You don't accidentally create the most-watched limited series in Netflix history. In order for a television show to cut through the noise and sheer volume of competitors, like The Queen's Gambit did on 64 million screens across the country, everything from the sets to the lighting, costuming, script, hair, and makeup have to be completely unassailable. And Daniel Parker, the show's award-winning makeup artist, did just that.
After months of research, digging through photographs, and watching old films, Parker produced a series' worthy of '50s and '60s-inspired hair and makeup looks that don't just look beautiful but tell the story as well as any script. A period piece, though, particularly one nestled within a tumultuous coming-of-age-story, presents some unique challenges. The series' protagonist, played by It Girl Anya Taylor-Joy, cycles through different decades and ages as well as soaring highs and rock bottoms—all of which Parker was tasked with aesthetically representing.
Byrdie spoke to Parker to get an inside look at what it takes to create for a historical drama, the tragic Old Hollywood actresses who influenced him most, and why Beth just had to be a redhead.
What was the creative process like for creating character inspiration?
First of all, I read the script. I'm actually a painter and sculptor anyhow, I paint portraits and that helps. When I read a script, I have an image in my mind. You get a pretty good idea of what you want from that, and then it's starting to look at photographs. My assistants will show me photographs and I'll say to go find this or that but a lot of it I do myself. There were several photographs that were just, "Right, that's what I’m after, let's get more of that!" and a couple of black-and-white photographs of little children for [Beth's] haircut. I wanted the cut, I just had to find a reason to have it. And I did find a reason.
I found some other photographs, and one of the Hollywood actresses I would say was an influence on the show's later looks was Natalie Wood. But there were others too; other actresses I was thinking about with that lovely, flowing look of the '50s and '60s—particularly the 50s. The winged eyeliner and the lip colors and things like that were all of that period. And to be honest with you, I love doing eyeliner. Everyone says, "Oh my god, it's the most perfect eyeliner and it's kind of like, "Well thank you but I really just enjoy doing it." And I love the period, I love the '40s and '50s and '60s. Amazing periods for makeup and hair.
What about those time periods speak to you?
Because a lot of it is about the makeup and hair—it is about that look. I remember when I was a kid, my mother always had a compact with, y'know, the powder thing and always the lipstick, always had it. Everything was in that handbag; that was the look. And, of course, then you have the beautiful clothes as well. Gabriele Binder did an amazing job with the costumes.
What was the filming process like?
Anya and I have become very good friends. We have a lovely director, lovely producers. The actors in general were really lovely, I have to say. It was a very nice project to work on, I mean really nice. The period is one I love and don't often get a chance to do with my makeup.
Do you have a favorite memory from working on-set?
I could actually go on for a long time because there were actually a lot of great memories. I think working with Anya almost every day was good. She's a wonderful person to work with and it was fun to do. There were some great sets and some great actors. I don't think there was any particular moment because there were a lot of moments, like seeing one of our producers who's an old friend of mine, Marcus Loges, playing fluffy-haired chess champion Luchenko. He's one of our producers and I persuaded him to grow a beard and mustache like mine—that was fun! It was just very nice to work on in many ways but it was extremely hard work. We never really had enough time to prep as much as I would have liked to have prepped it. We started in Canada and did about a week's worth of filming there, and Anya arrived the day before we started shooting. So, all the wigs and everything had to be cut the day she arrived—the day before we started filming.
Did Anya help inform her character and her looks for you at all or was it all preplanned and structured?
I never plan anything rigidly before; I like things to flow. I had my ideas and those ideas director Scott Frank agreed with, and Anya agreed with as much as she could from a distance. Everybody agreed that she should be a redhead—and we all agreed that independently, anyhow. When I was reading the script, I mean she was a redhead to me! And when I talked to Scott, he said "Yes, she's a redhead” and Anya wanted her to be a redhead. So this was a preordained sort of thing. And as far as the look goes, I had known I wanted a young gamine look. And I wanted the scene when she gets her hair cut off to be severe because this is your world, you’re now here. We own you! And the hair-chopping scene says that. I would have liked it even more severe.
On the subject of liner, Beth's breakdown episode (Episode 6, Adjournment) is a standout with her incredible graphic eyeliner. What was the inspiration for that?
The look came from [1960s singer] Mariska Veres. Beth is dancing around to this song, Venus, which is by Mariska Veres. So the whole idea is that she is copying the Mariska Veres makeup but doing it badly, which is a very difficult thing to do as a makeup artist. To do makeup but badly is one of the most difficult thing a good makeup artist can do, as well as one of the most difficult things I could do. It just goes against the grain completely because all you want to do is make it perfect and right. I made her look ill, slightly sweaty, everything she's not meant to look was there. And it worked really well. It's amazing how much reaction I've had to that makeup.
Do you have a particular technique or any tips on getting perfect liner?
A steady hand and lots of practice. To be honest with you, it's something I've always been able to do well. You know the actress Jessica Chastain? She once said to me, "Daniel, you just do the best eyeliner in the world." And she’s very fussy about makeup, I love Jessica. Another redhead!
The series finale (Episode 7, End Game) and last shot are incredible with the all-white costume, red lips, and winged liner. Tell me about the creation of that look.
We shot this a year ago so I can't remember specifics or anything but the thing is, that makeup and hair in that final shot is one of the nicest bits of makeup I think I've ever done. She looked absolutely like a million dollars. I was really pleased with it. And the costume worked. The white with the red hair and this pale face with the red lips and the eyeliner—one last closeup, it's there to give you goosebumps and it does. It's fantastic.
How did you construct the more everyday or "typical" Beth look?
To be honest with you, there really was no everyday look with her. This is a girl who grows up and basically, it had to look like when she was younger, she wasn't wearing any makeup. But in order to create that, you have to use makeup sometimes. I had to make her younger than she really is and then look older than she really is. Every look had to have its own set, its own bag. "That’s that look, that wig goes with that." And then there were looks inside the looks which is why continuity on something like that becomes very complicated. You're not just dealing with different periods, you're also dealing with different ages. And you're dealing with the story—the makeup is there to help tell the story.
Another thing we did tend to have was one, two, or even three different makeup changes in a day. Sometimes four, actually. The makeup would always be refreshed because we were always changing from one period to another. We're changing the makeup, we're changing the wig. So you'd start off with a younger period with a younger wig and then go from there. I organized it with the assistant director so we'd start off with the younger period and work on to older periods that's adding—adding rouge, adding foundation, adding powder, adding a liner, adding mascara. To add is always quicker, to put on rather than to take away because to take away you would then have to repair.
Any tips on incorporating a period piece-inspired look into real life?
I do character makeup. Any makeup I do, no matter how beautiful it is (or not beautiful it is) is designed to achieve something. I'm aiming to achieve a feeling, a look. So I think the tip I would give is "What do you want to be? Who do you want to be with this look you're giving yourself?" Decide who you're going to be, decide what you want to achieve for the evening. You know, "I want to go out and wham! I want to look a little '60s, I want to look a little bit '50s." Do your research and have fun. Spend some time practicing because it’s not easy and it’s even more difficult to do it to yourself. I've seen some girls and the way they do eyeliner is amazing. One of my daughters is like that, she closes one eye [makes quick swooping motion] and it's superb.