INTERVIEW: Talking the look of ‘The Danish Girl’ with Head of Makeup Jan Sewell and Production Designer Eve Stewart

JanHeaderThe first thing you notice when you watch The Danish Girl, besides of course the performances of Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander (which are soon to be nominated), is the look of the film. Whatever you think of Tom Hooper‘s directing style (and I certainly have my issues with it), the visuals here are stunning. As such, I was thrilled to get a chance to briefly chat with two of the behind the scenes crew on the movie. One was the head of Makeup/Hair/Prosthetics Jan Sewell and the other was Hooper’s longtime production designer Eve Stewart. You can see the highlights of both very short interviews below, and keep in mind that The Danish Girl is in theaters this weekend…

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Describing exactly what they do:

Jan Sewell – Within this particular case, because I had worked with Eddie (Redmayne) on The Theory of Everything and we had just got on like a house on fire and think very similarly, he knew that The Danish Girl could possibly be happening and he asked me to do it. Of course, I said yes. Now, I still had to go through the process of being interviewed by Tom (Hooper), it was by no means a done deal, and although Tom has told me since that Eddie was very keen for us to work together again, I was interviewed by Tom and it took two weeks for him to come back to me and say yes, that he wanted me to do the film. So, in this case, I knew fairly early on, and many months before we started shooting, I suggested to Tom that we get together with Eddie and just start looking at the looks for Lili. You know, nobody knew exactly what Eddie’s look could be, and I thought it was important to find that out. Very early on I spoke to Tom about the look for the film, because if you look at real photographs of Lili, of course by the time she was able to transition, she was a middle aged woman. I asked Tom about the timeline, and he just kept telling me to look at the paintings. So, if you go back to those wonderful paintings, she had this wonderful dark and red hair, so that was my inspiration. I very much wanted to also pay homage to the 1920’s.

Our first get together was at Working Title Studios’ offices and we did this little still photo shoot with Eddie. We tried wigs on him and very quickly we honed in on the fact that Eddie looked amazing with a wig on. That’s when we started to get the colors together, with the auburn wig most definitely the look for the over-feminized version of Lili. That’s the other thing we found out, the great thing about working with Eddie Redmayne is that you know he’ll be so prepped when you start working with him! He’s the one who alerted me to the fact that quite often people who start to transition go super feminized. So I knew it had to have that look in there. So, starting with Lili as Einar, you know, I had to get Lili to look like a young man of the 20’s and then super feminized, then towards the end have a much more natural Lili, after she’s had her operation and feels a bit more one with her body. So, very much that was our working process, starting seven months earlier than when we started shooting.

Eve Stewart – I think the brief of being a production designer has expanded, since you’re really in charge of all the sets and their construction, but also an art director building stuff on location, and you’re also in the world of set decoration. You have to be involved in everything, really anything that you see in the camera, it’s not just one category, obviously.

The look here came from a lot of discussions. Ultimately, having been a painter myself, I know how immersed in your art you are as a young and budding artist. So, I felt very strongly that this pair, they defined themselves by their art, so that was very important to me. When Lili is being presented as Einar, she’s resisting becoming a piece of art in herself, but ultimately we wanted to take Einar’s paintings as the look of the film, to start. His world was more important at that time.

On having your work mesh with the filmmaker:

JS – I knew that Tom would be going in for close ups, and I didn’t want my makeup to be seen. Also, in the process, I knew that Eddie is an incredibly beautiful looking man, a very handsome man, so that was on my side. What I needed to do, with the earliest looks as Einar, was to make him look more masculine. So, I used highlighting and low lighting and emphasized his jawline, slightly darken his eyebrows, all those things on his face, and also Eddie wore a wig as Einar too. Each time, we’d do that slow process, changing his appearance, I’d make him slightly more feminine each time, because Lili couldn’t be denied.

ES – Well, working with, it depends on who you’re working with really. Some directors are more particular than others. Working with Tom so often, we’re both very similar. He’s very good at conducting the visuals and surrounding them with emotions throughout the piece. Ultimately, yes, I’m pretty strong in choosing where we’re going, color palates, etc. Obviously, we’re adjusting together when things need to be adjusted, but he does rely on me a lot for the visuals.

I also am really keen on working with the actors. On the first day, Alicia (Vikander) came into the set that we built for their apartment and just squealed, saying that she felt transported. It was really flattering. Having trained with Mike Leigh, you never have any scripts, so you have to learn about the characters through the actors. So, it’s given me a really good grounding to make sure that the sets I provide are so real. All the textures are real, you can open the cupboards, you can lift things up, it’s all proper. That’s part of my job too, to support the actors.

What they look for when picking a project and if there’s something they haven’t done yet:

JS – Oh gosh! My aim is a challenge. I’m always looking for interesting films, makeup wise. I love the idea, and forever I’m looking for a challenger. Whenever I read a script, when I feel that I can add something to it, I’m always offering it up to directors. So, I will look for the ones with prosthetics, with wigs that need making, I just love it. I love my job, I’m so lucky. I’ve been in makeup for 30 years and I love it as much as I ever have. I’m very lucky to have beeb trained at the BBC, and while that doesn’t exist anymore, I was trained across the board. So I’m just really lucky. Also, how lucky was I to have gotten to work on Everest! To have gotten to go up to base camp, oh god, I think I’ve been truly very lucky. Anything I can sink my teeth into excites me, it doesn’t have to be anything specific.

ES – I think, I just love to tell a really cracking good story. Obviously, you read a lot, but telling a new and interesting story is what fascinates me, and creating a world to tell that story. So, I’m just as happy to do either modern or period. I do tend to get offered more period, I suppose, since I’ve done it before, and I am a big detective, finding out everything I can about the world I’m trying to create, so I’m very thorough. I’d actually love to do something futuristic one day!

Again, The Danish Girl is in theaters this weekend, and it’s likely to be an Oscar player all around.

Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!