Boots Riley’s film debut Sorry to Bother You is on track to be this summer’s must-see indie film. The social commentary is raw, the tone is fun and the plot is refreshing. The characters’ Afropunk looks also helps distinguish this movie. We recently sat down with make-up department head Kirsten Sage Coleman to explore the process of prepping for this job, the challenges it presented and the overall experience of creating the make-ups for this film.

Sorry to Bother You
Director Boots Riley (left) on the set

Make-Up Artist magazine: How did you come to be involved in Sorry to Bother You

Kirsten Sage Coleman: Luck. A friend referred me. I had a meeting with Boots and some of the producers before reading the script. I had no idea what I was getting into but naturally that changed within the first five minutes of sitting down with Boots and he revealed the equisapien designs to me. I knew I had to be a part of this unique and rare project and help Boots’ vision become a reality. It was one of those few times in life where you walk in the right door at the right time.

MA: What interested you about this project? 

Coleman: Reading the script I was shocked something so interesting had fallen in my lap. Initially it left me with a “What did I just read?” feeling. However, it felt fresh, edgy, really special and fit my personality of style, humor and the types of projects I look to be part of. I was drawn into the intentional insanity and absurdity and wanted to be a part of this art piece that was riddled with positive messages of awareness and inspiration.

Sorry to Bother You
Lakeith Stanfield as Cassius Green

MA: What was prepping for this job like?

Coleman: It was jam packed with creative decisions and research, with little time to do so. Communicating with Boots via email or text constantly about the development of each character’s look.

Short, really short. There wasn’t enough time to get through every decision that needed to be made about these characters, so it was constant communication with Boots. After the actors were cast, everyone had put a lot of thought into how they wanted to look and most wanted to push the limits and do something that was unique for them, ways that previous, more conservative roles don’t really lend themselves to. While it was short, it forced a lot of collaborating from a lot of very talented people, very quickly.

Sorry to Bother You
Kirsten Sage Coleman with Stanfield in the chair

MA: How did you come to develop each character?

Coleman: The characters and the looks really came from combination of Boots, Deirdra [Elizabeth Govan] (costume designer), the actors and myself. Everyone had ideas and we all took those ideas as building blocks for each other, constantly back and forth till we fully shaped the personalities that were authentic to the character. A lot of care and love went into building this world, it was extremely special that we were all on the same page and so down to do this as a team.

MA: What were some of the challenges of this job?

Coleman: All of it. Such a diverse script with every department having its challenges, on such a short schedule, not everyone is built for this. From Tessa [Thompson’s] 15-ish looks and not having enough prep time to establish even three of them, to the timing and technical skill of doing full-body tattoo cover for Lakeith [Stanfield] every day (shout out to my key Josie Rodriguez for handling that), everything is some sort of challenge in its own right, you just have to find solutions and keep moving. For most of the days, my team consisted of just myself and my key … Between the both of us, we had our work cut out for us.

Sorry to Bother You
Omari Hardwick stars as Mr. _____

MA: What are you most proud of? 

Coleman: Getting a chance to work on a movie like this and have it reach such a wide audience is pretty rare. Boots’ voice is so original and such a departure from what we have been so conditioned into seeing nowadays, the odds were stacked against him even getting a chance to make the movie, never mind a company like Annapurna picking it up and doing a good-sized release for the film. A lot of people put in a lot of hard work to make this film happen, like most films, but a lot of times on indies you don’t get a chance to be recognized. When a film does well, it feels like all of that hard work went towards something worthwhile.

It’s nice to be part of something that is going to galvanize a new group of filmmakers with original ideas and the bravery to do something different. Also, I am proud to have helped be a part of the creation process of Detroit’s [Thompson] strong, intelligent and fearless character. She is a strong, individual, independent role model for women of all ages and her outspoken free spirit is truly something that we do not always see in our females in film. At least not nearly enough.

Sorry to Bother You
Thompson on set

MA: Is there anything you wished you could have done differently?

Coleman: Not particularly. It would have been nice to have more prep time and more weeks to shoot the movie but that was never how this film was going to be made. The film you plan for and the film you shoot are always two different things. After you are on set, in the chaos of trying to make this film in 20 some odd days, your ideas become living breathing animals. For better or worse the decisions you make should live and die in those moments.

MA: Did you use any new techniques? Or favorite techniques? 

Coleman: No new techniques on the technical side but I feel like I approached Detroit’s many looks from a much more freer and an uninhibited place than you normally do for a movie that isn’t this loud, so to speak. Going for it with that character, day in and day out, with Tessa has definitely evolved how I will look to break boundaries, that make sense for the movie/character, in some of the more traditional ways we tell ourselves to “do” or “don’t” as make-up artists.

Sorry to Bother You
Thompson on set

MA: What was one of the tools or products you couldn’t have lived without?

Coleman: European Body Art Endura Skin Tone Edition liquid airbrush make-up to cover Lakeith’s full-sleeve tattoos every day and my favorite Botnia Rose Water Toner to help keep everyone’s skin hydrated and happy. Organic natural skincare is my secret to having my actors’ skin actually get better as we shoot. Plus, when the skin is prepped well, it’s protected from any undesirable ingredients from the make-up.

MA: What was your favorite part about working on this movie? 

Coleman: It was inspiring being around all of the talent that went through my chair. Not to mention getting to work with Boots, Deirdra, and of course my team, made a lot of long, tough days worth it. Seeing what we were all creating kept it all going. I think everyone knew this was a special project that really only comes once in a lifetime. It feels good to have been able to be a part of this little piece of film history.


For a Beauty Breakdown on one of Tessa Thompson’s looks in Sorry to Bother You, buy Issue 133 here