The crux of The Crown’s fifth season takes place between 1991-1997, following the royal family’s turbulent 90s—multiple divorces, political upheaval, and growing dissatisfaction from the public. Episodes like “Mou Mou” trace the backstory of the Al-Fayed family to 1940s Egypt. While the season’s sixth episode, “Ipatiev House,” takes us to Russia and the assassination of the Romanov family.
All of this time-jumping and world-building make for a rich viewing experience. For Hair and Make-Up Designer Cate Hall and her team, their task was two-fold: conquer the royals and their recent history, with the iconic looks still fresh in people’s minds. And take the audience around the globe in bottle episodes packed with side characters requiring distinct and period-accurate hair and makeup.
Hall, twice Emmy-nominated for her work on the Netflix hit, breaks down the key looks from season five of The Crown below:
Awards Daily: Cate, the last time we talked, you were very early in season five prep, and you told me about the pictures of royals all over your house. Take me back to that time.
Cate Hall: It was pretty overwhelming, having to do it all again but with different people. But equally, because we’d had all that time off during the pandemic, you sort of think, ‘Oh, I might have forgotten how to do my job.’ And actually, it was super brilliant because we learned so much during seasons three and four. I think the brilliant thing about this job is being able to take everything we learned and do it better. We continued to improve, and I felt way more confident in my choices. Instead of agonizing over every decision and thinking about it at night, I would just be like, ‘Yeah, that’s it. That’s what we need to do.’ And it was lovely.
I think I spoke to you really early on in that process, and it was actually quite a long build-up to season five, which is ideal because to do the best work, I think you need a bit of perspective. So, you do a bit, and then you step back, and then you do a bit more. We had these frenzied fittings where we tried to get things done to these extreme deadlines. I had this lovely experience of being able to do a few hours with someone, go off, make some improvements to the wig, come back to them the next week, and we’d have both been able to reflect. It was such a wonderful experience, albeit overwhelmed by pictures! As we got closer, the amount of photographs available felt like it tripled with every year we covered.
AD: What lessons did you take from seasons three and four, and what changes did you make to your approach?
CH: It was about starting to feel really confident about what to ignore when looking at how to make a transformation feel authentic. Actors come in having already done loads of research because they’re super focused on the one person they’re playing. They’ll come in and say, ‘I know that when they were younger, they fell off their bike, and this happened. So they’ve actually got this scar here.’ It’s an irrelevant detail that doesn’t shape someone’s general impression. And I think the thing that we’re trying to do is to create this outline that an actor can sit into, that the audience can recognize and then almost forget. Instead of having distracting hair and makeup, it’s almost about feeling confident about what not to do rather than what to do. Our choices were about getting the skin tone right, getting the color tones in the hair and eyebrows and that outside shape, but not focusing too much on details like, ‘Do we need the eyes to slant downwards, or do we need to make a narrower nose?’ You can get a bit waylaid by those things, which can get distracting.
I think the extra confidence I felt this time was in those early stages of prep, being able to say to an actor, ‘Trust me, we don’t need to do that.’ Or, if they want to wear contacts, say, ‘We can try them. But believe me, It won’t do what you think it will do. We don’t need it.’ I felt quite empowered in my role as I entered seasons three and four because I’d done it for a season. But you still feel like you’re the newbie, but coming into season five, I felt empowered and comfortable in my role. And so many of the actors came in having seen the work, so I didn’t feel I had to earn their trust as much. A couple of them would say, ‘I love your work.’ And that felt extraordinary because then you don’t have any anxiety.
AD: Amazing. And we have to talk about Diana, Elizabeth Debicki. What was the time frame that you were covering in season five?
CH: It was ’91 to ’97. That was a shorter period than I was used to because the previous two seasons had accelerated through time. In those seasons, I focused not only on transformations but trying to evolve the show visually so that when you started in one period, without even realizing it, you were visually ending in a different period. Although that happens a little bit in season five, it’s far less extreme from ’91 to ’97. In truth, that was way easier. But of course, everybody’s so well-known, and in recent memory, I think that was harder. You’re trying to create the Diana that we remember because it’s the last Diana.
AD: What I found fascinating about her hair and makeup is that we’re seeing the fairytale wearing off. We see the stress, the weight loss, and the physical toll of the pressure Diana is under.
CH: I think there was a kind of dual thing happening, which was, on the one hand, we know she was psychologically highly vulnerable. There was the Panorama interview. All around her separation and divorce from Charles, the paranoia and anxiety were really extreme. But at the same time, she was also sort of evolving into this world-class global megastar. And it was odd because as she was freed from the royal family, it was like she kind of sat into and assumed that megastar persona. I think some of that anxiety and emotional stuff, obviously, is in the performance, and some of it, again, is in the makeup, particularly that wonderful, really heavy eye makeup and lots of it. But she cried so much that there was often quite beautiful, distressed makeup that we could do and red pencil in her waterline. These are really subtle things.
But I think the really interesting thing was that while Elizabeth was doing all of that in her performance, we were also creating this kind of global icon. So that first wig, that was the Sam McKnight haircut, you know, where she had a crop, and it was really tight to the nape, which is not that I think of as flattering or feminine, but actually, she looked incredible, and she inspired an entire world of haircuts.
AD: Tell me more about the wigs we see this season.
CH: So all the wigs are made by the same wig maker, Alex Ross, in the U.K. I don’t think there’s a principal character who’s not in some kind of wig or at least a hairpiece. Dominic West has a tiny hairpiece, but they’re mainly all in wigs. Elizabeth’s had three phases. She had the crop, which was brilliant because it was permed. Wigs are permed slightly. Differently, it’s like boiling washed on a tiny, tiny wooden dowel. And what that means is the hair follicles are really distressed, so it gives you this kind of texture that feels real. We kept dyeing the wig again and again to get an ashier tone. Then we dyed the roots to make it three-dimensional. But because it was permed with the dressing and setting, we used pins to help define the wave. So that was lovely. And then we set it so that it would really hug her neck because, obviously, trying to pull off a full nape, a really close nape on a wig like that, is difficult.
And then, we moved into a much more modern era of hairdressing, so the colors I chose were more honey and golden. But still with that kind of silvery blonde highlight because Diana was much, much blonder by the end. The condition of the hair also got better, and it’s glossier and straighter and longer, and it’s almost in a bob at the end. So we had to try and evolve through those episodes to land on her final hairstyle in season six. But we had to ensure in the middle that we had her hair long enough to do Panorama because we knew that people would create side-by-side pictures. So we had to have that middle phase where she’s growing out that first hairstyle, and then suddenly she’s got much longer hair. So she’s got three different styles, six different wigs.
AD: And what about Queen Elizabeth? The shape of her hair is so iconic.
CH: So wiggy. I think that’s the thing that’s so frustrating. It’s such a niche, and it looks like a wig. I think it looks like a wig on a human when it’s their own hair, let alone when it is a wig. So we’re trying to do all these little things to make the hair look really translucent. We covered all of Imelda’s own hair with concealer and used bald pieces under the wigs so that you could see through them to see skin. With Imelda’s wigs, we wet set them and used a wig oven. We bake them on rollers, and then we dress in the nape of Imelda’s hair; we frazzle it with little tongs to create a shadow because people have darker hair at the neck, which helps everything blend. We created this translucent kind of frothy quality to the hair.
AD: What element or character did you find the most difficult? What did you particularly enjoy?
CH: Dominic West as Charles because Dominic is just so attractive. [Laughs]. So to try and find that kind of Charles-y shape for him, I think what helped this time was a tiny little hairpiece to shape the hairline, and we added a little more gray in his hair. We also used these earpieces to push his ears forward so they’re not extended.
My favorite was probably Olivia Williams’ transformation into Camila because Olivia, again, is just so beautiful in a very English-period drama way. So, you put that wig on, and it’s the wig that really sells it. She’s so good.
I think, difficulty-wise, it was Mohamed Al-Fayed. Again, it was a full nape wig with North African texture and very, very see-through on top. Salim [Daw] has hair, and he has dark hair. So again, covering up his own hair to try and sell the silhouette of Mohamed Al-Fayed is pretty tough.
AD: Speaking of side-by-side comparisons, what is that moment like for you when the pictures come out and people on the internet are praising your work?
CH: That’s amazing. I think the fear of that moment is the thing that we live with all the time. And it’s funny when we go in these two-season bundles because, of course, for the first season, while you’re shooting, you’re in a bubble because nobody has seen the work, nobody is commenting on it, and you’re all living in this happy judgment-free bubble. And you know, the bubble is going to burst, and you just think, ‘Oh, but it was it was such a thrill, season five coming out because I think the transformations really worked.’
AD: Last time we talked, I asked you to tell me about unexpected details, and I remember you told me that the eyebrows would surprise people because you spend way more time on eyebrows than people think. Was that still true for season five?
CH: There’s so much eyebrow work. Just always.
CH: I’m always mystified, but it feels like it’s always ‘the thing.’ You can’t get the wig right and not the eyebrows because they have to be friends, the wig and the eyebrows. Yeah, we’re still mad about the eyebrows. And I won’t tell you which characters because there are quite a few. There’s one I really like, Princess Anne. Poor Claudia [Harrison], who usually gets her eyebrows threaded, but we told her not to touch them. She hated them and was like, ‘As soon as we wrap, I’m going to get my eyebrows threaded.’
AD: Looking back, what’s your magic trick of the season, where you go, ‘I can’t believe we pulled that off.’
CH: Let me think about this! Panorama definitely felt like a big tick in the box. And I think the ‘revenge dress’ moment because that was something that people had been waiting for so long, right?
I haven’t talked about Jonny Lee Miller. Who in the world thought Jonny Lee Miller could look so like John Major? He was just amazing. He was an amazing actor to have in the chair. And I loved cutting his wig. I loved it so much. It just went on beautifully. And the nape, you know, normally napes are like our nemesis, and they stick out, and they just do really annoying things. And Jonny just sat there and made all of the fittings we did feel so easy. Once the wig was cut, it was done.
Oh, we haven’t talked about the Russians and the massacre of the Romanovs and King George V. We shot almost every decade in the 20th century for episode three, “Mou Mou” where we did the backstory of the Al-Fayeds, which is the one we’re nominating. That was set in Alexandria, Egypt. It was so cool to do period work on a totally different continent. and I loved doing it. And the director of that episode, Alex Gabassi, is this great, inspiring Brazilian guy. And he’s like, ‘We’re going to have Lia Williams do young and old Wallis Simpson when she’s dying. But don’t worry; it’ll be fine.’ And she was really on board with it. We did the makeup and this lovely distressed gray wig. I think the way he shot it was so beautiful.
We jumped through all these different periods, and there was a complete picture with all of the laying on with the beards, and all of the special effects with the massacre of the Romanovs, and the dirt and having been in captivity. I think there was this complete world. What I really loved about season five is that it took us to the world of Egypt from the 40s through to the 80s, and it took us to Russia, and we managed to complete this vignette that felt, I think, quite authentic.
AD: There’s so much world-building in one episode. That’s so impressive.
CH: Yes, time traveling and world-building. And, you know, when we got the scripts for season five…’Whoa!’ Because we’ve got this whole cast of lookalikes to establish and transformations. And then, at the same time, we’re researching every period in the 20th century. Season six almost felt easy by comparison.
AD: What can you tell me about season six?
CH: I mean, people die.
AD: [Laughs]. Is that it?
CH: It was an amazing experience, and it was a lovely thing. We do a tiny bit of worldbuilding and time-traveling things. But mostly, we got to drill down into the story with our people and know that we were finishing it. That held extra weight, and of course, the queen died, which brought its own weight to what we were feeling. There were layers of emotion in terms of what we were prepping and doing. I mean, the thing with season five, because of the pandemic, the working conditions were way harder because we did all of that stuff in crazy masks and visors and goggles and testing numerous times a day. And it was so intense that season six just felt like this huge relief. It makes me feel prouder of season five because we had to push through so much to get it to come together. And it came together beautifully.
AD: Is there anything that I haven’t asked you that you’d like to mention?
CH: I think, for me, it’s that worldbuilding in episode three with the kids, Wallis Simpson and the Duke of Windsor, taking those characters and kind of reliving them. With Diana, even though it’s less attractive, I prefer her first wig—that first look and somehow pulling off that hairstyle. I think Sam McKnight said we were the first people to get it right. And I nearly threw up.
The Crown is streaming now on Netflix.