A new haircut or shade of lipstick has the power to lift one’s mood, but Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) takes the makeover to superhero heights in WandaVision. Marvel’s Disney+ series has sent fans down a theory rabbit hole regarding the idyllic sitcom suburbia Wanda constructed as a happily-ever-after with Vision (Paul Bettany). From black-and-white hits like I Love Lucy, Bewitched, and The Dick Van Dyke Show to the recent pop culture entries like The Office and Modern Family, Wanda’s journey explores multiple era-defining TV favorites in a bid to suppress her grief.
Rewatching old episodes of these classics was part of the preparation process, and Olsen told ELLE.com she did this to “understand the tones of each era.” The creative teams also needed a firm grasp of specific cultural moments (many of which were dictated by the producers and directors) and drew on personal experiences for additional research. “I used to watch a lot of these shows with my mom after school so I felt like I knew them; they were a comfort to me,” WandaVision makeup department head Tricia Sawyer tells ELLE.com. The pleasure derived from a family comedy is akin to a warm hug, which helps explain Wanda’s choice of genre for this fantasy world.
Talking from London (where they are currently shooting another Marvel project), Sawyer and hair department head Karen Bartek recount WandaVision‘s fast-paced production and their role “overseeing the look of all of the actors and keeping it in the continuity of the Marvel Universe,” says Sawyer. Neither are strangers to the superhero world or Wanda Maximoff, having both worked on Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame (Bartek was also a hairstylist on Ant-Man and the Wasp and Captain Marvel). However, WandaVision is unlike any previous MCU project and worked on a shooting schedule that felt “like a tiny movie shot in one day,” Bartek adds. The pair discuss techniques used for different decades, working with Elizabeth Olsen, and spill behind-the-scenes secrets—but their lips are sealed about the final two episodes.
WandaVision in Black and White
WandaVision isn’t just borrowing its looks from television’s Golden Age; techniques ranging from floating objects on wires to the presence of a live audience add authenticity to the 1950s-set pilot,“Filmed Before A Live Studio Audience.” “We were there the whole time, running in really fast when we had a minute to touch them up—just like a sitcom,” recalls Bartek. She and Sawyer relished this challenge and soaked up the energy levels, which Bartek likened to live theater. Inside Wanda’s white-picket-fence utopia (shot on Warner Bros. Blondie Street, aka the home of Bewitched), the superhero is the picture-perfect vision (no pun intended) of the 1950s housewife ideal, with perfectly curled locks and flawless makeup.
Details down to eyebrow and nail shapes had to be considered, as well as how certain colors translate into black and white. This includes every product from foundation to eye makeup. “Her eyeshadow, to look natural, was a robin-egg blue color,” Sawyer explains of Olsen’s look. “She had a pale, pinky-red nail color.” For her lips, she wore a darker pink shade “to look natural.” Camera tests were required for Olsen, as well as dinner guest Mrs. Hart (Deborah Jo Rupp), but the biggest change for the black-and-white world belongs to Vision. His signature red was replaced by blue to convey the required tone. “We shot a lot of camera tests to get the right shade of blue to look right on camera when he was Vision,” says Sawyer.
Wigs in the ‘60s
Not only are Bartek and Sawyer seasoned in the world of Marvel, but they also drew on their own experiences working on a variety of TV genres. Sawyer’s time on the 1960s-set Mad Men proved a valuable resource from the makeup minutia to larger elements of WandaVision: “The nails, the shapes, organizing the background, all of that comes into play whenever you do a period piece,” she says. Meanwhile, Bartek called on her own experience with “a lot of sitcoms… that was an easy thing for me to go back to.” The hair department head adds, “Every job we work on, we bring into the next job. You’re always learning from other people.”
Bartek also worked on the spy series Alias, in which Jennifer Garner wore a lot of wigs during covert missions as Sydney Bristow. Subterfuge is an ongoing thread in WandaVision —though most of the Westview residents have no idea they’re in disguise—and the rapidly changing hairstyles required an extensive wig collection. Switching from retro curls to poker-straight locks followed by a tight perm is time-consuming (and potentially damaging) for any character. “I think every principal actor had wigs from the ‘50s to the ‘80s. We really couldn’t use anybody’s hair because shot a lot out of order,” Bartek says. “If we needed to do two eras in one day, that wouldn’t work time-wise. We could just pop a wig on and off.” The second episode, “Don’t Touch That Dial” gets an injection of color in the final moments, and this reinforces a Wanda constant—her red hair. “Her styles were so different from era to era, but we kept the color the same,” says Bartek. “We wanted it to stay the MCU original color.”
Bold Blue in the ‘70s
Collaborating with costume designer Mayes C. Rubeo was an important step in crafting a color palette that matched the show’s overall aesthetic. When Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris) is under the control of the Hex as Geraldine, she assists with the birth of Wanda’s twins—before Wanda expels her from Westview. The ‘70s-themed episode, “Now in Color” embraces the bold trends of the decade, such as a pair of fish-print cobalt flares that we later learn are made of Kevlar. “Those pants were everything!” Sawyer exclaims. “We went up to the costume department and [Rubeo] showed us the fabric because the pants weren’t made yet. I talked to [Parris’s] makeup artist [Regina Little] and suggested a blue. She came up with that vibrant fantastic blue and it was perfect. I want to drink it—such a great color.” Little achieved this striking shade by layering “Jada” from the Jacylyn Hill Palette by Morphe and “Nile” from the discontinued Kat Von D Serpentina Palette. (Sawyer suggests “Blitz Blue” by Pat McGrath Labs as a near-identical alternative to Little’s combination).
While Bartek and Sawyer both relished the chance to design for different eras, they favored the older styles. “I find that when actors are in period, they tend to let you go there a little more than when they’re contemporary,” Sawyer says. “They have more fun with it [and] let you play more.” Both say the ‘50s episode was their highlight, but Bartek notes Olsen’s favorite wig was the unrestrained ‘80s curls.
At least one villain has been unveiled, and Kathryn Hahn’s quintessential nosy neighbor Agnes is actually the witch Agatha Harkness. A triple-threat, Hahn sings her own theme song and came to the makeup trailer with an idea for an out-there makeup look for episode 4’s ‘80s theme. Sawyer’s co-department head Vasilios Tanis—“He is like my right arm”—worked with Hahn on the vibrant pink lipstick and heavy purple eyeliner look. “It was like those old aerobics videos, I can flash them in my brain right now,” Sawyer says. “That was her inspiration. Kathryn’s so fun and so game, it just fit her so much.”
Even a show with roots in a larger franchise leaves room for experimentation and collaboration with different departments. “I think actors always come with ideas,” Sawyer says. “They always have certain things they know work and don’t—they have thought about it. Karen and I have talked about this too. We take in everything: the director’s inspiration, costumes and what they’ve designed, and what the actors want. We try to meld them all together with what is actually period.”
A Nod to the Comics in the ‘90s
Episode 6, “All-New Halloween Spooktacular!” offers the chance to reference the comic book illustrations—which definitely don’t fit the look of the MCU aesthetic. “We pulled all the images from the comic when she was in that traditional costume and went off that,” says Sawyer. “And then found a red [“Forbidden Love” lipstick by Pat McGrath] that would work with that look and also with Lizzie’s skin tones.” Riffing on the ultra-revealing Wanda costume (with a suburban mom twist) keeps one foot in the source material and another in sitcom-land, which historically loves a sexy (for network) costume moment. The classic red lip is bolder than Wanda’s fresh-faced makeup and dials up the stylized element.
Layered nods to the comics and sitcoms are viewed as potential clues, but having worked on Marvel movies before, Sawyer and Bartek deftly avoid discussing any spoilers—including the movie they are currently working on. “A lot of people want to find out when it happens,” Bartek reveals when asked if friends and family try to get intel ahead of time. Even though the pair know everything about forthcoming storylines, they’ve turned WandaVision’s weekly installments into “date night” while shooting in London. Joking that they “don’t see each other enough,” Sawyer and Bartek watch the episodes together on their day off. “I can’t imagine doing this journey with anybody else besides Lizzie and Karen because it was hard. I think the first four episodes Karen and I never left set,” says Sawyer. “It was one of the hardest jobs I’ve done, and it was also one of the most pleasurable.”
Agatha All Along
The theme song that’s been playing on a loop in our heads since last week features a shift from color to black and white to accompany the witchy Agatha Harkness reveal. A collaboration between the makeup department and cinematographer Jess Hall was required to pull this transition off. “I worked with the DP pretty closely [for] that switch, and we took her a lot more vibrant, a little more pinky,” says Sawyer of Hahn’s lip color. “He was going to change it a bit in post, so I needed to know how he was going to do it to know what colors to use.” While costume elements have pointed to Agatha’s real identity—a brooch worn each week and a classic witch costume for Halloween—don’t look into the perms and lipstick for more hints. “There weren’t any Easter egg-type references,” Bartek says.
While Sawyer and Bartek don’t possess Wanda- and Agatha-style powers, they do have tricks, techniques, products, and years of experience for those fix-it-in-a-flash moments on set. “A big comb and really good hairspray” are Bartek essentials, and Alterna’s Caviar Working Spray is her go-to choice “because it holds and it’s light at the same time. I really can’t do a job without that.” Sawyer adds, “I, unfortunately, don’t travel that light. I’ve been teased about it my entire life. The one secret weapon? I don’t know. How about this…I think it’s me.”
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