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Interview: ‘Cruella’ Hair and Makeup Artist Nadia Stacey Discusses Putting Her Stamp On The Iconic Character

Emma Stone as Cruella in Disney’s live-action CRUELLA. Photo by Laurie Sparham. © 2021 Disney Enterprises Inc. All Rights Reserved

It only takes watching a few minutes of Cruella to realize that the film is an explosion of style and design. Nadia Stacey‘s work is right at the center of it. Her hair and makeup designs not only looks amazing, they are also a crucial part of creating the character of Cruella – telling her story visually. I sat down to speak with Nadia to discuss all that going into the almost instantly iconic work. From staying true to her individualistic creative instincts and using traditional makeup to achieve her desired looks to working with the Emmas (Stone and Thompson), it is a fascinating conversation that both film fans and aspiring artists should all be sure to read.

Steven Prusakowski: How did you enter the world of hair and makeup? Where did that begin for you?

Nadia Stacey: Very strangely, I’m a very unlikely hair or makeup artist. I always joke because if I go into department stores, it’s not where I’m like, ‘oh, makeup!’ I’m never interested, really. I didn’t know what I wanted to do for so long. And then I found out about a course that did media makeup. I went and joined it and realized really quickly that I’m a huge film fan and huge music and film fan. I was wanting to do something artsy, but I didn’t know what it was. Then I realized on my course, oh, you know what, this isn’t just about doing pretty makeups, it’s creating characters and being part of the storytelling process. It’s always been more for me. If I’m offered stuff, where I think there’s a beautiful actress, and she just needs to look beautiful. I kind of go, ‘Yeah, I’m not interested.’ Because I want to create the character. Then I kind of got into theater and started that way; doing wigs and just kind of built my way in from there. 

Steven Prusakowski: Yeah, it’s all storytelling.  I think people overlook it. So many people who work in films are storytellers in their own way through lighting, through costumes, through makeup… Which is why I enjoy having these conversations, because I really am fascinated to get insight as to where that all begins and how you contribute and collaborate to bring these amazing stories to life. 

Nadia Stacey: You’re totally right. It is all those kinds of elements coming together that put, particularly something like Cruella, that whole aesthetic on screen. It’s all those kind of design departments that do that. So thank you.

Steven Prusakowski: Where do your ideas come from? Where do you mind your inspiration? Is it from the script, real life or do you just wake up in the morning and have an idea in your head and just start sketching.

Nadia Stacey: I’m always reading, I’m always listening to music, I watch lots of films, I try and go to as many museums as possible in the middle of all this craziness. I’ve just started an art history degree. I feel like by kind of osmosis, all these things are going in. And then suddenly, things come like ‘The Future’ for Cruella. I know where it came from, but I don’t remember the moment that I went, ‘Oh, that would be interesting.’ I kind of feel like I may be carrying those things around with me. And suddenly it just comes to the forefront, but obviously, it always starts with the script. I’ve been really lucky that actually the two films that you mentioned (Cruella and The Favourite), both written by Tony McNamara. So they’re not usual, they give you a kind of free rein and a kind of craziness – this isn’t going to be usual, it’s not going to be normal. This isn’t going to be a normal period drama, you’ve got some room to go for it. 

Steven Prusakowski: There’s an evolution from younger Estella to Cruella just in a look alone through the makeup and the hair. Can you tell me about the journey of telling that character’s story through those mediums?

Nadia Stacey: I feel like for this film hugely makeup tells her story because she is essentially disguising herself. And the way to do that is with hair and makeup. When we start to show her to the Baroness everything is kind of in masks, all the makeup are in mask form. So we’re kind of using it as a deception, really. Hair and wigs and makeup were massively part of her evolution. She’s finding who she is as Cruella through the whole film – so it gave me a chance to really play.

Emma Stone as Cruella in Disney’s live-action CRUELLA. Photo by Laurie Sparham. © 2021 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Steven Prusakowski: The film starts with her as a young girl.  Did you work backwards or did you work forwards to develop the character’s look? 

Nadia Stacey: I think, if I remember rightly, we kind of shot chronologically. We started with younger Estella. That was really helpful. I always say, I feel like I went on the journey with them; I kind of ran alongside them as we would go in. I obviously knew she started with a black and white house hair. So that gives you your basis. And then I know she has to dye it to become Estella. Those kind of blocks on the way up give you your foundation, and then you can start to go crazy as she starts to play with her fashion, really.

Steven Prusakowski: When do you know “that’s it!’ when working on a particular look, for example like ‘The Future?’ You know you nailed and can lock it in.

Nadia Stacey: Emily (Emma Stone) and I have such a good relationship, because obviously, we met on the The Favourite and we have such a lot of trust there. She allows me to play and when I said, ‘Hey, I want to spray paint ‘The Future’ across your face, that’s what I want to do,’ she’s just like, ‘Here, let’s go for it. This is going to be fun.’ She just comes alive when she likes something, too. The first time we did the Cruella makeup, she picked up a – we weren’t allowed to smoke because it’s Disney – but in the film she picked up her makeup brush and pretended to smoke with it and her voice changed. And so you know, you’ve got it when it gives the actor what they need to you suddenly start to see them create a character. That’s really exciting. And there was just a kind of strange alchemy with a lot of the stuff with costume. And because everything was so fast paced, we didn’t have a chance to test lots of things at all. You suddenly got these looks together and you went, ‘Oh, wow. Okay, this is good.’

Steven Prusakowski: I love Cruella’s look. From the minute she transforms, it’s like you said it’s really central to the story, her physical transformation. I said in my review that it’s almost like a special effect. But this is traditional makeup. I was just blown away by it. I literally had to watch it again because I was so enamored by her look, it’s just incredible. What were some goals that you had when you started this? Any personal goals?   

Nadia Stacey: I think I always just approach things like, I don’t want to be regular, I don’t want to do what is expected. I don’t mind if some people don’t like, don’t get it, or don’t love it. Because I don’t mind if it splits opinion. You know, I love that. That’s just something in me; that kind of the music I like or the films I like or something. I like that kind of slightly, not mainstream thing. I just hoped when I got it, that it’s such an iconic character and everybody expects something from what Disney is going to put out. I just hoped that they would allow me to be a little crazier. It was Craig Gillespie directing it, and he was cutting things as we went along really quickly and showing us little scenes. He would then put in like The Clash on top or The Animals, and when he was doing that it was instilling more and more confidence in me because I was like, ‘okay, I can afford to just go for this.’ I never got pushed back to be honest. So the more they let me run with it, the braver I got. I think my goal was just to achieve something that Disney fans would take on board and appreciate – this iconic character – and believe her, but also something different. I am kind of bowled over by what it’s done. And like you said, without the use of prosthetics, which never really happens to get this amount of buzz with literally a very small amount of product and wigs to create a character that changes completely and I’m just really happy with.

Steven Prusakowski: It must be an inspiration for up and coming makeup artists to see this and think we don’t need a massive budget or prosthetics or anything – we can create and tell the story of a character or build a character using more traditional materials. 

Nadia Stacey: Absolutely! And all those looks, I was thinking about the other day, they’re mainly done with about four products like ‘The Future’ is three products for the lips and just the black across her eyes. And the amount of makeup artists that have contacted me who have recreated it – because you can because it’s easy. I wanted Estella, who lives in a kind of squat, she should be able to create these looks easily. That was the whole kind of goal, really.

Steven Prusakowski: Is there a favorite look that you created for the film – one that stands out for you? And if so, can you tell me a little bit about the creation process?

Nadia Stacey: It’s really hard to choose a favorite, I really love the past when she walks up onto the car and swings the dress around onto the car. I like that the hair is made into a crown – a black and white crown made of hair and then it’s all the hairs weaved around it. At that point, I felt like she was saying, ‘I’m the new queen.’ That’s where the crown came from – and really messed around with like 1920s shape, eyebrows and lips, but in weird dark colors. I felt at that point that when we went to set that night, there was a real kind of wow, and with the costume as well. There was a real kind of wow moment. I think ‘The Future’ has become something that I never expected it to become. I cannot tell you the amount of people on a daily basis that sent me a picture of that recreated and people recreating it using a different word – and that for me, that’s incredible. I just think that’s art, inspiring art. And that’s creating a piece of art. That’s not just makeup. So I’m super happy with that. But I didn’t think that was going to be the one, but it seems to have been,

Emma Stone as Cruella in Disney’s live-action CRUELLA. Photo by Laurie Sparham. © 2021 Disney Enterprises Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Steven Prusakowski: We’re only a few months removed from the first time the world had a chance to see it and it’s become almost iconic. Literally, this is something 10 years, 20 years from now people are gonna say, ‘oh, that’s from Cruella,’ which must be an awesome feeling. I am a creator. I always hope someone notices the time and thought put into my work. But to see it as a big screen to hear the reactions from the world is a whole other level. . And now, from your community – to be recognized by your peers has got to be a spectacular feeling. When it comes to the hair, it’s truly the heart of the story – it is the catalyst that shapes who this character is. What’s the process behind the wigs there’s, you can’t just have one, right? Because, if one gets damaged, and the shoot gets shut down.

Nadia Stacey: In the beginning, we actually only had two because the white hair is so hard to source and it was so busy in the UK to get them made. So I only had two. It was like a Lego set, there’s the wig but then we added something on top or then we added bangs to it or then we added, you know. So, for a long time, we were kind of coming off of her head recreating the next thing for the next day, changing it. It was really hard and it wasn’t even till very towards the end that we got more of them, which was great, but it was quite towards the end.  And they were really hard. That black and whites throws you off when you try and create with them. It’s strange what it does to your eye – your creative eye. I never thought that would be the challenge, but it was.

Steven Prusakowski: And then she goes to the red, I’m not sure what the color, almost scarlet. Was that her natural hair?

Nadia Stacey: No, that’s a wig too. Yeah, we never see Emily’s own hair in the film at all – for weeks all the way through.

Steven Prusakowski: I did not know that. I have only a couple minutes left and I’ve got a dozen more questions. Can you tell me a little bit about working with the Emmas, both Emma Stone and Emma Thompson? 

Nadia Stacey: I mean just an absolute dream – both of them. Emma Thompson is, well they’re both everything you want them to be. Emma Thompson, she’s kind of naughty and funny and really sets a lovely tone amongst the crew and the cast. She’s wonderful – almost like a maternal figure. Then my relationship with Emma (Stone) – she’s actually Emily – but with Emily, she’s just so easy. She is the most non-Hollywood, if you can. She’s just very easy. She is a phenomenal actress. I’m always blown away by it even when I know her and I watch her. I’m blown away by her process. She’s just easy and we have a lovely kind of relationship that she’s very open to let me do what I want and trusts me. So, it’s great. We’ve just finished another project together. I’ve been in Budapest for about four and a half months. So yeah, out of the world. Yeah, it was great! 

Steven Prusakowski: I must say, I’m a little bit jealous.

Nadia Stacey: Yeah, I’m very lucky.

Steven Prusakowski: Yes, but you’re earning it. So that’s fantastic. One last question before I go. Do you have any advise for for up-and-coming or aspiring makeup artists and hair designers who would like to get into this field,

Nadia Stacey: I think you need, on a practical level, you need to get as much experience as possible. Because when sending a kind of resume out, you don’t know who someone is from a piece of paper. And, our job is so personable were the first people that those actors see in the morning. So, for me, to create a team around me of just really good people, they’re long hours, and you want really nice people around you. You want to know those people. Get as much experience and get out there. And also, I would say, watch stuff that you like and watch what people are doing and get your own thing. And don’t kind of veer from it. That’s what I’ve always tried to do. I always want to try and put a different stamp on something. So if you’re a bit different, I think that’s good.

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Written by Steven Prusakowski

Steven Prusakowski has been a cinephile as far back as he can remember, literally. At the age of ten, while other kids his age were sleeping, he was up into the late hours of the night watching the Oscars. Since then, his passion for film, television, and awards has only grown. For over a decade he has reviewed and written about entertainment through publications including Awards Circuit and Screen Radar. He has conducted interviews with some of the best in the business - learning more about them, their projects and their crafts. He is a graduate of the RIT film program. You can find him on Twitter and Letterboxd as @FilmSnork – we don’t know why the name, but he seems to be sticking to it.
Email: filmsnork@gmail.com

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