The legendary billboard queen of Los Angeles is well-known for her larger-than-life appearance, with breasts, hair and makeup that could only be rivaled by a Barbie doll or drag queen. That is, until Rossum stepped into the role.
She sat in the makeup chair for upwards of five hours on some shoot days and embodied the icon over six decades, with each time period requiring a totally different set of accouterments. Those included individual prosthetics on her cheeks, chin, lips, nose, forehead, eyelids, breasts and neck. Even her ear lobes required their own unique pieces. Although it sounds like a lot (hundreds of pieces, to be exact), prosthetic designer Vincent Van Dyke told Variety he appreciated the challenge of transforming Rossum without it being obvious how much work went into the process.
“Those are my favorite moments as a prosthetic artist, to be able to step in and do something undetectable … where somebody may not even realize that there are prosthetics involved there to help that situation,” Van Dyke said. “But they’re there and make a big impact.”
The hours-long makeup process may sound daunting, but makeup department head Kate Biscoe commended Rossum for making it enjoyable.
“I have to say, we ended up having a lot of fun,” Biscoe said. “She kept us supplied with Starbucks and had podcasts and did operatic vocal exercises … We would have these little markers. ‘Oh, is it Starbucks time? Yes, something to look forward to.’ ‘Oh, is it podcast time? Yes, “The Daily.”’ Then we’d put on our music playlist. So we always had these little things to look forward to.”
“It doesn’t get much more full on than that makeup,” Van Dyke added.
Of course, it would be impossible for Rossum to look exactly like the real Angelyne (although she comes very close), so it was up to Biscoe to come up with an approach to the character’s appearance. In doing so, Angelyne wasn’t her only inspiration.
“I go into my manic place, where I start to do the research, which I’m quite obsessive about,” Biscoe said. “I look at music, sometimes I look at artwork to get inspiration. Paintings, like Cindy Sherman is a very big influence for me. So it could be even things that are not related to the character, but a vibe — like Gregory Crewdson is another person whose photographs kind of give me a vibe.”
Biscoe brought on David Williams, who had just finished working on Hulu’s “Pam and Tommy,” to join as fellow makeup department head. It made sense, since Lily James’ transformation into Pamela Anderson was also intense, but Williams said it would be wrong to assume that the shows were the same in their approach.
“I came off a show that would be seemingly similar — they were two shows in which breast prosthetics played a role in the show — but the shows were completely different,” Williams said. “All of us don’t tend to get the rom-coms. We tend to get the complex, complicated shows that have a multitude of moving pieces … and I think for all three of us, it’s something that we thrive on and enjoy doing.”
The moving pieces in “Angelyne” were innumerable, since ten other characters go through decades-long transformations, and the show flip-flops between different periods with ease. To conquer that logistical challenge, Biscoe said she requested that each shoot day only focus on one at at time. She also created a spreadsheet that detailed every aspect of Angelyne’s appearance (which is being exclusively published by Variety), and tried to focus her attention on capturing a likeness, rather than a replication.
“Sometimes what makes that what it is in real life … doesn’t make sense on camera,” Biscoe said. “Because if you want to make somebody look exactly like the real person, you may lose the actor.”
“There are certain limitations to someone’s face that you just can’t change — proportions that just cannot be moved,” Van Dyke added. “So you have to start to figure out what’s going to work and honor a likeness … it’s this dance to try and find all of these components and have them come together in a really beautiful way that feels right and balanced.”
Even though Williams, Biscoe and Van Dyke had their own challenges and collaborated with dozens of artists to bring their visions to life, they were united in a shared passion for the subject matter, which is unique to Los Angeles and was especially important for Rossum to represent with care. Without that, none of the challenges would have been possible to overcome, Williams said.
“We’ve all had those experiences over the years, whether we’ve seen or interacted with [Angelyne] or knew who she was,” Williams said. “It’s all fun and kitsch and an exciting part of all of our lives personally to create pieces of our own memories on screen. That’s a rare and unique opportunity that personalizes the experience in a very unique and lovely way.”