Jaime Leigh McIntosh and Heba Thorisdottir (‘Babylon’ hair and makeup): ‘I’m honestly baffled how we got through it’ (Exclusive Video Interview)

“I didn’t realize when I met (writer-director) Damien (Chazelle) what a huge undertaking this was going to be,” admits “Babylon” makeup department head Heba Thorisdottir. “I didn’t know he wanted 750 backgrounds to go through hair and makeup. I told him I didn’t want to go through it if he wanted it all pristine. But when we sat down, the first thing our of his mouth was, ‘I don’t want it to be pristine. I want it all dirty and gritty. I think that was the bonding moment.” Good thing, because one day the film had 800 background people, and everybody had to go through hair and makeup. Added hair department head Jaime Leigh McIntosh: “I just think it was a complete beast. I’m honestly baffled how we got through it. We’re just so proud of everything that wound up onscreen.” Watch our exclusive video interview above.

“Babylon” (which was released December 23) is a larger-than-life epic take on some of the growing pains of Old Hollywood in the 1920s and ’30s, a more than three-hour chronicle of the industry’s transition from silents to sound starring Margot Robbie, Brad Pitt, Diego Calva and Jean Smart. It’s driven by a sense of unbridled decadence and depravity, opening with a wild party of debauchery at the home of a powerful studio head. It’s there that we meet Nellie LaRoy (Robbie), an ambitious nobody who aspires to Hollywood stardom but looks nothing like the women we think of from that period. Her hair is wild and electric, for one thing, matching her character’s untamed bearing. “I’ll admit that I was initially pushing back a little on the long hair because it was freaking me out,” says McIntosh. “But the more we discussed it, I realized it was a great addition to the storyline. And I mean, you do the research and there’s a lot of long-haired women in the ’20s, so it did exist.”

In fact, Chazelle was “determined to demolish the expectations of a period piece,” McIntosh adds. “So it was a constant search for the weird and wonderful…Damien didn’t want a cookie-cutter vision of everyone having the same hairstyle.” That vision extended to the makeup as well, Thorisdottir points out. “At the beginning, Damien sent us a huge list of films that inspired him. For instance, the freakish look of Tobey Maguire later in the film was inspired by ‘Death in Venice.’ He wanted Tobey to have this flash of white makeup. There had to be a buildup.”

McIntosh and the Icelandic-born Thorisdottir also worked together on a second film released in 2022, “Don’t Worry Darling.” But the experiences on the two movies couldn’t have been more dissimilar. One scene seemed to really drive home that point, shot over three days, when Nellie arrives in college for the first time in a film within the film. It’s the dawn of adding sound to movies, it’s a crazy hot day, and there’s lot of yelling and sweating on the set. “I guess we call that a continuity nightmare,” McIntosh recalls. “It was incredibly difficult. We had multiple levels of sweat we had to maintain.” Adds Thorisdottir: “With all of the sweat levels, we had like five seconds to reset Margot every time, then the editors were left trying to sort it all out.”

Despite the immense challenges from a hair and makeup point of view, however, Thorisdottir was tremendously pleased with the way everything turned out, noting, “You don’t see movies like this anymore. This is all real people. There’s no CGI except for one shot, and it was just amazing to be a part of this. It felt like Old Hollywood.”

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