'Bombshell' to 'Hustlers': How Craft Pros Rebuilt Real Worlds From Scratch

10:00 AM 1/7/2020

by Scott Huver

From re-creating Fox News sets and World War I battlefields to perfecting the glamorous hair of a top-earning stripper and an imaginary Adolf  Hitler's disheveled uniform, these experts explain how they captured the settings, fashions and tones of these five films that take place in recognizable places.

Courtesy Photos

  • '1917'

    Courtesy of Francois Duhamel/Universal Pictures and DreamWorks Pictures

    Toward the end of his journey through hellish World War I battlefields in 1917, Lance Corporal William Schofield (George MacKay) stands in stark relief against the chalky white frontline trenches, the grit of war washed clean by a harrowing plunge into river rapids.

    "All of the opening, the beginning of the film, was done in brown clay dirt," says production designer Dennis Gassner, who was looking for a fresh landscape with a realism and a metaphoric quality. "We started digging, and we found chalk, and it was a blessing to us because there was a whole shift emotionally, which defined the purity of his journey."

    Gassner says director Sam Mendes' decision to create the illusion of one long, continuous take "was paramount to everything because it required extraordinary amounts of planning, down to the inch and word for word, how we were going to go about doing this." Despite the arduous nature of the work, he told his team to strive for artistry. "I said, 'When in doubt, make it beautiful in the way that it would be, but make it beautiful in the sense that there has been an emotional quality that's invested.' "

    That mind-set carried over to Schofield's physical look as well, layering in symbolic aesthetics atop a meticulously researched appearance. "The look is totally correct historically," says hair and makeup designer Naomi Donne. "The artistic implication comes from what happened to him on the journey. He is grimy, he is dirty, he has gone through the trenches, he's exhausted. … But because he's been in the river, that became a metaphor for everything he'd been through. … Everything was powered right through until he got to the river, when he came clean. He was washed clean."

    All the background actors received the same keen attention to accurate and telling detail, especially in the wardrobe. "There's a kind of unsaid narrative running through the costumes throughout the film," says David Crossman, who designed the costumes with Jacqueline Durran.

    "We tried to tell a bit of a story by [featuring] some of the things that they were wearing," says Crossman, who researched colorful insignias and less militaristic personal touches like jewelry that soldiers of the era from all walks of life used to adorn their uniforms. "Earlier in the film, they're kind of slightly more undressed, and de-rigged, wearing way more characterful pieces of knitwear and customized clothing. … By the time you reach the end, the men are kind of fully ticked to go over the top and are completely outfitted for battle."

    And the single-take approach added greater complexity to the costumers' tasks. "The two main boys ­— literally, you'd have to change their costume after every take," says Crossman of the long, arduous, action-packed sequence. "It was the most challenging kind of continuity film I've ever worked on because you had to match things exactly."

  • 'Bombshell'

    Courtesy of Lionsgate

    When Fox News' Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron) retakes the anchor chair of The Kelly File after a hiatus following an embarrassing public dust-up with then-presidential candidate Donald Trump, it's the pivotal scene in Bombshell. After studying Kelly's on-air looks, the choice for the outfit was "so minimal: It's not about the dress, it's about her," says costume designer Colleen Atwood.

    "Charlize and I had a couple of fittings for it, and I adjusted the neck and the sleeves a couple of times to get it to just feel right," says Atwood, who pointed out that Fox News female broadcasters' style of dress is somewhat formulaic.

    "You change a lot of the details, but the formula sort of remains the same," adds Atwood. It was trickier to zero in on Kelly's "high suburbia" off-camera style. "We chose lighter colors like softer blues just to back away from the black, white, gray and stronger colors of the Fox News world."

    Transforming Theron into Kelly was the primary challenge for the film's makeup head Vivian Baker. "The biggest thing is to [get to] where Charlize sees her when she looks into the mirror — she doesn't see Charlize, she sees Megyn," Baker says. The initial portion of the transformation was accomplished with prosthetic designer Kazu Hiro's subtle, delicate applications, which Baker then accentuated with cosmetic sorcery — no easy feat, given the prosthetics' resistance to the heavy broadcast makeup Kelly wore on camera. "The high mark of the prosthetics and the beauty makeup on top of that was for me an achievement," says Baker.

    Hair head Anne Morgan completed the illusion. "I decided to lower Charlize's hairline and give her the hairline that Megyn has," says Morgan. "Charlize has a much longer face, a much higher forehead, and her angles are different than Megyn's. I looked at what Kazu was planning on doing and knew that if I brought the hairline down, I could help that heart-shaped face come into play as Megyn. … It is her perfected Fox News look, according to the guidelines of Roger Ailes, [but] she got away with a lot more."

    Kelly's return to her Fox News show, says production designer Mark Ricker, was "one of the key dramatic narrative moments in terms of the details of what we tried to pull off to replicate the set because we were really trying to key in on matching that Lucite desk — which was, as much as anything, the key design element of Megyn's set, where we can see the legs below the desktop."

    Ricker recalls a major moment of relief when "I realized that the main set was the same for The Kelly File, for Real Story With Gretchen Carlson, for the original Sean Hannity set. They just changed the desks and then changed the graphics, but the basic core set was one level of construction. … I literally let out a cheer when I had this aha moment: 'Oh my God, we can pull this off! We can do what they do!' "

  • 'Hustlers'

    Courtesy of STXfilms

    For the moment in Hustlers when Jennifer Lopez’s strip club superstar Ramona demonstrates why she’s the top draw, her skill and precision had to stand out as much as skin and sex appeal. “All of us realized once we got into this piece, this wasn’t just about cheap strippers at a bar and guys putting dollar bills all over them,” says production designer Jane Musky. “When they performed, it was serious business.”

    “Once we got into the strip club, we were going to get into magentas and blues and not use those colors anywhere else in the film so that we led up to that moment,” says Musky. “It was very clean and static visually but classy, so that she could really have that great moment where she is the primo dancer, the best of all of them, and we didn’t want to overdo it with too much going on.” Musky brought in a special German-made spinning stripper pole to free Lopez up for ambitious, athletic moves.

    “Ramona is one of these women who was really into her hair,” says Lopez’s hairstylist, Frank Galasso, envisioning Ramona as having graduated from “mall hair” to pricey blowouts, blond highlights on top and darker natural shades at the bottom. “As she made more money, she was spending more money on her hair,” he says. “To me, she was the type of woman who really was into all that Victoria’s Secret look.”

    Lopez’s longtime makeup artist Scott Barnes wanted to meld her striking beauty with Ramona’s profession. “If Jennifer didn’t become Jennifer Lopez and she was a stripper, what would she look like?” says Barnes, who found inspiration in ’90s-era adult film star Janine Lindemulder, who appeared on the cover of Blink-182’s album Enema of the State as a nurse snapping on a blue rubber glove. “She was gorgeous — a little weathered, a little hard, but gorgeous. That’s who Ramona is to me,” says Barnes. “The only thing I didn’t really stay true to was the skinny eyebrows … [but] Janine was hot!”

    Costume designer Mitchell Travers was impressed with the boldness Lopez brought to the role. “If she’s going to be taking that many risks with the performance, then my job is to follow her lead and really provide something that would be as risky.”

    He found inspiration in a 2007 image of a silver-clad Lopez. “Seeing her in silver took me back into a time where she was as sexy as today, ruling magazine covers, the charts. Something about this image captured my attention. … In the club, that shift between the pinks and blues, the way the silver hit both of those — it just felt perfectly right.” Adding a holographic silver military cap — inspired by Pussycat Dolls looks — was Lopez’s notion, counterbalancing the tiny costume that fit in Travers’ hand. “I was like, ‘I really believe in this little thing. I know it’s not a lot, but that’s kind of what we need from this moment.’ ”

  • 'Jojo Rabbit'

    Courtesy of Kimberley French/Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

    The dinner-table exchange between militant young Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis), his imaginary mentor Adolph Hitler (director/co-star Taika Waititi) and Jojo's spirited mother/secret resistance member Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) was emblematic of Jojo Rabbit's central conflict and uniquely off-kilter spin on Nazi Germany. "It was never really going to be a re-creation of a familiar Second World War story," says production designer Ra Vincent, but "it was quite important for the art department and props to be mindful of the comedy elements that they're putting into the film not to make them too frivolous."

    Drawing upon Rosie's affluent, artistic status to develop her home's elegant, decorative art deco aesthetic, embraced by 1930s Germany's high society, Vincent notes that Jojo's ignorance to war's cruelties and conjuring of Hitler as a father surrogate "set us up where we needed to create a flamboyant world for Jojo to inhabit. Part of that flamboyant nature comes from his mother's influence: Rosie is a very stylish woman and has her house decorated in all the latest fashions of the time."

    Veering afield from the typical dark, somber wardrobe of films set in wartime, costume designer Mayes Rubeo says Rosie's clothing also reflected her creative side. "The artistic people of those times were really not afraid of showing their artistic inclination in color or fabrics — they turn heads," she says. "The philosophy behind the costume is that it's like a reflection: 'Hey, this is a person who I am. Whatever happens, happens. That's not going to change me.' "

    "Rosie was a big, optimistic visual point in the story," agrees hair and makeup head Dannelle Satherley. "She was a real beacon of light and joy, particularly for Jojo, and so she was polished in a way that was appropriate for the era but a little bit heightened: the red lipstick, the beautiful skin, the hair was done. But it was never overdone — it was reflective of the period."

    Hitler, of course, came with a definitive historical look, but Satherley had enough creative latitude to modify signatures like the mustache to both suit Waititi's face and reflect the dictator's not-exactly-real status. "Because he was Jojo's imaginary version, he was kind of a roughly hewn version," she says. "He was never meant to be super polished, the hair was a little bit slightly off — it was like he was sort of trying to keep himself together, really."

    That gradually unwinding quality was reflected in Hitler's familiar uniform as well. "The first phase of that costume was fresher, nicer, younger, more buttons, more pow," says Rubeo of the führer when Jojo's under his sway during dinner. "The second phase is when they discovered that Elsa lives upstairs. Then it's the doubt, the fear — 'Let's work harder on this kid.' He's falling apart."

  • 'Judy'

    Courtesy of Roadside Attractions

    Returning to her hotel suite after acceding to her much-younger paramour's bid to modernize her look during her 1968 performance sojourn in London, Judy Garland (Renée Zellweger) signals feeling downcast during a key moment in Judy. Costume designer Jany Temime says that in reality, Garland actually was ahead of the fashion curve in London, and her style reflected the former child star's determination to persevere.

    After much research into Garland's personal and performance wardrobe, Temime arrived at what she deemed "the essence of her style, which is show business: She is a performer, a woman of the stage used to silk, brocade, shiny fabric." Garland, says Temime, "never gives up. Even at the end, there's another husband, another hope, another song, another performance. She was always thinking that it would be better." Her bold outward attitude deflected her internal insecurities. "It's really an armor against the rest of the world."

    So too was Garland's look, which she typically crafted herself. "She's a bit more made up than she would be normally," says makeup and hair designer Jeremy Woodhead of the sequence. "The lips are brightened, the lashes are long, and she's putting on a brave face."

    Following intense analysis of both stars' facial topography, Woodhead experimented with prosthetics and wigs to transform Zellweger's oval features into Garland's diamond-shaped face, mindful of leaving the actress the freedom to be as expressive as she could be. After perfecting the wig, he relied simply on "a very small prosthetic, just to turn Renée's nose up at the end like Judy's was." The rest was achieved with makeup and shading, "highlighting cheeks and nose, raising the eyebrows, enlarging the eyes by underscoring them with an eyeliner and changing the lip shade as much as we could, to subtly move Renée's very distinctive features into more of a Garland look."

    For Garland's suite, production designer Kave Quinn bypassed the historical hotel for a set that offered more versatility for shooting and a symbolic quality, calling it the Aviary Suite. "It was a cage because she couldn't go anywhere," says Quinn of how Garland was a prisoner of her own fame and reputation. Also like the star, the suite was a bit past its prime. "The idea was, it had its heyday in the 1930s — it's got deco attributions," says Quinn of her choice not to lean toward mod London. "There would have been hotels at that time that would have been far more funky, but this wasn't one of those. It was kind of sort of slightly stuck in the past as well, which made it more uncomfortable for her."

    Indeed, haunting, subtle nods to Garland's past were worked into the design scheme. Says Quinn, "The wallpaper reminded us of the Emerald City in Oz, and the colors in the hotel suite were reflective of those colors as well."

    This story first appeared in a January stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.