The makeup artist details how he honored Judy Garland by not trying to paint the legend onto Renée Zellweger’s face for Judy.
When I first saw Judy, I could have sworn that Judy Garland was brought back to life and projected on screen. There are certain shots in Rupert Goold’s film where I couldn’t focus on the action of a scene, because one of my—and the world’s—most beloved icons was living through Renee Zellweger and her incredible transformation with makeup designer Jeremy Woodhead.
Woodhead—who recently won the British Independent Film Award for Make-up and Hair Design for his work–was tasked with changing the shape of Zellweger’s face without weighing her down with too many prosthetics or makeup. It’s a perfect combination of performance and makeup design, and Woodhead says his biggest challenge was finding an area where these two actresses could meet visually without pulling the audience out of the story.
Every time we turn around, another biopic is released, but there is so much care and respect throughout Judy. Without Woodhead’s intelligence and compassion for Garland, we would only be talking about what’s on her face instead of how Zellweger is making us feel.
Awards Daily: I’m a big fan of Renée and I love Judy Garland, so I feel like this was made for me.
Jeremy Woodhead: Renée is so great, isn’t she?
AD: My god—yes. You did Stan & Ollie a few years ago and now this. Is the biggest pressure with these types of films just to make the actors look like the real person?
JW: I was excited really. They really are two icons, aren’t they? I was trying to find a way to make the pair of them into a single being. It was exciting but terrifying at the same time. Everyone knew what Judy Garland looked like and everyone knows what Renée Zellweger looks like, and there’s quite a gulf between the two. It’s one of those things that you can’t get wrong because people’s perceptions and expectations are so high. You can’t hide. Whatever I did to Renée was going to be judged.
AD: There were a lot of moments—especially in profile—where the likeness freaked me out, because it looked exactly like her.
JW: It’s the nose, isn’t it?
AD: Yeah, I think that’s it!
JW: We spotted that quite early on, and I think that’s why Rupert [Goold] quite favored that profile. He kept dropping them in and dropping them in just to reinforce that. That’s the best angle to reinforce to cross-fertilize that. When Renée is in profile with her nose down, it’s uncanny sometimes.
AD: You used some prosthetics to extend the shape of Renée’s nose, and I didn’t even notice that. I thought I knew Renée’s face very well.
JW: I’m very glad you didn’t. (Laughs)
AD: Can you tell me what other things you used on her face?
JW: We tested loads during the prep periods. Their face shapes are actually really different. It was an avenue of exploration to come up with some prosthetics to make Renée’s quite oval face into Judy’s more diamond shaped face. Building out her cheekbones and also blocking out her eyebrows to raise her eyebrows. By the end, she may not have had any eyebrows, and if she did, she painted them on very high. It could change every day, so I wanted to give that slight idea that the eyebrows were drawn on her face. Having put those perceptions on, we could pare everything down because, ultimately, Renée gives such a nuanced performance. By putting a lot of prosthetics on, it’s very easy to lose that tiny clench of a jaw muscle that could change the emotional beat of a scene. It could disappear, and that was always what we were watching. If it compromised the performance, it had to be really worth it.
AD: Wow. That has to be hard to walk that line.
JW: What she has on her nose doesn’t extend it as much as it turns the end of it up. That was the only prosthetic stuck on. We had teeth that changed the profile of her mouth and contacts to change her blue eyes to brown eyes. The rest of it was paint and wig.
AD: You just mentioned her eyes. There’s a moment when she is singing ‘By Myself’ and I was transfixed on her eyes. I feel the makeup enhances the sadness there.
AD: How did you take Judy Garland’s substance abuse into account when you were designing her makeup?
JW: I didn’t want Renée to look like I painted Judy onto her face in an overly perfect, glossy way. I wanted it to look like she had done it. Some evenings she may have not done it very well, because she had half a bottle of vodka or she had taken pills or she did her makeup too early or too late. It had to look home-done and not very well-done at times. That was a way of getting Judy’s state of mind into her makeup. It would’ve not been Judy. She did her own makeup on stage for those concerts, and we wanted it to look like she had done the work.
AD: I never realized that we never see a makeup artist doing her up.
JW: She doesn’t travel with an entourage—she travels alone. When the film opens, she’s doing these little clubs in Pasadena for maybe $150 a night. She does everything.
AD: I had forgotten when I watched the film for the first time that she was so young when she passed.
JW: Scary, isn’t it?
AD: Yeah. Looking at actual pictures of her, she looks 20 years older.
JW: She does.
AD: Is that a hard line to walk?
JW: Yeah. In age terms, Rene and Judy aren’t dissimilar in age. Judy was 47 when she died, and she looked much older. It’s one of those things that takes its toll. She had to gain weight and then lose weight and then you add the smoking and the drinking and the drugs on top. That takes its toll. The poor thing was a mess by the end of everything. It was about translating all of that onto Renée’s looked-after face. Renée looks after herself so well, and she doesn’t live that rock ‘n roll life. She doesn’t have the things that Judy naturally had by that point in her life. I had to search for the beginnings of a line or a wrinkle and exaggerate it. It would put her more into the realm of Judy. Shading into the folds between the nose and the mouth or breaking up the strength of Renee’s jawline or creating bags under her eyes and crow’s eyes. All those little tricks don’t necessarily add age but add life and defeat.
AD: That just made me so sad.
JW: I’m sorry.
AD: Jumping back to other moments in the film, we see Judy on the set of The Wizard of the Oz. She obviously hasn’t been fully influenced by anything nefarious yet and Hollywood is living through a different era. What was it like to do the makeup for young Judy? Her face is so warm and bright.
JW: We wanted to keep that really. Darci [Shaw] has that beautiful skin, and she’s the right age. We didn’t want to lose that under big, studio makeup because we wanted that contrast between the hopeful and young with everything to live for and the Judy where her life has been lived. I wanted to emphasize the youth and not overdo it to maintain that energy. We wanted to show her spirit as someone who may jump into a pool on a whim. That spirit that she may not have by the end.
AD: In terms of the other characters, Finn Wittrock and Rufus Sewell also play real people in Judy’s life.
JW: Luckily, Syd Luft was very well photographed and documented, as was Mickey Deans, so my goal was, like with Renée, to make them look like their real-life counterparts. Rufus was very keen to not look like himself. Syd had quite the distinct receding hairline that was noticeable from the front with his very high forehead. We ended up giving him a partial bald cap just to suggest Rufus’s normal head of hair isn’t what is there. Finn turned up the set of a military movie, so he had a buzz cut. We had to wig him and cut it to match Mickey Deans’s long, shaggy hair with sideburns.
AD: One man in Judy’s life is going bald and the other has hair that might be too long.
JW: Yes, exactly. That’s a big part of the film—getting those passages of time into the makeup. When Judy is walking through London, she looks a bit out of place, or when she is at the party with Liza, she’s almost anachronistic or from a different era.
AD: There is an increasing amount of films that are utilizing visual effects in their makeup. What do you think about that?
JW: Mixed, really. I’d hate for my craft to die out—I don’t think it will. There’s something hugely valid about an actor coming into a makeup trailer as themselves and leaving as a different person entirely. It can only help with performance. It’s comforting to know that there is money there into making people younger, because I’ve worked on films where you have to do the best you can to make someone younger than they are. It doesn’t always work. There are tricks you can pull, but it’s not always satisfactory. I think, inevitably, it will be a mashup of their skill and our skill.
Judy will be available to rent and own on December 10.