“The feeling was one of intense responsibility to represent these four icons and do them justice,” admits head of makeup and prosthetic designer Scott Wheeler about his work on “One Night in Miami” alongside his team including key makeup artist Sabrina Cruz Castro, hair department head Nakoya Yancy and key hair designer Barber Wayne Jolla, Jr.
“This was a universal feeling from Regina on down. I’m not going to use the word we used, but we were saying ‘we better not screw this up!’,” he smiles. “There was a lot of pressure in recreating these four amazing human beings.” Watch our exclusive video interview with Wheeler above.
“One Night in Miami” is Oscar and four-time Emmy-winning actress Regina King‘s big-screen directorial debut, adapted by writer Kemp Powers from his 2013 stage play of the same name. The film imagines what would have happened if boxer Cassius Clay a.k.a. Muhammad Ali (Eli Goree), singer Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.), civil rights activist Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir) and football star Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) came together in a Miami hotel room after Clay defeated Sonny Liston in February of 1964. What transpires between these iconic men is a lively and timely discussion set against the backdrop of the tumultuous civil rights movement of the 1960s.
In seamlessly recreating these four Black icons, Wheeler had the daunting task to ensure that they looked authentic and real, while also not betraying the audience’s entrenched expectations about what these men looked like. For Wheeler, the key was to transform the actors as organically as possible, without drawing too much attention to the intricate makeup and hair work. “Spencer Tracy, the two-time Oscar-winning actor, when he was asked for some advice on acting, he said ‘don’t let them catch you doing it.’ That is what we aimed to do and what I think we succeeded in doing was no one caught us doing these transformations,” Wheeler explains. “Look at pictures of them in the movie and pictures of them in normal life and you’ll see what we did. And also look at pictures of the people they played and you’ll see how close we are,” he says proudly.
“One Night in Miami” has been a strong awards contender since it premiered at the Venice Film Festival over Labor Day weekend last year, where King made history as the first African-American female director invited to show a film there. In the lead up to the Oscars, after numerous precursor nominations across the board, the film’s makeup artisans have advanced to the Best Makeup and Hairstyling Oscar shortlist that was announced on February 9, 2021. All members of the motion picture academy’s makeup and hairstylists branch will view seven-minute excerpts from each of the 10 shortlisted films on Saturday, March 6, 2021, after which branch members will vote to nominate five films for final Oscar consideration. If the Amazon Studios film progresses, it will be Wheeler’s second career nomination after his first for “Star Trek: First Contact” back in 1996.
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