The hair and makeup team for Dolemite Is My Name (led by Carla Farmer, Stacey Morris, and Vera Steimberg) is one of ten groups selected for the Oscar shortlist in their category. The Academy will announce the five nominees chosen from the shortlist to be nominated for the Oscar in their category on January 13th. If the Dolemite team receives a nomination, it would be the first film with a predominantly black cast to do so since Norbit in 2008 and Life in 2000.
In my discussion with Carla, Stacey, and Vera, we talk about what it was like making Dolemite Is My Name with Eddie Murphy and the crew of filmmakers on that well-received project. We also get into their continuing collaboration with Eddie on Coming 2 America. And, of course, we talk about the possibility of their team getting nominated.
AD: How did you all come to project?
Carla: I was recommended through Stacey who is Eddie Murphy’s person hair stylist and barber. We’ve worked together for 30 years and she felt that I was right for the project so she recommended me. I was so excited. The 70s is my period. I grew up during that time. When I was a little girl during that period that was like the best time of my life. I really loved hairstyling. My aunt was a hairstylist and I always wanted to do hair ever since I was a little girl. The first job I had making money was braiding all the guys’ hair because back then they wanted a Afro, so they would pay me 50 cents or 75 cents to braid their hair because the braiding would extend the root and then they would just pluck it and have an Afro the next day. I was that girl in the neighborhood.
Stacey: I’ve been doing Eddie’s hair for over 20 plus years now, and Dolemite is something that was in the air for the past 15 years. It’s a passion project of his. He has been wanting to do this project for a long time. When we finally heard that he got the green light, it was exciting. I literally started doing research before all the deals were even done. (Laughs). That’s how excited we were.
Vera: I’ve been working Eddie Murphy for 20 years now. My first movie with him was The Nutty Professor 2. Stacy and I knew he wanted to do this movie for quite sometime now. We are a team. Coming along and and being part of the project was huge for us you know and obviously was something important for him.
AD: I suppose it was like being in a playground to go back to the 70s.
Carla: It really was. Usually when you see a period movie from the 70s everyone has large sideburns, Afros, and long hair. People forget that there were older people in the 70s that were still wearing their hair in the 50s or 60s style – my grandmother continued to wear her hair like she did in the 60s. So, according to how old the characters are, you determine where you think they would be in terms of style. For instance, some of the women (actors and extras) who were in their teens during the 70s would show up with that same look. I had to tell them, I know this is how you looked in the seventies but now you’re your mother, now you’re your grandmother so we have to adjust this, and they were like. “oh.” (Laughs).
Stacey: That (authenticity) was one of the most important goals for us working on this movie. I was ecstatic when I heard that Ruth Carter would be doing it. Then I knew that’s taken care of. All of these things go together: hair, makeup, wardrobe. It’s all about style and embracing the period. I knew this was going to be phenomenal. I knew I was going do whatever was in my power to make sure that the styles and the looks complimented the period, and complimented the wardrobe, and the wardrobe would complement the hair. It all goes together. I was really excited when I heard about Ruth being there. They may not know what it is, but if something doesn’t feel right it takes you out of the movie. I feel like this movie pulled you in. You could imagine being around in that period – literally living in Rudy’s world.
Vera: This was a big movie and they all had to look from that time, whether it was in Los Angeles or Chicago. In the different parts of the United States not everybody was wearing the same clothes or looking the same. We tried to make everything look as authentic as we could. We wanted you to feel the 70s.
AD: So, that’s a challenge!
Carla: Yes, it was the challenge. I’ll tell you the biggest challenge is that African-American women today do not wear their hair that way. They are just coming back to wearing their hair natural, but a lot of women wear hair extensions and weaves, which weren’t invented during that time. It bothers me when I see a period movie and they’re utilizing a weave, but they’ll use the style of the time but I can see it’s a weave. So, a lot of women were asked to take out their hair extensions and their weaves. Those little details really sell the era – when you do those little tricks and take away things. Even with the men, the African-American men of the 90s wore a lot of bald styles, and they’re still wearing them. That bothers me when I see that in the period, because they’re weren’t that many bald hair styles in the 70s. Yul Brynner and Telly Savalas wore bald styles, but not many did. I tried to eliminate that and also the really sharp edges that are defined now by barbers. In the 70s the men didn’t do that. We would replace those edges with Afro tech and we would blend it into their hair to take away that edge. Dreadlocks are really popular now too for men. One of the guys was a featured musician and we had to wrap his dreadlocks and one of the barbers applied Afro Tech on top of his dreadlocks to look like an Afro.
Stacey: Me and Carla were co-department heads, we designed all of the looks for the whole movie together. We consulted with each other on everything, as well as with makeup – trying to match the director’s vision, and most importantly, Eddie’s vision. I mainly did the men in the movie. I did all four of Eddie’s looks. I also did Keegan and Wesley, and I helped out with Craig. We would rotate. We had a little system as far as getting them done every day. Eddie had so many looks, and you don’t shoot in order. In a day, you might shoot different periods from the movie – as far as in the years – and sometimes the scenes required us to switch the looks back and forth. I spent quite a bit of time making sure his look was completely put together and correct with the continuity.
AD: Those are the kinds of things that can take a viewer out of the movie. Even if they can’t put their finger on it, they know something doesn’t feel right.
Stacey: I had checks and balances because although I have my own system, I would also check with Carla. I had Ruth and I had Veira and I would check with the script supervisor. I made sure because I was I would die if I looked at the movie and be like oh my god, that’s not supposed to be that way. (Laughs). Once it’s done, it’s done.
Carla: It’s those little things that that make the difference, and a lot of little things create a big thing.
AD: I’ve been fortunate enough to speak to the screenwriters and the producers on this project and everyone says what a great time they had on set.
Carla: This was probably the most fun project I’ve worked on in my life. We had such a good time in the trailer. We were always laughing and having a good time. I think it carried through where you could see how much fun we had because when you watch the movie it gives off the same spirit that was behind the scenes.
Stacey: This was one of the most indelible experiences of my whole career. The cohesion with everyone – the energy was great. We didn’t have any real problems within production. Everyone got along so well. I feel like somehow that energy like transferred onto the screen because everything went so smoothly – in every department. I was work, but we really had a good time. This is one of the most memorable projects that I’ve worked on. If you you only know Eddie onscreen you’d be quite surprised to learn that he is the most laid-back, smooth, to himself type of guy. At the same time, he has this funny, intellectual side of him. It’s much much different from the stage or onscreen. Yes, we do laugh, but we also have great conversations, and sometimes, we’re just working.
Vera: Oh my god, absolutely. First of all, it was a fun project. I didn’t know much about Rudy Ray Moore before the project. I’m from Argentina so he was somebody new in my life. I had to research and make sure I knew all all the information. It was a project that everybody had been waiting so long to do. When it came along and having all this great cast, and the comedians, and being such a deep, soulful movie. It was fantastic to be part of such an iconic movie. Between the wardrobe, the hair, the makeup, the 70s, and watching the actors walk with these big platforms, and seeing Eddie do stand-up comedy and the Kung fu, all of it was just fun.
AD: What’s it like working with Eddie?
Vera: So many times I was crying laughing – a million times. I’ve also been introduced to so much great music by him. But besides being very funny and an amazing person to be around, he’s also very professional. When you are applying the makeup he sits still, he respects our work. He can be in the chair and we can be talking and having an amazing time, but we all know that we need to get the job done.
Stacey: If you only know him onscreen you’d be quite surprised to learn that he is the most laid-back to himself type of guy. At the same time he has this funny intellectual side to him, but it’s much different from the stage or onscreen We do have great conversations, and we laugh a lot, and then sometimes we’re just working
AD: There seems like there was a real spirit of collaboration on this film between departments. Is that unusual?
Stacey: It is unusual. Especially if you don’t have a chemistry, or you don’t have a history with people. That’s why a director will bring his own AD that he that he’s used to, or a department head will bring their key that they’re used to. You have a chemistry and a flow, and you look out for each other. Most of the time people will do their job with blinders on and just make sure their part is right, but my part doesn’t work unless all the other parts are right. Everyone was together on this because we all had a common goal and that was for this to be a good film.
Vera: Everyone worked so closely. We wanted to be part of the casting because we wanted to make sure that everything was accurate. Ruth Carter is an amazing collaborator and costume designer. We were watching all the costumes she was creating so we could have an idea of the colors she was going to be using. It’s a process. The more collaboration you have between departments, the better the result in the end.
AD: Veira, the makeup work on Dolemite is more subtle than say something like what was done for Gary Oldman in The Darkest Hour. Your work here is more subtle than showy.
Vera: When you have special effects make up involved you create something that is different from what the person actually looks like. We didn’t have any of that on this movie. We created a lot of the sideburns and laid down hair. We had the mustache we laid down on Keegan, for instance. We knew that we had to cover up tattoos. We also wanted to have a shine on everybody’s face – we didn’t want a matte look. We wanted it to be more like the style of movies made in the 70s. We had to create a color palette and all be on the same page.
AD: Something I wasn’t aware of until recently is that if Dolemite Is My Name gets nominated in this category, it would be one of the first films with a predominantly black cast to do so since Life With Eddie and Martin Lawrence back in 1999.
Stacey: I was not aware of that. Now that you’ve brought it up, I’m thinking about it I can’t think of any film since then. That’s amazing. What about Dreamgirls?
Vera:Dreamgirls…oh my god.
AD: Amazing, but no.
Carla: Wow! I had no idea it had been that long. Dolemite was predominantly nominated for the hair as opposed to the makeup which the Academy doesn’t usually do. We were surprised, It would be an honor to be nominated, We are up against so many wonderful films with such amazing work.
Vera: I think the special effects makeup department got nominated for Norbit.
AD:That’s right! Norbit!
Vera: You just don’t know what people are looking for. There are so many movies with special effects that it puts some other hair and makeup people behind them because they are not working in special effects. It’s almost like a different type of makeup or category. This is the first year that ten movies made it to the shortlist and five movies will go to the Oscars. Before that it was only three. Slowly things are changing. I’m hoping we get more nominations for these types of movies.
AD: And you guys all got back together for Coming 2 America.
Carla: I can’t wait for people to say it. It’s amazing. Ruth Carter, Wesley Snipes and (director) Craig Brewer from Dolemite all worked on it too. It’s beyond what people might even think, their minds aren’t ready for what they’re about to see.
Vera: I was in heaven when they told me. Ruth was amazing. Carla and Stacey killed it. It was nice because we know how to work with each other. There was so much beautiful work done it. The art department – when you see what they’ve done, it’s just incredible. We have the original cast coming back, you’ll see the barber shop, and also new characters.
Stacey: We’ll be riding this same train this time next year I can’t wait to see the final results. We put just as much work in Coming 2 America – if not more. This is a whole other look. We got American hair, we have African hair, and current day hair. We got to really exercise our craft and our skill and bring our vision to this movie.
Sasha, Ryan, and Clarence have been stuck with me since April 27, 2018. Co-creator (with Ryan Adams) of the Reframe feature, staff writer, interviewer du jour, and a proud member of GALECA and the Indiana Film Journalists Association. I also scribe on boxing at NY Fights. My essay "My Black Grandpa" was shortlisted as "Best of Folklore" by The Bitter Southerner in 2018. My first work of fiction, "Eat 'Em Up, Tigers!" was published in Detroit Stories Quarterly in the 2020 summer edition.