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In re-creating the most famous of icons, one might think the approach would be to mimic the original. If only resurrecting Marilyn Monroe for director Andrew Dominik’s Blonde had been that simple. “Andrew said to me, ‘Don’t just put Marilyn’s makeup on Ana [de Armas]. You have to find Marilyn within Ana,’ ” says makeup department head Tina Roesler Kerwin.
With only a few weeks to prepare for the Netflix film, Kerwin and hair department head Jaime Leigh McIntosh’s first day of production was a photo shoot creating the still images that would show Marilyn’s rise to fame throughout the film. It was while putting together the more than three dozen looks that they were able to practice perfecting the two-and-a-half-hour process of transforming de Armas into Monroe. “A lot of it was erasing before we could rebuild,” says Kerwin. “Her brows didn’t have the same shape, so I reshaped them. Her eyes didn’t have the same shape, so the lashes were brought up a little and the shadow was brought down a little. And her top and bottom lips were reshaped.”
It was also in these photo sessions that they discovered that a bald cap would not work. “Realizing the wigs would change multiple times, potentially in a day, a regular bald cap not only is not comfortable, it couldn’t have withstood the removing and re-gluing,” says Kerwin, who came up with the idea of using silicone to cover the hairline. “The silicone transfers are thin and transparent. We had those custom-made to Ana’s head shape, and those would go on before any of Jaime Leigh’s beautiful wigs.”
While the still images were shot using off-the-shelf wigs with the fronts removed and customized, the three wigs used the most throughout the film were custom-made to fit the dark-haired de Armas. “You design everything, from the right texture of hair and colors to how dense you want it, what shapes you want around the hairline, the little baby hairs or, in [Marilyn’s] case, possibly some bleach breakage from lightening her hair,” says McIntosh. “You are designing it from the ground up to mimic that head of hair that everybody knows.”
One of the greatest challenges for Kerwin was capturing off-hours Marilyn. “It was tricky because if I pulled the makeup back too far, then you either got young Norma Jean or you got Ana,” she says. “Once she had established that iconic look, there was only so far that I could pull it and still have it look like Marilyn.” That is where the wigs did some of the heavier lifting. “I could push it a little further, having more of Marilyn’s natural textures show through, or mess it up, whatever would help balance that a little bit more,” says McIntosh.
To take Monroe into her final decade, Kerwin created wrinkles using a stippling technique. “It’s really not a comfortable process for the actors, whether it’s putting it on or taking it off, but if you do it right, you get really subtle, natural-looking aging,” she says. Around that same time, Monroe also changed her hair color to platinum, further emphasizing the effects of her hard life. “We all know platinum is a difficult color to wear,” says McIntosh. “Incorporated with the makeup that Tina did, it helped us shift into a different Marilyn period.”
Kerwin describes the shoot as a moving train, and the tight schedule meant occasionally second-guessing what they were putting onscreen. “The scene where she’s singing ‘I Wanna Be Loved by You,’ we didn’t think we had it right,” she says. “It was one of those moments where if we had a little more time with it, we might have felt more comfortable with it, but we were just putting it together the best way we could — and then it got on camera and it looked incredible. It’s one of our favorites.”
Although most of their time was spent on de Armas, Kerwin and McIntosh also prepared what Dominik lovingly referred to as the “side dishes.” Thankfully, the director was less concerned with making actors Bobby Cannavale and Adrien Brody look like Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller, respectively, than he was about capturing their essence. ” ‘The Playwright’ and ‘The Ex-Athlete’ are their actual character names,” says McIntosh of the Miller and DiMaggio roles in the film. “I didn’t feel the pressure from Andrew to make that matchy-matchy. And the casting is great, which was helpful.”
Cannavale came in with a head of hair similar to DiMaggio’s, and a tooth gap to boot. Kerwin worked on his sideburns, while McIntosh tamed the mane. “His hair’s very curly naturally, so he schooled us on that, like, ‘This is what you’re going to need to do,’ ” says McIntosh. “For him, we wanted to just get the shape similar, have a similar texture, have it parted on the same side and get him into that Joe DiMaggio feel.”
To create Arthur Miller, McIntosh’s challenge was Miller’s receding hairline. “We didn’t want to completely destroy Adrien’s hairline for his personal life, so we did a little thinning. We also styled it at the roots with a wet gel so it would separate more and you could see more scalp. We didn’t push it as far as Arthur Miller’s [hairline], but we got it into the realm.”
Watching the results of their labor, Kerwin and McIntosh are still in disbelief that they completed the gargantuan task. “The first time you see it, you’re like, ‘My career is over,’ because you watch it with the narrative of, ‘That day we had to rush this,’ or, ‘We had to do that in the back of a van,’ ” says Kerwin. “Maybe [after] the third time, you actually go, ‘OK, I might work again.’ ” The two are, in fact, collaborating again on the John Wick spinoff Ballerina — with de Armas, moreover — where their experience on Blonde is paying dividends. “We dance around a head really well together,” says Kerwin. “We move in a good rhythm. And we laugh a lot, that’s for sure.”
This story first appeared in a December stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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