How the ‘West Side Story’ hair and makeup team worked with Rita Moreno to create Valentina’s look [EXCLUSIVE VIDEO INTERVIEW]

For Kay Georgiou and Judy Chin, the hair and makeup team on Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story,” the key to their acclaimed work – which landed on the Academy Awards shortlist in the Best Hair and Makeup category – was to make it look almost invisible. “I think it looks effortless. So it’s hard to see the amount of work that went into it,” Georgiou tells Gold Derby in a new interview.

For Georgiou and Chin, the challenges of helping Spielberg create his musical remake were vast. They not only had to account for the physicality of the performers and dancers but the natural elements. When Spielberg shot the “America” sequence, for instance, temperatures in New York were in the triple digits as the sun blazed down on the set. 

“My team and I had our actors’ makeup bags, at least two if not three of them,” Chin says. Included in the supplies were what Chin calls a “sweat rag” as well as sunscreen. She and her team would try to shuffle in and out in between takes to make sure the makeup was holding up under the intense weather conditions. “It was constant. We got yelled at a lot and I don’t blame them because it was a lot to do and it was boiling hot,” she says. “But every take we would just sneak in there when we could and blot and fix.”

Georgiou and Chin, both of whom have worked with Spielberg before, also had to make sure the hair and makeup were on point in quieter moments – specifically with Rita Moreno. The Oscar-winning actress, who played Anita in the original version of “West Side Story,” stars as a new character, Valentina, in Spielberg’s version.

“We very much worked with her because Rita had a very strong idea of what her character would look like, because, you know, she’s from Puerto Rico,” Georgiou says. “And she knew what those ladies looked like.”

As Chin explains, Moreno even showed up with her own cosmetics bag to give the team some ideas on where she wanted to go with Valentina. “Most of her choices were great. And I totally worked with them,” Chin says. From there, it was a matter of pushing Moreno out of her comfort zone.

“For me, my biggest triumph with Rita was we went through her whole makeup got everything done, and then she saw me reach for the eyebrow pencil,” Chin says. “And she looked at me and says, ‘You are not going to try and do my eyebrows.’ I said, Yes, I am. I’m going to do it. I’m going to mess it up. And then you’re going to show me how I really should do it. But let me try.’ So I tried. I did it. And she’s like, ‘Pretty good. Except for this part.’ I was like, ‘Okay, got it. we’re golden.’”

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