Babylon exploded onto the movie scene right when audiences needed a new spectacle to watch. The film explores the grittier, messier, more depraved side of Hollywood in the 1920s. The hair and makeup in this film is just as essential as the performances and script when it comes to getting the story across. The hair and makeup team that worked on Babylon have been nominated for a handful of awards for their ability to make stars like Margot Robbie and Brad Pitt melt into the days of old-school film. Jaime Leigh McIntosh shares some behind-the-scenes secrets about how she created these characters’ hair looks while working with some of the biggest stars in Hollywood.
What was the inspiration behind the hair looks for this film? How did you evoke the time period through hair?
“Well, reading the script was when my first burst of excitement hit me. I couldn’t put it down, and it sent my mind into visual overload. I mean, a period film about our industry, with over 140 speaking roles. Come on, amazing!
From there, it was in-depth discussions, research and designing collaboratively. Writer and director Damien Chazelle, makeup artist Heba Thorisdottir and myself were tasked with presenting a film that visually demolished the expectations of the 1920s period and creating a stylized look that was a far cry from the norm. We did not want to see an ocean of bobs and finger waves. An exciting prospect but also daunting, knowing that getting the balance right was crucial. Absolute teamwork was needed between hair, makeup and costume across the board.
We did more than scratch the surface when researching. We dove in as deep as possible into finding imagery that struck us as unusual, wild and wonderful through to almost contemporary and timeless, but still actual historical reference from the period.
Additionally, we avoided styles that were too structured and rigid. We kept those specifically for the upper-class Hearst party and any seemingly uptight characters. We worked on designing the film as a whole first. Then as the casting came through, we would streamline their individual styles, encouraging movement, fluff and frizz.
The most exciting part for me was designing this world with Heba and our teams. Every single person that went on camera had gone through the system and was pre-designed with the end vision in mind, keeping that balance of staying true to the period, but also showing it to the audience through a different lens. Having such large numbers of background actors with such a variety of looks to create meant the team was constantly recycling wigs into different styles.”
How did you achieve the many styles of Margot Robbie’s hair, including (my favorite) crimped and effortless volume? How did her hair represent her character’s changes throughout the film?
“The beauty of working with Damien on this film was, not only his inspiring vision, but the details he would want to go into when considering the type of person each character was and how their life decisions would affect their look. This gave us the ability to really show some great story arcs subtly through the character’s styles and looks.
Nellie LaRoy (Margot Robbie) bursts onto the scene with a wild mane, ready to party. This helps let us know more about her character from the start. She is the wild child, and her hair certainly tells that story. I wanted her style to appear uncut and unruly. We built her one long wig with that in mind, to be able to create wild volume but keep it a fine texture, so it had a weightlessness and freedom to it, and still be able to style it flatter when needed.
To style the long wig, I would wash it, scrunch it, create volume at the roots and push some waves into it. Once dry, I would randomly pick up pieces and use a small iron to curl them. I would also encourage volume at the roots and avoid using product—so the hair remained fluffy and frizzy in all the right places.
Being the strong, determined character she is, we did not want her conforming to the ‘rigid fashions’ of the time. It’s not until her career is heading downhill that we see her ‘studio makeover’ look. This is presented in full force at the upper-class Hearst party. Her hair is finally cut into a bob and fully wet set finger waves. For this, we had a second wig custom-made, the same way that the long wig was, but I cut it into a bob. Of course, this doesn’t last. The wild child reappears and goes back to her fluffy texture with plenty of volume.”
Brad Pitt’s hair is dark and slicked back in this film with the occasional few rogue pieces. Was this a wig or styling? Also, are you responsible for that wonderful mustache?
“That beautiful mane is all Brad’s. We had it colored by the wonderful colorist Kadi Lee. I cut it into shape and then for styling, we wanted a classic, timeless style, but we still wanted it to have movement, so the only product we used was jojoba oil applied to damp hair, combed into place, and left to dry naturally. It gives a wonderful natural look and doesn’t look too filled with product.
The mustache is facial hair, and that is the makeup department’s territory. Jean Black, his long-time makeup artist, was responsible for making that happen.”