According to this journalist, the most under-appreciated masterpiece of 2021 was Cruella, director Craig Gillespie’s bold and exhilarating take on a villain origin story, this time the villain being Cruella de Vil, the sadistic furrier from the 1961 Disney animated classic, 101 Dalmatians. But it is the 1996 live-action remake, starring Glenn Close (who serves as an executive producer on Cruella), that serves as more as the inspiration to Gillespie’s vision, which blends camp and punk in an uproariously entertaining joyride of a rock opera, led by two dynamic and sumptuously delicious performances from Oscar winners Emma Stone and Emma Thompson.
But it is so much more than the performances and the source material that makes Cruella the masterpiece that it is. In order to build the most perfect film around the dueling Emmas, Gillespie brought in a murderer’s row of artisans to create the most magnificently crafted film of the year, from the stunning production design by previous Oscar nominee Fiona Crombie (The Favourite), to the Oscar-nominated costumes by two-time Oscar winner Jenny Beavan (Mad Max: Fury Road, A Room with a View), to the playfully perfect score by two-time Oscar nominee Nicholas Britell (nominated this year for his score for Don’t Look Up), every element of Cruella is packed with artistic excellence.
Beavan’s work is one of two richly-deserved Oscar nominations this year for Cruella, the other being a nomination for Best Makeup and Hairstyling, a nomination shared by Nadia Stacey, Naomi Donne and Julia Vernon. I had a chance to talk to Stacey about a wide range of subjects, including that nomination, what it was like to work on Cruella (all those wigs!), what her favorite look of the film is, what disaster she managed to avoid during production, what film’s makeup she truly admires, how Judi Dench offered her a ride in the rain, and what she honestly thinks about the Academy’s decision to cut her category from the live telecast.
Catherine Springer for AwardsWatch: Cruella is my favorite film of the year, it is just magnificent, top to bottom, the craftsmanship on every level. Talk a little bit about the experience of working on this film in a general sense.
Nadia Stacey: Well, it was the biggest thing that I’ve ever done, the biggest thing I’ve ever undertaken. I come from an indie background, even The Favourite seemed much bigger than it actually was in terms of production. So to even think about taking on a Disney film, it was just huge. But it quickly became something that felt sort of familiar, in terms of how I approach it because Craig Gillespie, with his kind of background in the sort of offbeat indie world, approached it the same way. It took that feeling of panic and being overwhelmed away, so then I just approached it as I would anything else which is start from the script, from the era it is set in, and who are these characters and to not be worried about what had come before, because we were essentially starting at the beginning. I wanted to believe that the character would become Glenn Close, but I felt like that was part of the kind of essence of who she is anyway, so I knew we would get there. So I started it like I would have anything else. It was honestly quite a joyous experience because it was like working on a 70s punk movie and with lots of music. It was a dream job for a makeup designer, really–just amazing.
CS: I’m old, so I remember the classic 1961 animated film, 101 Dalmatians, which, along with the 1996 live action remake, which starred Glenn Close, which were the two obvious precursors to Cruella. How much of each did you take and does it help to have a starting point like that?
NS: I definitely watched them in prep, but as I said, I think it was it was more about getting the spirit of and the essence of the character, which Glenn Close does so beautifully in her version. And it’s definitely there in the original animation as well. But I very quickly realized that nobody else, including Jenny [Beavan] from costume, was shackling themselves to any of that. And Disney weren’t saying look, it has to be this–they really gave us a blank canvas. And so I started as I would always, which is with the script. And, because I’ve worked with Tony McNamara’s scripts before, there was something familiar about his writing and I knew that you have to find all the details in the script. It was kind of like welcoming in an old friend again to sort of get just stuck into it as a script and as a project rather than being tied to something else.
CS: This is an origin story, we haven’t seen Estella before, so you did get to create her. Was her look in the script or was that you?
NS: Tony’s scripts are very much like, you have to look for the details. For example, the badger makeup in The Favourite. The script has her saying, “You look like a badger.” Well, what is that? You have to come up with it, you have to figure that out. For example, “The Future” makeup– it says in the script that, in the paper the next day she reads “Cruella is the future.” So it’s there. It’s just how you interpret that and how you tell that as part of your storytelling process. And then for Estella, there was a picture of the German punk singer Nina Hagen floating around. I don’t know quite where it came from, but we all had this same picture of a young Nina Hagen with this big fringe, this kind of scruffy red hair and she sort of sat in what looks like a kind of an old flat somewhere and it just, again, had the essence of who we believed was Estella. We all really went for this picture. And so, because she dyes her hair to hide the black and white from being a child, it could be obviously dyed. So I knew that I could go for a color that was kind of punchy and obviously dyed. Also the style of it was very Debbie Harry, very Blondie. I kept looking at lots of Debbie Harry pictures and it was just all sorts of who is this girl? Where does she live, what is she listening to what is she looking at, and that’s how I started to create Estella.
CS: This is obviously set in the 60s and 70s, with a punk influence, as you mentioned. There’s also a big David Bowie influence in Artie’s (John McCrea) look, but the Bowie aesthetic is almost the aesthetic of this film.
NS: Yeah, I was very influenced by drag, and I was very influenced by that kind of gender blurring aesthetic, which was perfect for the timing because I was looking at Marc Bolan and T Rex, and Bowie, of course, and Roxy Music. I watched this Bowie documentary, and there was these grown men saying that when they first saw Ziggy Stardust, they’d never seen anything like that on TV. It was like, What is this? He literally looked like he’d come from space. And I thought how incredible that Disney are having a character like Artie in a Disney film. It was such an opportunity to play with his look, to blur those gender lines and to have fun and I think that carried on through to Cruella and to the Baroness (Emma Thompson). I feel like there’s a real kind of drag queen in both of them. It’s about creating personas and who are you and as soon as she walks in Artie’s shop, he’s like, I’m a work of art. So all of them are putting on this show with how they look.
CS: Let’s get back to the iconic black and white hair. Obviously, it’s as important to this character and the film’s look as any costume or set piece. Have you ever worked on hair that was as crucial to the story as this one? And was there extra pressure, considering it’s literally its own character?
NS: To be honest, the hair and makeup generally in this film is almost its own character. It’s used so much as part of the story and the hair particularly is part of this deception process all the way through, whether hiding the hair to hide who she is, or then using it to be empowered by who she is. So it really is like its own character. I’m asked a lot about the pressure, whether the hair or the existing character of Cruella. And I think when you’re in the thick of it, you can’t think about it, I think it would be too overwhelming [laughs]. But I just knew it was a big deal to get the hair right, and on top of that pressure is, who is she? What’s she doing with this hair? She’s creating a fashion line, essentially. She’s creating this persona. She’s becoming someone, she’s playing with this hair and I needed to sort of to use that as much as possible as it as a part of the storytelling process.
CS: So this was this was shot before COVID, obviously, you can tell it’s a cast of thousands. It looks amazing. What were the biggest challenges from your department with so many people?
NS: [Laughs] Oh, wow. Luckily, I had the amazing Julia Vernon, who is nominated with me on all these awards, which first of all, I’m just delighted about, because I don’t think crowd supervisors have been nominated before. That is incredible in itself, because when you get a film like Cruella, let me say that I think I have somewhere in my head and a number of like over 6000 supporting artists and every day, continually, they were either fitting them and getting them ready or getting them ready for set throughout the whole film. It was just a hub of creativity. You’d look around and someone was there with 18th century wigs and then you turn around and there’d be walls of black and white wigs and turn around somewhere else and there was 70s Fashionistas, it was just incredible. Yeah, a lot of work. And the biggest challenge I think was getting those black and white wigs for that big moment where that camera pans down and goes over all those 200 wigs, I think it was.
CS: Did I hear you had a nightmare about that?
NS: Ugh! [laughs] Well, we had to get 200 wigs and, even if it’s a Disney budget, you can’t get 200 wigs made because, not just financially, but you wouldn’t get them made in time–who’s making those? So I had to look to see if we could buy them and I found the company that sold these back and white wigs, so I said, okay, great. And I was literally about to press send on getting 200 of these shipped over and then I suddenly looked and the black and white were around the wrong way! How I caught that I don’t know, but if I hadn’t… I don’t know how I’m still not waking up in a sweat over that because if we’d have ordered them, and got them, and then on the day, everyone going, “Ummmm…” [laughs]
CS: I was ironically going to ask, what’s the scariest thing that could have gone wrong on this production? I guess that was it!
NS: Yeah! [Long laugh]
CS: What’s the trick to a really good wig?
NS: A really good wig is how it’s made. If it’s made bespoke to someone and it fits like a glove. Then once you put it on the lace that you have at the front almost kind of melts into that person because it fits so well. It’s the texture of the hair. It’s how finely it’s knotted, because every single hair is knotted, so it’s really in the making of the wig. And how they knot the hair in terms of the hair direction. Sometimes you’ll see wigs and all the hair is going in one direction, and you think, nobody’s hair is like that. It’s those kinds of small details that really make a massive difference. And that was really hard for us because the black and white hair behaves differently. The white side is so processed to get it to that white color, so it behaves very differently to the black side. So they were one of the biggest challenges, those black and white wigs, they really were difficult to work with.
CS: Do you have a favorite of Cruella’s looks?
NS: I love all those kind of those pop up moments, like the garbage dress look, and I really love when she walks on top of the car and she’s locked Emma Thompson in the car and she’s got a crown on her head, because it was so away from what we’d done. She’d been seen at that point as Cruella in the kind of classic Cruella look, if you like, but it really changed everything about the shape of the makeup to the colors of the makeup to the shape of the hair. I had a crown made out of hair that I then entwined her wig into and when the costume was brought to set that night, it was like wow, okay, we were doing something really bold and I didn’t know if people would get it at that point. But I knew that we were doing something out there and to do that on Cruella is pretty amazing.
CS: Is it just me or is there a progression of lipstick tone in the film because I thought I was seeing it getting darker and darker.
NS: Very well done, for spotting that! [laughs] Yeah, all those things are just about confidence. I felt like when we first see her as Cruella, if you notice when she first comes in to see the boys and they’re having their breakfast, that kind of classic Cruella look is much heavier. The base is much whiter, it’s thicker, it’s more powdery. She’s still hiding behind a look. And as those looks go on, like the moment with the crown, I felt like it was like there’s a new queen in town, here I am. Her confidence showed when she stood on top of the car, so the lipstick’s darker and it’s bolder and even when she’s at home and talks to Jasper (Joel Fry) on the roof, she’s wearing a very dark lipstick. That was kind of an at-home look but she still feels brave enough to do that. I very much felt it was about confidence and about who she’s trying to be and who’s trying to say she is at that time.
CS: So tell us a little bit about the other characters like Horace (Paul Walter Hauser) and Jasper, Roger (Kayvan Novak) and Anita (Kirby Howell-Baptiste) and how their character journeys are reflected in the hair and makeup.
NS: Anita was great to do because the other people living in this world all have a kind of unique place, you know…
CS: On the fringes?
NS: On the fringes, yeah. But Anita is someone that works at a newspaper. She’s a reporter at the height of fashion, she’s been invited to these high fashion shows and these parties. So it was fun with her to play with being absolutely in 1977. Also, because we’re coming towards the end of the 70s, you really can’t get into the 70s. I really loved doing the big afro on her. You don’t really notice it massively but her nail varnish was something I researched as to what colors were being used, because I felt like she’d probably be getting press samples of things. And for Jasper and Horace, all our mood boards were full of crazy kind of ideas of different references. There was so many pictures of the original Horace and Jasper animations upon the wall. And it wasn’t necessarily they looked exactly like them. It was just the sort of heart of those characters, this sort of simplicity of who they were. But it was really fun to play and there’s kind of an aloofness to Jasper. I love that bit where he’s doing his own hair with his comb. There’s a softness to his look. And then I loved playing with Horace’s look for the punk rock show because I went to ask Craig and I said, “Please, can I dye his hair?” I’d seen a picture of John Lydon from the Sex Pistols, with the red hair, and I was like, “Please, can I do this?” And he said, “I don’t know. It might be a bit much.” And then Nicolas [Karakatsanis], our DOP, came over and Craig said, “What do you reckon?” and Nicolas said, “I think should do it.” And I was like, yes! And now that I see it, I think it’s totally right. He’s DJ’ing at a rock show, we should have done something. So it was great to be able to do that.
CS: Talk a little bit about Roger’s hair.
NS: Oh my gosh, that wig. Well, the thing was, Kayvan came to us. And he was on another show, I think it was What We Do in the Shadows, and he’s got this long hair in it and he was in the middle of the show, so he couldn’t cut it and his hair is so thick. And Carolyn Cousins, who is my amazing supervisor, she looked after him and she had to get all that hair underneath this wig. And again, we just thought he should be that kind of classic look. One of the references for him was our TV presenter Terry Wogan–this absolute 70s kind of blow-dried, big head, classic 70s hair. It was really fun to get him in that.
CS: I didn’t want to ignore Emma Thompson. But I believe she had her own her own makeup and hair person who’s also nominated with you. Is that correct?
NS: So that was Naomi Donne. She’s an amazing hair and makeup designer in her own right and she had worked with Emma Thompson lots of times before so they had this great relationship. And I was told that Emma was bringing on a personal and it was Naomi and I was just so thrilled because I loved her work, but we’ve never worked with each other before. It was an amazingly collaborative experience. She came on and the references that I had were very similar to what she had. So we kind of pulled this thing together, essentially that the silhouette and everything that I wanted was exactly where Naomi wanted to go. I think felt this, too. It was almost like we were on two different worlds with this chaotic punk thing and then this 1950 sculpture thing going on somewhere else. But equally, both of us kept getting braver and braver and braver, and the more that they let us run with things, the bigger Emma Thompson’s hair got and the crazier Emma Stone’s looks got so it was it was just really fun. I’ve said lots of times I think it was fantastic that someone else actually looked after Emma Thompson because they needed to exist in different worlds. I think they always needed to treat it as two different films in terms of its look so yeah, she was fantastic.
CS: And you had worked with Emma Stone on The Favourite, do you two have sort of a shorthand now?
NS: Yeah, absolutely. We became friends from The Favourite and then we did a lot of the award season together so you have a lot of social time, so we have a really lovely friendship. This is totally down to her that I did this job. I was kind of given to Craig because she wanted me to do it and yeah, we have a great shorthand. She trusts me, lets me do whatever I want, really. She’ll definitely have great ideas about things, it could be the smallest things like, we should make that a bit wider or we should do it this way, but she essentially let me do what I wanted for Cruella. The bigger the looks got, the more she was into it.
CS: I had an interesting question after looking at your IMDB page. Your first credit is listed as a “makeup artist—dailies” for Notes on a Scandal. For those of us that don’t know what is dailies makeup?
NS: That’s when you’re just brought in as extra help for the day, so you’re not credited as like a full time team. They might need someone a couple of days or a week to come in and help. But that was one of my first films, and it was with Judi Dench!
CS: That’s a pretty impressive first credit! How did you get into this career?
NS: It’s funny that you pick that film actually, because it’s got such incredible memories for me. I’d trained in media makeup and hair and then I started working in the theatre. So I did wigs in the theatre for years and then moved into television and did TV drama, and then got an opportunity in film and the ladies there brought me in and started to help train me and put me out into jobs. One of them was doing the reshoots for Notes on a Scandal and they needed some extra help. I think it was about two or three weeks of work. So I went out, brand new, very green to the industry. And Judi Dench was in the makeup truck and we came outside and they were traveling her to set. It was going to be a scene on Hampstead Heath in London and she had to sit on this bench looking out over London. It was absolutely throwing it down with rain and I stood outside because I was a trainee, so I didn’t have all the wet weather gear and had the wrong shoes on and everything. So I stood in the rain, waiting for one of the vehicles to come and pick me up and I saw this fancy car back down the hill in reverse, back down to me, and the window came down. It was Judi Dench, and she said, “Are you going up?” I said, “Yeah.” And she said, “Do you want to get in?” And I said, “Oh no, I don’t think…” and she said, “Don’t be silly. Come on, get in with me.” And I just remember I phoned my Mum that night, saying I’ve been in a car with Judi Dench! It was honestly like I’d made it.
CS: No doubt! So I only have a few more minutes with you but I can’t let you go without asking about the big Oscar news that we got yesterday. What is your reaction to the announcement that yours is one of the eight categories that won’t be given out live on the telecast?
NS: Ah, it’s disappointing, I’ve got to be honest. I mean, I’m so grateful to even be in the room and be nominated. I know that they tried to do that I think in 2018, and then there was such an uproar about it and then it kind of went away. I don’t want to sound like I’m moaning about it, but I do generally feel like makeup and hair seem to have taken a bit of a backseat to Costume, a backseat to Production. The amount of times that people will talk to me as if I’m part of the costume team, and I look at something like Cruella, and I think, take away hair and makeup from Cruella and you don’t have Cruella. The fact that only a few years ago, I think, gosh, within the last five years, there were only three nominations for makeup and then that suddenly changed to five. I do still now have to fight to get a single card credit, the same as Costume and the same as Production Design. I think it’s a real shame and for someone like myself and lots of other people, it’s a huge deal to get an Oscar nomination and it’s a huge deal to be in that room. And that could be a once in a lifetime moment. And it’s a real shame to have that taken away for a certain set of a few categories. So yeah, it’s disappointing.
CS: I couldn’t agree with you more. Let’s hope that they do change their mind. It truly is an art form, and it should be recognized equally.
NS: People look at period stuff, they look at prosthetics and, you know, big effect makeup. But for me, sometimes the most beautiful, subtle makeups are in those contemporary things where you go, those choices have been made so beautifully, they’re incredible. Do you remember a film called Rust and Bone, with Marion Cotillard?
NS: I just think the makeup, or the lack of what people would think of hair and makeup, in what is so good in those kinds of films. It’s beautiful and it really is an art form. Yeah, it does feel like a continual fight for us. And it’s kind of tedious that we still have to do that.
CS: Yes, you totally deserve all the credit and praise for the artistry and work that you put in, you work as hard as you are talented.
NS: And they sort of forget the bit where we’re almost like the confidants and the therapists in the morning to get those actors ready and be on set. The support behind the scenes is always hair and makeup!
CS: I guarantee you every actor is on your side.
NS: I know. Emma messaged straight away today, saying she’s not happy, so yeah.
CS: Stone or Thompson?
NS: Oh, Stone!
CS: But I’m sure Thompson feels the same way.
NS: Oh yeah, probably Emma Thompson will be shouting the loudest.
Cruella is currently available to stream on Disney+.
This interview has been edited for content and brevity.
Photos: Laurie Sparham/Disney