Matt Damon and Julianne Moore get the retro treatment in Suburbicon
We like to think of the 1950s as a simpler, happier time where people lived in homogeneous houses with neatly trimmed lawns and white picket fences. Suburbicon turns this idea on its head.
Set in 1959, the George Clooney-directed film is a dark comedy that uncovers an ugly truth of these neighborhoods on dual fronts. Though things look innocent, Suburbicon blends the vileness of racism and segregation with a quirky murder mystery.
Gardner (Matt Damon) and Rose (Julianne Moore) are the Lodges, a straight-laced family whose idyllic life is shattered one night when their house is robbed. During the break-in, Rose is accidentally killed by an overdose of chloroform. Rose’s twin sister, Margaret (also played by Moore), moves in to help Gardner and his son, Nicky (Noah Jupe), cope with the tragedy. In no time, Margaret starts transforming herself to look like her sister and assumes all the “wifely” duties of the household. When an insurance investigator (Oscar Isaac) starts poking around, it raises the possibility that Rose’s death may have been intentional.
As make-up department head, Julie Hewett oversaw the task of giving the cast a 1950s suburban feel. Having a passion for period films, she relished the opportunity to create characters that embodied that era.
“Oftentimes, it is more Sears catalogue than Vogue, but it’s fun to do both,” says Hewett. “In the case of Suburbicon, I researched the actual story it is based upon—a new town in Pennsylvania in the early 1950s. It was truly a middle-class town. But as research indicated, most of the women did not leave the house without their hair done and lips on. Men were clean-cut without a lot of facial hair—short sideburns and well-groomed.”
The costumes, designed by Jenny Eagan, helped to inspire Hewett and her team that included Maha Lessner, Eleanor Sabaduquia and key Aurora Bergere. Hewett took her cues for status and style from the outfits. “I always try to mix it up, giving each background player his or her own story in addition to the principals and day players,” Hewett says.
Elaine Offers, who frequently works with Moore—including on such films as The Hours, Freedomland and Non-Stop—was in charge of creating the looks for both Rose and Margaret.
“Julianne and I worked together on the Todd Haynes 1950s film Far From Heaven, so making her up again for the period was very familiar,” says Offers. “Jeri Baker (Moore’s hairstylist) and I both had a lot of research material from the period … mostly real working-class family photos.”
Rose was once a great beauty, but as the film opens, she is in a wheelchair and a shadow of her younger self. To reflect this, the initial decision was to use minimal make-up. But when combined with the muted wardrobe, blond wig and wheelchair, Rose came off as too drab and tragic. Clooney, Moore and Offers concluded that Rose would have made some effort to maintain her appearance. With that in mind, Offers enhanced the make-up but also made sure the look reflected the character’s faded spirit.
Margaret started out with a brunette wig, augmented by a simple, classic ’50s make-up. Offers described it as the everyday look most women of that time had. “There certainly was not the variety of make-up like we have today,” adds Hewett. “A woman had pressed powder, brow pencil and a couple of lipsticks in her beauty arsenal.”
After Rose’s untimely end, Margaret bleaches her hair blond to resemble her sister’s younger, more glamorous look. Offers adjusted the make-up to indicate her attempt to look more like a starlet of the time.
“The 1950s was a great period for beauty. The stars of the day were Elizabeth Taylor, Kim Novak, Debbie Reynolds, to name a few,” continues Hewett. “The top lipstick in the early 1950s was Revlon’s Fire and Ice. Elaine chose a period red for Julianne that was perfect. The look was full, matte mouth and defined, arched brows.”
“Skin Illustrator Glazing Gels in Sun Burn 1 and Red 3 were mixed and applied to Julianne’s lips with a moistened Q-tip to give a stained, shapely flush,” explains Offers. “Depending on the day, Cherry ChapStick, Elizabeth Arden Eight Hour Cream Lip Protectant Stick Sheer Tint SPF 15 #05 in Berry or Julie Hewett Bijou Lipstick in Lulu was layered on top of the stain.”
Hewett adds, “I have a line of lipsticks that have hues that work with every period and are old-school, long-lasting! My Noir lipsticks we used were Gem, Rouge and Belle—all perfect for the era.”
As Moore takes impeccable care of her skin, very little prep was needed when the actress arrived for make-up. Offers would apply Skyn Iceland Hydro Cool Firming Eye Gels under her eyes before sending her off to Baker to get her hair wrapped.
To turn Moore into Margaret, Offers started with Koh Gen Do Maifanshi Makeup Color Bases in yellow and lavender pink to address redness, neutralize and brighten Moore before foundation. “I’ve had great results on several films with Julianne, this one included, with KGD Maifanshi Moisture Foundations … usually a mix of 012 and 013,” she adds. “Their loose powder was also used on set, along with Visiora PC Compact Powder in 002 and 003.”
Offers stippled Honest Beauty’s Truly Thrilling Crème Blush into the foundation before powder to give it some color. She followed this with Nars Amour Blush. Moore’s eyes were shaped with Viseart’s Neutral Matte Eyeshadow Palette. Offers topped this off with Monda Studio Lash D-Wispy and L’Oreal Voluminous Volume Building Mascara in Black Noir.
Chrissie Beveridge oversaw Damon’s make-up. The two are no strangers, having worked together numerous times, including Jason Bourne, Downsizing and Behind the Candelabra, which earned Beveridge an Emmy. Beveridge reveals she didn’t have to do much to take the actor back to the 1950s. Instead, she credits hairstylist Kelvin R. Trahan for the spot-on look.
“To be honest, the hair is just so central—typical of the late 1950s,” says Beveridge. “The make-up was fairly straightforward. I just evened up the skin tone with Visiora Cream Face Makeup, which I absolutely love and have been using for years and years. It’s very fine, it stays and it gets right into the skin.”
Instead, Beveridge’s fun came as the events of the story unfold and begin to take their toll on Damon’s character. “He’s beaten up by thugs—bloodied, black eyes, glasses are broken. He gets a bloody nose and it goes from there,” she says. “He gets to look quite bad … a disaster, really … all in a very short space of time.”
Beveridge did all of the injuries with straight make-up. There was never any discussion of using transfers or pieces. “I will avoid prosthetics if I can,” she says. “I think of the time the actor has in the chair. You don’t want that to be a long time and it didn’t need to be a long time. So, it worked well.”
Beveridge’s weapon of choice is Skin Illustrator’s Lois Burwell Signature Series On Set Palette. “Great colors—burn colors, blood colors,” she says. “It’s small and very handy to take with you.”
But Beveridge adds that she never uses a color straight out of the palette. She’d rather mix and make her own. She describes the color she created for Suburbicon as “bruise blood.” “It was the blood coming up from under the skin and the black eye as it changes color,” she explains.
And it seems the more the character got bruised and beaten, the more Damon got into it. “He loved it. He was in his element,” adds Beveridge.
There was one mark though that can’t be attributed to make-up. Beveridge calls it “the sex in the cellar” scene. During an encounter with Margaret, Gardner spanks her with a ping pong paddle.
“There’s a noise of him slapping her bottom. In fact, Matt was slapping his own bottom,” explains Beveridge. “He couldn’t hurt Julianne. I think he got himself quite bruised.”
Suburbicon opened in theaters on Oct. 27.