Megan McLachlan chats with Academy Award nominee Elizabeth ‘Lizzie’ Yianni-Georgiou, whose makeup and hair work for Rocketman is already picking up guild nominations.
She’s worked with Carey Mulligan, Rachel Weisz, and the Guardians of the Galaxy (for which she earned an Academy Award nomination).
Hair and makeup artist Lizzie Yianni-Georgiou is a veteran in the industry having worked on everything from Marvel movies to quirky romantic comedies to most recently Dexter Fletcher’s Rocketman, which follows the fantastical life of Elton John.
Rocketman takes audiences on wild ride, through Reginald Dwight’s childhood to the introduction of an icon at the Troubadour, all the way through overcoming drug addiction. Along with Taron Egerton’s captivating performance, Georgiou’s makeup and hair work helps tell the story of one of rock and roll’s most groundbreaking performers.
I had a chance to chat with Georgiou, who most recently picked up Make-Up Artists and Hair Stylists Guild nominations for Best Period And/Or Character Make-Up, Best Make-Up Special Effects, and Best Period And/Or Character Hair Styling. We talked about capturing Elton at a variety of stages, what it was like working on a male-centric musical, and how she used makeup to help demonstrate his mental health.
Awards Daily: You’ve worked on so many amazing projects. Was this your first musical?
Lizzie Yianni-Georgiou: I think it is, yeah! (Laughs.) And you know what, when I read the script, I didn’t even realize. It wasn’t until the morning that I met Dexter [Fletcher] that I realized it was a musical!
AD: That’s so funny! Naturally, we see Elton at a variety of ages in this film. How did you use hair and makeup to portray the different ages? Did you have specific ideas for specific stages of his life?
LG: Definitely. We had to because we span quite a bit of his life, all the big rock and roll hair when he first hit it big, and then we had to show the younger side of him, trying to build that up. And then afterward we showed the bits that aren’t quite so nice, where he’s not loved and he overdoses and ends up in the pool. All of that had to be taken into account. It was a very collaborative movie. When I got on board, Marcus (set designer) and Julie (our costume designer) already had researched, and had colors and schemes they were using, so I had to go in and familiarize myself with that. I realized that we would have to streamline our work because I didn’t want the audience to not be in the right place at the right time with all of the different costumes and different eras that we were covering. I didn’t want to confuse the audience, because I know that Elton had so many different looks, and he was going to change costumes many times in each era. I didn’t feel we should be doing the same. I felt we should keep the audience on track with our look, and so I made it five looks for Taron/Elton and there were two looks for the younger Elton.
AD: You also portray three decades. Was it hard juggling all of the makeup styles and hairstyles for each decade?
LG: I charted everything out. With each song, we’re meant to jump about five years of his life, and then into the ’80s when he went into rehab, so I knew the rehab bit would be the oldest that we were gonna look. We had to see him deteriorate before he went into rehab, and then we had to have the glamorous ’70s and early ’80s and then the young look at the fairgrounds. So the chart mapped which look should be for when and that fitted in with the costumes, because we jumped around while shooting. Some days we would shoot three different looks, so we had to have that very planned out. I decided from the very young stage that we would have a bit of eyebrow and a little tiny sideburn and then take out any blemishes that Taron got and make him look younger. Then we had the shorter-haired wig and the rock and roll hairstyle to start with. The hair got a bit longer and a bit more Beatles-like with longer sideburns. We had the little tooth gap that we painted in, but with the little boys, they had a tooth liner with a gap painted into it.
AD: Oh my gosh. That’s so cool. So you painted in the gap to the teeth?
LG: Yeah, we did because his teeth had been like that for years, and it was kind of a little trademark. I felt that that would help us a bit. We didn’t want Taron not to be able to sing, so we ended up painting his in with a special tooth enamel. But the boys had little liners. Then we had heavier eyebrows as Elton gets old, because that helped us transition into bigger sideburns. At one point, we had the bouffant, lovely, blow-dried hair, going into the late ’70s/’80s. Then I ended up shaving Taron’s hairline back and dyeing his own hair for the part where he’s in LA and he’s starting to fall apart, and his relationship with John Reid is not going well. I used a special cream to remove some hair at the back to show the male pattern baldness.
AD: I wanted to ask you about that. I know that Elton John has experienced hair loss. Was that something you were sensitive to, especially since he was probably on set a lot?
LG: I think he is very sensitive about it, and it was a very sensitive subject to broach, but we had to show it. Taron wore it so well that when he’s in the airplane, there was a photo taken of him, and Elton saw it and thought it was a photo of him, and said, ‘I don’t remember taking this!’ So that was a massive compliment that it worked, and I think that kind of overrode the sensitivities.
AD: We also see Elton through a variety of turmoil, including drug addiction. How did you use makeup and hair to portray his disease?
LG: I decided that that stage was the best stage to use Taron’s own hair because we were going underwater with that, when he throws himself in the pool to kill himself. I thought it was better to dye Taron’s own hair and take the hair out of the hairline and out of the back of his head and use that because we already had little eyebrows, sideburns, and eye bag makeup to deal with, while he was underwater. I thought that was the best stage to do that with. Then after, when he gets into the ’80s and he’s at rehab and he’s falling apart and he’s married to Renate (Celinde Schoenmaker), that was really when we went for a bald cap to take the hairline further, with the balding over that. Then we had prosthetic eye bags, crow’s feet, nosolabial lines, and little jowls. We did the breakdown makeup on him as well, where you break down the skin tone to make him look more degenerated.
AD: That’s amazing.
LG: It was a lot of makeup. Everyone had an aging makeup that followed him through his life. It wasn’t a film just about Elton; it was a film about everyone around him as well. Even though he was such a big character, we had to get them right. I felt very strongly about that. Getting them right was really important, too, because otherwise you take the audience out of the movie, don’t you? So it was very important that they gelled together.
AD: I wanted to ask—this is a very male-centric film, other than Bryce Dallas Howard and Gemma Jones. Was that unusual for you from a hair and makeup artist’s standpoint?
LG: Probably. This is probably one of the most male films I’ve done, but then again we had all of the Bernie girlfriends coming in and out. Then we had the Renate character. We had lots of females in the crowd rooms for all the hangers-on and everything. But I was very aware of that—I was the only female in the design team, too. I did have a good voice. I think Taron was very caring of me and I know that Dexter was very supportive. One of our producers in particular always took note of anything I had to say. He knew I wouldn’t say anything much unless I needed something. There were a few occasions where I stood my ground because I knew it would work better for the film, when it came to characters, and I knew that other people were like, ‘No, no, we don’t have time for that.’ I have a lot of experience and said, ‘Let me do this.’ Even though it was very male-oriented, I think we still managed to balance out. And don’t forget that Bryce and Gemma are big characters.
AD: That’s true. Absolutely. I was looking at the cast listing and was surprised by how many men were in this musical. A lot of makeup artists have told me that the focus is usually on women unfortunately. Women are the ones who are painted up the most, but in this case, the lead is somebody who enjoys makeup. Elton John is famous for his costumes, makeup, hair, so it’s an interesting twist.
LG: It was interesting. I was very aware of the male atmosphere, but you just get on with yourself and do it.
LG: And it was really nice to have the girls to play with. Bryce did such a good job, and we managed to change her look. She was very up for it. It is nice to have the girls, too.
Rocketman is now available for viewing on Blu-Ray, 4K Ultra HD, and Digital.