20th Century Studios

Interview: ‘Amsterdam’ Hair and Makeup Department Heads Talk Capturing the 20s and 30s on Film

Amsterdam, the latest film from David O. Russell, is based on the true story of the 1933 Business conspiracy. The cast is stacked, with Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, John David Washington, and Andrea Riseborough, just to name a few. For a production this big, every element had to be on point, from the production design, to the costuming, to the hair and makeup design.

Awards Radar spoke to Heads of hair department Lori McCoy-Bell and Adruita Lee, and Nana Fischer, the head of makeup department, about the challenges of working during the pandemic, the beauty of the time period, and working with an A-List cast.

Awards Radar: Is this the first time you guys have all worked with each other on a project? Or have you guys worked with each other on separate projects before Amsterdam?

Adruitha Lee: We have mostly worked on separate projects. This is the first time all together.

AR: All right. Have you guys ever worked with each other in duos? Do you have any history with one another?

Lori McCoy-Bell:  Well, Adruitha and I go way back. Wedding Crashers was the first thing that we had done together. We did Walk the Line too. Early in our careers, we did several films together. And then we kind of went our separate ways and did our own thing. But then we came together again on Amsterdam. I know Adruitha had worked with Nana before, but I’ve never worked with her before. So it was the first time that that I had worked with Nana, but I know Adruitha very well.

AR:  That’s awesome. Speaking of Amsterdam, tell me what are some of your favorite memories from working on the film.

AL: Wow, who wants to start on that one?

LMB: Go ahead Adruitha.

AL: Just the fact that Lorie called me and asked me if I could do the project. And because I was such a huge fan of David O Russell. I just loved American Hustle. So when she called and said, “I can’t do this. Ccan you go meet with David and take this project on?” And I was really excited. My favorite part was the actors that I got to work with. I’ve worked with Margot Robbie a lot before Amsterdam, but I finally got to work with Christian Bale and Taylor Swift and so many others. And that was that was pretty cool. Then to do this period, I mean, it was just it’s like a dream come true.

And then of course, everybody went through the COVID thing. So that was tough, but it was all worth it for this project. My favorite part was just getting to work this period, to work with these actors, to work with Laurie and to work with Nana. I have done a couple of really cool projects with each of them separately before, so to work all together was great. And I knew that everybody was at the top of their game as far as the kind of the quality of work that they can do. So that’s pretty exciting when you get to when you get to work with people like that.

AR: That’s awesome. Lori, do you want to go next and share some of your favorite stuff from this project?

LMB: When you are working with David, it’s like you got to get on his train that he is conducting. And you just jump on and you don’t know where you’re going. That’s exciting. And it does push you to the limit on your creativity and how quick you need to get things done and how creative you can be. For me personally, I’m pushed. At the start it feels impossible to do. But like you find a way to do it. He (David) might say, “oh, I want that but make her blonde.”

And initially I am like, “you just can’t do that overnight,”. David has these strange requests, and I love how if forces us to be creative. It’s all about art and being creative and that’s one of my favorite things. And we have the skill and talent to do it, and David pushes us to our maximum potential. And when we are working in this time period, which is so beautiful, with this cast, there’s this buzz of creativity all around. One of my favorite things was getting to know all the cast on a personal level, as we formed a tight family during production to achieve this vision.

AR: And then what about you Nana?

Nana Fischer: Um, pretty much Laurie and drew covered pretty much the same thing. But I mean, this project was incredible. As a makeup designer, you have beauty and you have this period from 1918 to 1930. So, it’s like period, hair and makeup. We had prosthetics. We had wounds, we had veterans, so we had like, new scars, we had old scars we had it all. like in 1918, after the first war, a lot of people lost parts of their faces. So we had to recreate all this mapping, and  facial scarring, and its not very often that you get the opportunity to do things like that.

But then also you have the beautiful 1930s, where you have beautiful glamour, beautiful makeup and this kind of old Hollywood. So, it’s like a bouquet of things. And we all are big fans of David, he always has characters, his films are always full of characters who all have a backstory.

Like, Timothy’s character was like a redneck. He was so handsome, but we had to really transform him to make him look like a redneck, who didn’t  grew up with good nourishment. So, he had acne pores. And so all those kinds of things, there was a lot of thought behind it. And working with David is like how Lori and  Adruitha mentioned before. It’s fast, on the spot, and that was intensified during COVID. We got our actors a few days before, so we had to work on the spot, we had to create on the go. And that’s always a challenge.

But I love working like that, because it really pushes your creativity, working on the spot.  And you work with incredible actors and artists like Adruitha and Lori. So we would all get together with David and the costuming department, and think on the spot. And  it was like exhilarating, working in that way. And then we had the most amazing cast as well. So we had the most beautiful cast who were all on top of the game. So  it was just a really incredible project to be part of it.

AR: That’s awesome. You guys have mentioned that the shooting schedule and that COVID impacted Amsterdam. How did the pandemic impact the project, and how long have you been attached to the film?

NF: Well for me and Adruitha, we actually got called in the year before for a hair and makeup test. And that was before COVID. We went in there, and we had Margot and Christian and Michael B, Jordan, who’d been attached to the project at the time. So we created all those different kinds of looks and things and then at the end of the day, we went home. Then we were supposed to start shooting the next day, or a few days later. And after we did the test, the producers came to the trailer and said “hey guys, something going on, there’s this virus going on, we just want to close down for a few days,”. That virus was COVID. And production got halted for a year, and we didn’t know if the project was even going to happen.

But a year later, we got a phone call saying, “Hey, we’re back on again.” So we returned to production in the height of COVID, and I remember some of my crew, my main key crew members, saying that they lost their parents the day before. It was brutal both emotionally and professionally, as that was the first week of production, where it’s were crucial to establish looks and things. We had some extensive air tests throughout shooting. They had some specialists coming in from New York to measure the air in the room we were shooting in, and then it would hit a level and they’d usher everyone out so that they could pump in fresh air.

We had the masks, we had the face shields, we had everything. And I remember, there was a day when I forgot I had my shield on, and I threw a second shield on my face. I was thinking I couldn’t do this, because I couldn’t see anything. And then I realized that there was a shield over the shield. So the pandemic was pretty challenging to work in.

LMB: The pandemic really brings back bad memories because it is really tough to work in.  Adruitha and I used lace wigs on a large number of the cast, and seeing lace on a skin requires detail, since its going to be projected on a 40-foot screen. You need to see every detail when working with lace, and it’s really hard when you have a screen over your face that is fogging up your glasses. Everyone had a tough time, which wasn’t unique to our film. It adds an element to the whole process that that really drags down things, you know. And when you work with David O Russell, at a fast pace like that, it adds challenges to the production.

AL: But it was also so funny, working with David O. Russell on the film. One time, he would sit underneath a desk on set just to see what is happening during the scene. And I saw this happen so many times. He had a straw hat on, he had a shield, he had a mask on. I remember walking in to do a last look or a touch up and I kind of jumped because there he was right there in front of me, hiding under something. And he had all this cover on it was like a beekeeper. And it was it was kind of funny, that was just every day. You never knew where he was going to be and what little corner and it was kind of funny.

LMB: Yeah, he likes to get into the middle of the scenes. So he will be right behind you, or right behind the actor or hiding very close to the set. Like Adruitha said, David would hide underneath the desk when we were in Burke’s office, or if you’re in a restaurant, he’ll be in the booth right behind them, with his head down looking at a monitor, mumbling things to himself. And as an actor, you must be going crazy, because you’re hearing it during the scene.

NF: This was my first time working with David. And so there were a lot of questions even during shooting. And I remember thinking, I couldn’t really hear him properly, because of all the PPE. So, I would be constantly asking him to repeat himself.

LMB: And then he talks so fast, right?

NF: So fast.

AL: Do you guys remember the man walking around with the six-foot stick, with the little tennis ball on the end of it? If we got too close to anybody, he’d poke us and tell us to stay six feet away?

LMB: Oh yeah. I wanted to take that stick. We have to touch up the actor. We have to look close at the lace on the skin. Can’t do those six feet away.

AR: Oh man, that’s brutal. These stories are all quite funny, despite the real difficulties of working on the sets during the pandemic. How long did you guys have to like get actors set up for the scenes? Like, I know, I was talking to the hairstylist, Anissa Salazar, for Everything everywhere All At Once, And they told me that they had like a few hours in the morning to get set up before the shoot started. What was it like for you guys in working on Amsterdam?

AL: Dang, we had tons of actors come in through the trailer, and we were separated to three different trailers. They’d have to go from one trailer to the next one, since we all stayed in our trailers. But they would be coming through and we just had to do them one right after the other. And on a period film, you see everybody. And with David, it doesn’t matter what your number is from one to 100. You get the same attention as everyone else. Nobody’s overlooked, especially on a period film. But we were just cranking them out one right after the other war. Some of our actors would have to leave that trailer and go into the other trailer. And it’s tough. It really is tough.

And it’s just like Lori said, the shields and the masks would steam up, and then trying to see and see something as fine as lace is so tough. And it’s important because when it’s shown on a 44-foot screen, any little hair looks like a rope. So here you are trying to address all this in the center, and then going on set and you got this guy walking around with this pole. You know, they would let you touch up the actors, but if anybody else got close, then he would get you away. And it was just it was just it was frustrating, but it was actually kind of fun.

LMB: And all the actors we have the actors were fantastic. There’s so much fun creating characters so deep for each one of the actors.

AR: Yeah, you guys have mentioned that you’ve worked with Margot before. I know, Adruitha worked on The Menu with Anya Taylor joy. I don’t know if you started working on Amsterdam before The Menu, but what was it like working with this star studded cast?

LMB: I would joke with David about this cast. I mean, I’m like, okay, so your first question is, Are you famous? And the follow up would be, Are you really an A Lister? Okay, you’re on this movie. The talent that he brought in and all of the cast apart of the film was so lovely.  They were very into their character and really went deep into the characters.

Like Nana was saying with Timothy Olyphant, whose character had bad acne and stuff, Timothy was so willing to do everything to get into character. Every element was thought out for these characters, sometimes in hair and makeup, we don’t have that opportunity to design in that detail. Usually, I want it to look like this or I’ll just do something pretty modern day, but to delve into why someone has this kind of hairstyle, or skin condition is really special. In Timothy’s instance we got to dive into the acne he has, and we got to think about why his haircut is that of a most wanted character right out of a picture book.

AL: Yeah, and then we went through the mugshot book, and you can find Timothy’s look, you can find his sidekicks look, you can find a lot of looks. Because there were such great photos from the last 100 years.

LMB: And even with Christians look, he wanted to look like he had a huge amount of hair, and he has a good amount of the hair. But he wanted hair that couldn’t be controlled, hair that was really thick and would  rebel against any attempt at styling. And so we decided to chemically perm his hair and change his hair structure. At the beginning we had tried to integrate some hair into that as well to give him extra hair, but it was way too much.

NF: Also for the Third Estate, we got to try some special things with the actors.  Andrea Riseborough was amazing, and totally on board with the eyebrow effect we did. She wanted to look authentic, and encouraged us to pluck away like the eyebrows and to bleach them to make it almost look like there’s no eyebrows. So she had this Marlena Dietrich look; this like sleepy eye look. Even though they’re amazing actresses, they would be open to sometimes look very different and not as handsome or beautiful.

Like, for Taylor Swift, there is a scene where she’s crying. And she’s really want it to look like her eyes were swollen. She didn’t care if her eye’s looked a bit puffy, because she is crying and it’s apart of the scene. And then there’s Matthias, who is a really, really handsome guy, and David thought he’s too good looking, make him look not as good looking. He’s been in the war. So you know, I had to create all those scars all over his face and shave into his spirit. And they all open to it. They were like, yeah, do whatever you want.  

They were all on board, all on that train to look part of this character. And so they were all open to change. Even for changes as small as Margot’s skin tone, she’s usually like a really warm, and I went really pale with her to make the makeup look  like it belongs in old Hollywood, as did the lighting & costuming departments. They were all game, so it was like such a treat for all of us to work on them.

LMB:  Yeah, that’s right. Everyone had a hair texture. Everyone changed their hair. I could say we had people curling their hair. We had Alessandro Nivola, and he wanted curly hair. So, we curled his hair every day when he worked. You know we cut off about 10 or 12 inches off of Matthias. He had a ponytail when he first came in. And we had a red wig on Andrea like everyone had hair texture, hair color, a wig or a toupee.

NF: Alessandro was quite funny because he has this curly hair and he is characters quite quirky. You know, he’s, he’s got this flat arch thing and he’s like “I want to look like I’m always sweating. And I always have a red nose from blowing my nose because I’m such a nervous person.” He’s a really handsome guy. So we constantly made his nose red and he was always sweating because he was always a little bit on the edge and was a little bit out of place.

AR: That’s awesome. You guys are describing such a love for the 1930s. Is it your favorite time period to work on? Or do you prefer other time periods?

NF: I think this period is amazing because you have references. So I love using references and working with it and maybe tweaking it a little bit. I also I love doing future because you have freedom, so I think period and future is something where you really can get units into it.

LMB:  I think I like all periods, but when we did the 20’s and the 30’s, it was really a beautiful period. It’s always fun, no matter which period you work in. You do the 70s, that’s fun. You do the 80s, and that’s back in high school for me. Like they’re all interesting in their own way. But the beauty of the 30s in Hollywood stands out, especially for me.

AL: The way this period frames the face. I loved the way Margot’s face was framed with dark hair. I mean, it was absolutely gorgeous. To me, it was I mean, she’s pretty anyway. But then you take Andrea’s color. And that beautiful color and those beautiful waves in the 20s in the 30s for me, is because it frames the face so beautifully. That’s why that’s probably one of my favorites.

AR: Awesome. I’ve got one last question for you guys. How did you get started in this business? And do you have any tips for people who are looking to get into hair styling and makeup and to do it for cinema?

LMB: So, my mind was I always knew I wanted to be a hairstylist. Since I’m very young age, since the first time I went and got a professional haircut. I went down to Beverly Hills to a salon called Vidal Sassoon, I got my hair cut about 12 years old and I was like, I want to be a hairstylist. I knew that and started cutting my friend’s hair like that. And then during high school, I went to beauty school as well. So, by the time I was out of high school, I was a licensed hairstylist and working in a salon. How I got into the film business was really purely by accident.

The doors just kept opening for me and I just decided, okay, maybe I’ll just try and go through the door. I had a client; it was Barry Kubrick and he had a friend that was making a video on how to get ready for prom. And when you’re talking back in the early 80s, I guess when there’s VHS is and it was for like 17 Magazine and girls can buy this and it was just a little gig, and I got paid like minimum money. But I was so excited. I was gonna go work on like something. So I did that, and I grabbed all the makeup from our salon and all my hair stuff, because at that time I did both.

And then one thing leads to another and then that same guy, Barry Kubrick, he ended up working at ABC at a nighttime show. And he just said come in and meet my people. He kind of pushed me and the opportunities with his friends they just kept asking for me and I said in my head, like,  I’ll just try let me try to do this. So really, it came knocking at my door. It wasn’t something that I set out for. Doing hair was, but not hair and film and traveling the world with A-list actors. That wasn’t in my manifest at all, if you can say that.

AR: All right. What about you guys? Adruitha and Nana.

AL: I started out in the salon, and then because of where I was in the in the country, there was a lot of music going on. I was in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and went from Muscle Shoals to Nashville to work on music videos. I’d always wanted to work in Hollywood, and while working on the music videos I met some people and it opened the door slightly for me to get in to work my dream, to go to Hollywood and work on movies. So yeah, it took a lot of effort, a whole lot of good luck and a whole lot of everything to make it happen.

NF: I’m from Japan, and Germany and my parents both work in theater. So I kind of grew up backstage since I was very little, and always been surrounded by that. And I was always very interested in texture makeup, and went to school in Germany and wanted to do makeup. But in Germany, where I live, my grandparents were like, No, you got to go to public school. So I went to med school for a moment. I’m like, if I do that first, can I then go to makeup. But then I went back to Japan, went to makeup school and then was approached to work in London.

Again, I did both makeup and hair. While working in London I did a lot of editorial hair shows and things, but I wanted to go back to my roots and went into theater. And you know, going back to the roots, and I was working on a play called As You Like It with Santa Mila and Helen McCrory, who’s now passed away. And she went on to do a movie. So she basically said to me, I want you to come along and work on the movie with me. And I got introduced to a hair makeup designer and one of my first two jobs were working with her and then working, looking after Peter O’Toole and just one led to the other. Once I was in the film industry, it just went on from one form to the other and luckily ended up here.

AR: That’s awesome. Any last tips for people who want to get into the film and hairstyle industry?

NF: You have to have the passion, first of all, and I remember when I was young, I was doing a lot of free bits. You know, to build up my portfolio, I would meet up with photographers and do lots of photography and go to photo shoots. With that you get free photos, you build up your portfolio with that portfolio, you can go and see an agent or work or offer.

But then when I walked into theater, I offered to work in the evenings for free because I wanted to be in in the theater. I wanted to watch people, I wanted to learn from other people. And well, instead of going out at nighttime, I would go and work in a theater and I loved it. It was so social, you learn so much and from one leads to the other. So never give up, you never know what will lead to the one little chance you need. And before you know it, you’re in it.

AR: Wonderful. Do you have anything to add to Adruitha?

AL: This is kind of like my second career doing the same thing that I did the first part of my career, only in a different way. And it’s been fantastic to get to work with a lot of the people that I’ve gotten to work with. I mean, how lucky am I? I mean it, to be able to work with the talented people that I’ve worked with. It’s been great. I am so grateful to be here doing this.

AR: Thank you so much for your time. That is all the time I have today and all the questions I have for you. Best of luck with the few nominations you did get, especially with Artisans awards and such.

Amsterdam is available to stream on HBO Max today.


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Written by benjaminwiebe

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