For Peacock’s limited series Angelyne, looks were everything. Getting the visuals of the Los Angeles legend right was vital for sure, but so was imbuing Emmy Rossum’s portrayal of the mysterious billboard model with a sense of humanity, allowing a real character to move and exist beneath the intense makeup and prosthetics.
“This is obviously a herculean, Everest-style undertaking,” explains Rossum, who in addition to starring serves as an executive producer. “You have to have people of a certain caliber to pull this off. Otherwise, you see a mask and you don’t see a human being.” She articulates that while the show takes inspiration from a real person, it’s an interpretation of reality. “We’re not doing a biopic, we’re telling a story that is about a character. But it’s also a fantasy of everything that she represents. Even though the character’s desire is to remain two-dimensional and unknown, you still want to be able to feel like you can connect emotionally. The work has to be at such an insanely high, beautifully perfect level so that you are not looking at a joke. You are looking at a human being. This was the only team that I wanted, otherwise we weren’t going to be able to do it.”
That team, which earned Emmy nominations for prosthetic and contemporary (non-prosthetic) makeup, was composed of prosthetic designer Vincent Van Dyke, head makeup artist David Williams and head of special makeup effects department Kate Biscoe. The designers were tasked with creating looks that aged Rossum to as young as 17 and as old as near 70. “We started sculpting everything at the same time because we were searching for that character across the board,” explains Van Dyke. “A younger stage may help dictate what the older stage actually looks like. As opposed to just doing [each time period] one at a time and finding it individually, there was this really wonderful dance between six different casts of Emmy in the sculpting room.”
Perhaps the crown jewel of the makeup looks was present-day Angelyne, around 70 years old, who is played by Rossum while perched upon a fluffy couch, giving a talking-head interview and looking unrecognizable. Van Dyke designed 12 separate pieces of prosthetics that covered Rossum virtually everywhere: the face, the arms, the sagging bosom.
Beyond those prosthetics, though, the makeup detail employed was extraordinary. Multiple layers of hand-painted color contacts were used to alter Rossum’s oculi. Additionally, “it was Kate’s choice to completely bleach my eyebrows white so that she could paint in the individual hairs in different colors and different shapes,” recalls Rossum. “The nail shapes were all completely done by hand. They would stencil veins throughout people’s bodies. There was even PVC piping custom-cut to be inside my nostrils for the youngest look to alter the shape of my nose from the inside.”
Adds Biscoe: “We also did the teeth, we also had elastic to kind of pull everything in different directions, pulling the face in different directions through different time periods.” She reflects on the specific challenge of designing a character who has, allegedly, had a lot of work done. “Someone with Botox, their face isn’t going to move. But the audience isn’t going to get that — you can’t go, ‘Oh, well, her face doesn’t move anyway,’ because then it’s just going to look fake. It’s the same thing with breast implants. Yeah, they’re fake and they don’t move, but it still makes it look not real. You have to have the natural movement in there.”
Williams spent significant time helping to create the sometimes decades-spanning transformations for supporting characters, as well. “The other old-age characters, I would take care of those and run that aspect of the department,” he explains. “We never put anything on the face that’s going to be distracting — we as makeup artists don’t want you to look at the show and say, ‘Wow, that was really great makeup.’ We want you to look at the performance. We can give a look to the character, but the actress, like Emmy, is the one that gives her life. And Angelyne has so much life. She means so many different things to so many different people.”
The project, which is based on an exposé by THR’s Gary Baum that revealed Angelyne’s true identity, took four years to make because of delays caused by COVID-19 midway through production. There were even concerns they wouldn’t be able to resume the process at all. “It would have crushed me because I emotionally felt like I was investing so much of myself into [the show]. This was something we were really pushing ourselves on. For it not to get wrapped up in a beautiful way would have been really heartbreaking,” admits Van Dyke. “The fact that it came back, that it was the same team and that we were able to accomplish everything that we set out to accomplish stands out in my body of work in a way that is super close to my heart. It’s something that I can’t say about a lot of projects I’ve been on. This one really, really feels different.”
Notes Rossum of her makeup team: “I love them like they are my family. I have spent more hours with them than I have spent with some of my closest friends. Their artistry, commitment, fortitude and their positivity and kindness is really unparalleled. They deserve applause for this because it really is incredible what they did. And I’m just proud to have been part of it with them.”
This story first appeared in a July stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.