Charlie's Angels
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Credit: Chiabelle James // Columbia Pictures

How Melanie Hughes created covert and high-glam makeup looks on Charlie's Angels

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Dec 3, 2019

Any covert agent knows the value of being able to switch up their look for the mission at hand. The women of Charlie's Angels are no different, and the Elizabeth Banks-directed 2019 movie continues this tradition. It isn't all slinky sequin party dresses, as the Angels are prepared for any situation that the many Bosleys (including Banks) throw their way. Not only did the women of the Townsend Agency have all the tools at their disposal, but the creative teams behind the camera were prepared for the variety of intense action scenarios Banks' script threw their way.

"We knew we had to create looks that were smart and beautiful that would have a modern twist," explained makeup department head Melanie Hughes. In designing the "beauty intel" of Charlie's Angels, following contemporary style was important, but they also wanted to deliver a "nod to the iconic '70s medium."

Credit: Columbia Pictures 

Shooting on location across Germany in a variety of weather conditions and terrains meant having to come up with looks "that were applicable to multiple elements," Hughes said. "Whether it was rain, fighting, rock quarries, water tanks, and dance sequences."

Not only does Banks play one of the Bosleys, but she also wrote, directed, and produced the movie meaning she was multitasking throughout production. This film marked Hughes' seventh time working with the multi-hyphenate star, which meant an instant work rapport and shorthand between the two women. Early discussions with the director regarding the makeup concept focused on the idea of a modern twist, as well as showcasing authentic "barefaced" moments alongside "peacock brilliance." "Building upon each girl's character," was how Hughes described the creative process. This wasn't simply a case of creating three cookie-cutter matching looks (except for one specific mission), but rather highlighting aspects of their individual personalities. So what does the makeup reveal about the new Angels?

Credit: Columbia Pictures 

"Edgy understated badass beauty" was how Hughes described Kristen Stewart's character Sabina. Stewart's makeup artist Stacey Panepinto came up with looks ranging "from natural to edgy contemporary bold liners" in a bid to emphasize these characteristics. Naomi Scott's character Elena is the newcomer to the group, so Hughes initially kept "her a little bit more of the organic business beauty realm," but as she became more embroiled in this world they "started pumping her up to really draw you into her eyes and strength." Rounding out the trio is Ella Balinska as Jane, and Hughes explained that she had a "signature smokey brown eye and nude lip that we cranked up for powerhouse sequences."

Credit: Columbia Pictures 

Behind every great woman is another great woman — both in front of and behind the Charlie's Angels camera — and as the seasoned leader Bosley, Hughes made sure to give Banks "strong eyes but yet she had to be interchangeable and built for speed." The latter is in part due to the demands on Banks as an actor and director, as her makeup had to be "layered and buildable.... because she was directing, writing, producing, acting and we were touching her up."

With this many moving parts and a demanding schedule, prep time and trust between the creatives was vital. "She knew we would know what we would need for that particular scene," Hughes said. "[Including] the pace, the changes, and the timing each day because we had many moves all over Germany."

Credit: Columbia Pictures

To create globe-trotting spies, forward-thinking is essential. And as with the Townsend Agency, it would all fall apart if it wasn't collaborative. Hughes emphasized this aspect, noting that "synchronicity is so important, especially in demanding situations. You're only as good as the people you stand next to." Working alongside the head of the hair department Camille Friend — who Hughes has collaborated with in the past — and costume designer Kym Barrett was a rewarding process as they brought these super stylish characters to life. "We also collaborate with the actors because we're helping them find the character they are presenting on screen," Hughes added, when discussing breathing life into the designs.

The makeup trailer was a hub of positivity (and a disco) for anyone feeling the effects of the physical shoot: "We would have music playing, we would DJ in the trailer." Actors with later call times, including Sam Claflin, Chris Peng, Noah Centineo, and Patrick Stewart, would "have to dance to the makeup chair" upon their arrival. The Angels, Elizabeth Banks, and Jonathan Tucker — and the stunt doubles and triples — would have the earliest call times and the director set the tone: "She was so energized every day, no matter how tired she was." Positivity from those at the top is important and the fun atmosphere of the makeup trailer was a part of "keeping each other going." Hughes added, "I think we all really believed in each other and that kept us stimulated."

Credit: Columbia Pictures

Tucker's character Hodak is covered in tattoos, which was why he had such an early start time in comparison to some of his co-stars. This particular look involved a great deal of pre-production preparation, which Hughes talked us through. The makeup department collaborated with Christian Tinsley Studio, who "designed several different looks of different sleeves, neckpieces, chest pieces with different color variations." This was followed by screen testing the designs when they arrived in Germany to see what "was going to withstand all this stunt work he has to do."

Factors such as body movement, being submerged in water, and readability were also taken into account. By the time it came to shooting, the pre-cut tattoos were "laid out, ready to go." A team helped Tucker and his stunt doubles get ready on time (on some occasions, there were up to three doubles who needed to sit in the chair). The tattoo application process from start to finish would take up to an hour and 45 minutes. Hughes mentioned that Tucker was totally game to the process and "truly dedicated to what he does."

"When I build these makeups it is not like I got to take everyone's makeup off at lunch and start over," Hughes explained. Reliable products are important for time-keeping purposes, as well as what looks good on screen. Hughes divulged some of her go-to items to while shooting Charlie's Angels to SYFY FANGRRLS, so if you want to recreate any of these moments, here is your chance!

Long-lasting is what a lot of makeup brands promise, but don't always deliver — but on a film set with this many action sequences, longevity is a must. "Face Atelier was a foundation that I really depended on this film," along with the MAC Mineralize Skin Finish — Hughes quipped that it sounds like a cliché, but as a brand "it is really tough to match MAC when it comes to the array and the choices."

Credit: Columbia Pictures 

The Angels know the power of bold eyeliner, as does Hughes. One of her favorites on this movie, which she still would use today, is the Bobbi Brown Perfectly Defined gel long-wear eye pencil. The Anastasia Beverly Hills contour cream kit is a palette Hughes found herself repeatedly grabbing. "I would find myself mixing and putting it on like highlighter. Fixing so many things on set at the last minute with that palette."

Lipstick is a big part of the labcoat disguise sequence that Hughes refers to as their "doppelgänger" looks in matching ombre Vidal Sassoon-influenced mushroom wigs designed by Camille Friend. This is one of Hughes' favorite overall concepts and the red Julie Hewett Belle Noir lipstick that all three Angels wear is also a shade in Bosley's makeup arsenal. "That Julie Hewett lipstick really brought us through on the film," explained Hughes. In a different sequence, Hughes paired a pink Jacqueline Julie Hewett lipstick with Bosley's yellow glasses.

Credit: Columbia Pictures 

Other standouts sequences included the sequin party dresses that required a fabulous makeup design to match. "We brought them up to high glam and then they're dancing and fighting." But it isn't just about these magazine-ready concepts, as "there are also moments when they are crying, red-faced, bare-faced, raw, and vulnerable." This is something Hughes relished. "I really like exposing those moments on film too, the reality and authenticity of each woman. Exposing themselves like that and they were willing to go there," she said. "There were moments that it was not high glamour. That's more realistic."

Shooting outside in the cold November temperatures and relentless winds only added to the challenges, including getting sandblasted in a rock quarry. "It was quite fun, but those girls were such troopers," she said. "I think the hot water bottles ended up being one of their favorite items."

Teamwork is a big part of the Charlie's Angels message, which is also essential to every department behind the scenes. Hughes referred to the overall experience as a "unification of heart and art. It was about all of us together and not just one person. That is something I am so proud of." That's definitely an ethos that Bosley and the Angels can get behind.

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