There can’t be many characters in pop culture with a more distinctive look than Cruella de Vil – and so taking on Disney’s brand new live-action origin story was something of a dream job for BAFTA-winning hair and makeup artist Nadia Stacey.
“She’s one of my favourites because she’s a villain, and they’re always slightly more fun aren’t they?” she tells RadioTimes.com ahead of the film’s release. “And from a hair and makeup point of view, it’s like the ultimate fancy dress outfit.”
Given Cruella‘s signature look is already so iconic, you might think Stacey was rather boxed in, in terms of how much she could experiment and innovate with the character. But on the contrary, she was pretty much given free rein by director Craig Gillespie, with the obvious exception that the trademark black and white hair was a must.
“The only rule that I ever really had from anybody was obviously the black and white hair,” she says. “And the only thing that I didn’t ever do was cross over the hair. I kind of feel like there’s something in that, you know, sort of the slightly more innocent side and the dark side, so I never wanted to mix those up.”
One of the reasons there was so much license to play around is that the film itself is all about Cruella finding her look. When we first meet her she’s a far cry from the wicked puppy-stealing crook we all know from 101 Dalmatians, and so it was all-important that her look changed across the course of the movie, with the hair and makeup helping to signify her gradual transformation from aspiring fashinoista to archvillain.
“I think the greatest thing is because we’re an origin story, I never really was shackled to anything,” Stacey explains. “I feel like the Glenn Close version is who she becomes… so the only thing I wanted to make sure was that you kind of believe that that girl becomes the Cruella we know.
“I had the freedom to sort of play around with the character and mess it up and change it and change the length and change the shape. It’s part of the story that she’s finding Cruella, so it kind of gave me the freedom to be able to do that myself.”
The film is set in 1970s London, during the early years of punk, and this was another aspect of the job that made it so appealing to Stacey, who confesses to being a big fan of the music of the period and hence the Cruella soundtrack. Describing the setting as “an explosion of unapologetic fashion and music and hair and makeup” Stacey says that she did lots of research into the punk scene at the time – making sure not just to focus on the big names that everyone knows.
“I’m a massive music fan, and I’m kind of born in the wrong era, I think,” she laughs. “So I was very aware of the music scene at that time – and the more underground stuff as well, not just your classics.
“I’m talking about sort of the beginning of it [punk], and it was actually kind of a smaller scene and very home done. And the bands that were coming out of there… I don’t think any of them thought that they were going to become famous, so it wasn’t about creating these big, fashionable looks.
“And what I loved about what came from that is when you look at like Roxy Music, and Bowie and all those kinds of artists, about playing with that kind of fluidity of gender and creating these personas using hair and make-up.”
Of course, working on a film of this scale means a lot of collaboration, and Stacey had a close working relationship not just with Gillespie but also with costume designer Jenny Beaven and production designer Fiona Crombie. She said that the first thing she did when she started work was to go and see Beaven in her room, where they hashed out all their ideas and would “throw all our references out on the table”.
“When I first saw the garbage truck dress, it was in one whole room of its own because it’s so huge,” Stacey explains of one of Cruella’s more elaborate costumes. “And there were lots of pinks and blues and pastels and that kind of thing. So immediately I came away from there going, ‘Oh, you know what, I’m going to put jewels on her face in those colours’.
“Same as with Fiona the production designer, it can be the really smallest things in sets or colours that you want to then bring in, so that visually what you see on the screen all ties together.”
Although Stacey describes working on the film as a “really, really fun job” and said Gillespie did a great job of keeping the pressure off, that doesn’t mean that it was without challenges. One of those was the sheer scale of the project – as well as working on Cruella, Stacey had a whole range of supporting characters in the Cruella cast to deal with and she says it was easily the biggest project she’s worked on.
“I think the scope of the movie was like the biggest hurdle for me, I’ve never done anything that big before,” she says. “I never choose to look after the lead because my eyes need to be everywhere. I need to be looking at every single person that you see on screen, every single background artist, if I don’t see them in the flesh I see them on a picture.
“So to look after Emma as well, to do her hair and makeup and design the whole thing was a huge challenge that I would never normally choose to do. But obviously, it’s Emma and so I had to and, you know, I really wanted to create Cruella.”
And perhaps the biggest problem with having worked on Cruella’s look, Stacey says, is that’s it sets the bar so high in terms of other characters to work on in the future. Asked if there are any other classic Disney characters she’d like to have a stab at she replies, “With these questions I feel like I’m sort of cheating on her!
“I feel like, how do you get any better than doing Cruella? So I don’t even know if I could answer that because I feel like I’ve done the ultimate kind of fashion icon. For hair and makeup to be let loose on Cruella de Vil is like, right now, I don’t know where you go from there…”
Cruella will be released in cinemas and on Disney Plus Premier Access on 28th May 2021 – read our Cruella review.
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