The blush was applied to the apples of the cheeks and then slipped out in a very rounded fashion as opposed to an angular fashion. I wanted to keep a soft, angelic appearance to her, a rounder, sweeter cheek, and softer eyeshadow colors. The type of colors was very soft and pastel. For her Cassie coffee shop look, a sweep of a soft mob shade of shadow with a little bit of a smudgy liner and a light eyelash. All of those things play into giving us the impression that she was wholesome, sweet, and a clean-cut young lady.”

Angie Wells
Angie Wells

Cassie’s makeup looks natural, but is slightly adjusted when she is with Ryan (Bo Burnham). “During that part, there was a sweetness. She was happy with him. I kept everything as I did for just regular Cassie. I definitely wanted to make sure that she continued to look fresh. The only thing that I did tweak when she was in love with Bo was a bit of glow on her blush and some shimmer in her eyeshadow just to give a bit of radiance to reflect that she’s in love and glowing with love. It was a subtle trick, but I believe it did make it look more uplifted on camera,” the makeup artist added.

Cassie’s normal look needed to be distinctly different from when she applies her after hours makeup. “The first time we see her as she’s sprawled out on that fabulous red couch in the bar and she’s dressed as an office worker or a corporate worker. We wanted her to look drunk, so I used extra blush to make it look redder and it was applied in a way that was not very even to look as if she was flushed from drinking. Then smearing her mascara to make it look like she’d been hanging out, getting drunk, and her face is a bit sweaty and dewy. We used a bit of Evian spray to produce that look. Then her eyes, Emerald wanted it to look smudgy and a mess. What I did with that was we applied her mascara and I had her close her eyes really tight while it was still wet and spread it around with a damp brush to make it look messy and disheveled,” the makeup artist distinguished.

Wells continued, “The other after-hours look that she does is what I call the homemade Kardashian when she has on that purple and black dress with a ponytail in the bar. It’s a much more glam style, but I was also very conscious that I wanted to make it look like she had done the makeup herself. We did a very heavy makeup for that look. I did a lot of contouring, lots of glossy lips, and a very heavy eyelash because that character was supposed to be overtly sexual looking. I felt that I needed to give her a look for that particular costume that was heavier and more glamorous looking with lots of contour.”

Promising Young Woman

The makeup becomes its own character and evolves throughout. The makeup artist conveyed, “Her makeup became a character because it was such an integral part of the story. It had its own changing life because it was part of how she conducted these revenge moments. Cassie’s character and the makeup that she created for herself were partners in crime in her revenge plots. Without that part, it wouldn’t have been as easy for her to be in the same town because people would start to recognize her. When we first see her going out, she’s very strong in the beginning. As the storyline progresses towards the end of the movie, she is spiraling downwards, not getting any better, starts getting sadder, and I wanted that reflected. The depression was getting deeper and deeper. What I wanted to do was to show that there was a darkness that was starting to form with the makeup. There’s that one scene where she’s in the mirror and she smears her lipstick. From that scene on, I started to play her disguises to be a little bit sadder and there are these tiers of a clown element to it. She is projecting one thing to the world, but she’s very sad and depressed on the inside. That’s how I started to develop that dark sadness underneath vein in the makeup.”

The climax of the makeup occurs near the end of the film when Cassie is dressed in a nurse costume. “At that point, it does become the tiers of the clown. She thought she was falling in love, the guy is not okay, she put herself out there, realizes he’s not that great, there’s a sadness that happens, and she’s missing her friend. She just continues to go down. The nurse look was the biggest makeup for me. We used two pairs of eyelashes on the top and then another set of eyelashes on the bottom to give her a really wide-eyed look. I did add a little bit of blue shadow for that nurse look. For that particular look, I wanted her eyes to be very big, very large. The technique I used for that was to place the eyeliner for the lower lid beneath her natural lash line and also to place the false lashes that I applied beneath her natural lash line as well. What that did was it makes the eye look a lot larger. Then lined her inner eye with a flesh tone pencil because what that does is it creates the illusion of a wider or larger amount of the white of the eye bigger. It creates the illusion that the eyes are larger. I definitely wanted attention drawn to her eyes. It was about the eyes and lips because eyes are definitely a focal point of the face when we’re looking at makeup. They are the window to the soul and the forefront of her look,” Wells encapsulated.

The makeup and locale was to depict Middle America or a Midwestern town in the U.S. The makeup artist portrayed, “I was very conscious to keep the makeup looks pretty natural for everyone else. The makeup that we designed for Madison (Alison Brie) was a very clean beauty. That scene where we first see her and she’s getting drunk in the bar with Carey’s character. Emerald came with a great idea of wine staining on her lips because she’s drinking this red wine. Some people do tend to get purply stains from the red wine when they drink a lot of it. By the time we see her come to Cassie’s house, she’s dark under the eyes and tired looking because we wanted to show that stress that was happening in her life and wondering what she actually did. Then for Dean Walker (Connie Britton), she’s a professional woman that has clean natural makeup with a lift that has some definition to it. We have Gail (Laverne Cox), who plays her friend in the coffee shop. Gail has some flair to her and gave her more of a stylish look, even though it was natural. It was a bit more stylized, there’s a nose ring that was put in her nose, and that character had a little bit more edge.

Promising Young Woman
Mulligan with Christopher Mintz Plasse in Promising Young Woman

Jennifer Coolidge (Cassie’s mom) is always glamorous when we see her. I did not want people to look at her and say oh that’s Jennifer Coolidge, but wanted people to say that’s a Midwestern lady. We played her makeup down by not making it as glamorous as we’re used to seeing her. For Alfred Molina (Jordan), his character was under a lot of mental stress and duress as he drank a lot in the house. We didn’t make him look healthy. We didn’t choose a foundation color that would warm him up, kept him pale, put some things that made the skin look imperfect, we didn’t want him to look handsome or great. All of the men in the story were pretty much all nice, clean cut guys. There weren’t guys who had a lot of facial hair in this story, most of the guys were very straight, plain looking guys. Everything needed to look like their makeup style fit into the life that they were living. That was very important to me.”

Many various makeup brands and products were applied throughout. Wells shared, “MAC Cosmetics sent me quite a bit of things. For foundation on Carey, I used Armani Luminous Skin Foundation. I also used quite a few MAC lip colors. There’s a company called Kosas. I used their tinted lip balm for Cassie when she’s just her normal Cassie. That was her standard color and was called Lipfuel by Kosas. I also used Anastasia Beverly Hills Cosmetics. They have the best eyebrow products and pencils.”

Promising Young Woman features astonishing makeup as becomes its own distinct character. The makeup embodies deep internal and external layers as it transforms Cassie and shapes the story. The makeup in the film showcases Angie Wells’ broad and diverse makeup abilities ranging from period pieces to contemporary movies. Wells is a 2-time Emmy nominee and with a nomination from the Hollywood Makeup Artist and Hair Stylist Guild Awards for her makeup on Mudbound.

“I’m basically known for doing all of these period films, it was great for me to get a chance to do something contemporary and to show another aspect of the type of work that I do. To me, it’s all skin and being able to look at it and see it as that. That’s really all it is. If people can just see the way somebody’s skin is and know how it works, it shouldn’t be that you only do this or only do that if you’re an artist. If you’re a good artist, you should know how to do everybody.”

All Photos courtesy Focus Features.

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