“Men in eye makeup—I’ve always loved that. I did ‘Zoolander’ years ago,” says Naomi Donne. Twenty-two years later, the British hair and makeup designer has notched her third Oscar nomination for creating Robert Pattinson’s revelatory—and real—aesthetic in Matt Reeves’ “The Batman.” From “Cruella” to “Empire of Light,” Donne talks about the importance of collaboration and explains why even the Dark Knight needs support.
Does your initial approach vary depending on the project and genre?
Funnily enough, no. I read the script, I start researching, and I research even if it’s contemporary. It’s always good to work with a director who has strong visual ideas; it pushes you in different directions than you might have gone. For instance, Matt wanted Batman to look like Kurt Cobain, and I had to know where [Reeves] was going with this character before I could start working out how he should look. He wanted to create a complete world—a different world for Batman to live in. I’m known for doing people or situations that look very real. Matt wanted that; he wanted black eyes, and that rock ’n’ roll look to be a residual effect of those black eyes.
What was Pattinson’s response to his character’s look?
He loved the reality of it all and was incredibly game to go with whatever Matt wanted. We had to paint his eyes black all the time in the cowl—otherwise, it would’ve looked a bit weird. He was very used to that black eye makeup, and he went with that look. Zoe Tahir, who was the head [hair] designer, did that stringy rock ’n’ roll–type Kurt Cobain haircut, and it all worked incredibly well together.
What conversations did you have with costume designer Jacqueline Durran?
We’ve done four or five projects together now. I absolutely love working with her, because it’s totally collaborative. She suggested I do “The Batman.” It’s not my usual cup of tea. What I do with Jacqueline is: We sit down like I do with the director, and we go through all the characters. We’re together [during] all the fittings, and we bounce [ideas] off each other. It’s all very close.
Do you oversee every person on the hair and makeup teams?
On [“The Batman,”] I didn’t do any hair; usually I do both. On that, Zoe Tahir did the hair. I designed every single look, apart from [makeup designer] Pat McGrath’s [look for Catwoman] and Penguin, which is a whole other subject. I designed all the looks; I designed the train gang fighting in the rain, which is a really strong look. Another idea from Matt Reeves [was] to have that rough, painted “like they did it themselves” look. So I made [the actors] do it themselves and then tweaked it.
Colin Farrell is unrecognizable as Oz, aka the Penguin. Can you discuss your collaboration with prosthetics designer Michael Marino?
Mike Marino and I have a very long relationship working together—we started nearly 20 years ago. I met him when I was doing Charlie Kaufman’s film “Synecdoche, New York.” On that film, the prosthetic person dropped out, and I had to find someone very fast. They recommended Mike Marino, and I was absolutely blown away by his work. We’ve worked together over the years frequently, so when this other guy dropped out, Matt Reeves goes, “Well, who are we going to get?” I said, “You’ve got to get Mike Marino.” Mike is a Batman comic book freak. He’s such a good prosthetic makeup artist. He had a relationship already with Colin; they’d worked together before. What could [have been] a nightmare was actually a joy. That makeup was so skillful that if I didn’t know it was makeup, I wouldn’t have known it was someone in makeup.
How much time did it take to put together Farrell’s look each day, and what measures do you take when an actor has to spend long periods of time in the makeup chair?
They got it [down] to under two hours; at first, it was three to four. Mike’s really fast when he gets going. It was two people applying it and maybe one other person on hands or something. And it was about two hours in the end, which is incredibly fast. [Actors] do different things: play movies, listen to podcasts, go to sleep, whatever they need. You make the chair incredibly comfortable, and time goes by. Some people think about the scene they’re playing or learn their lines. When you have makeup that’s really good, it helps the actor find [their] character. That’s what happened with Colin—he found his character through his makeup and his bodysuit.
You began shooting the film before the pandemic, and then you had to return to set. What was that adjustment like?
It was huge. We were one of the first films that went back [to filming]. The producers called me and said, “What do you think it would take to make everybody feel safe?” I said, “We need to get out of the trailers. You need to make a building for us.” I designed a prefab modular building. It had two floors, and it was 100 feet long. In it, we had a makeup room and a hair room, and it allowed social distancing. We had a huge welfare area and private makeup rooms upstairs for actors if they felt worried about being in a room with other people. We did that, and it was incredibly successful. The actors felt totally safe and secure, and no one got COVID-19 through us, ever. It made life very difficult for the whole film industry, but it became the norm, and we carried on; we found a way through it. Makeup’s on the front line; you’re so close to the actors for long periods of time. Everyone was collaborating to try to find ways to make people feel and be safe.
How do you build a rapport with actors, and what are the benefits of working with the same people over time?
You’re going on a journey with them; you’re supporting them. And that journey you go on will be reflected in how they look. When you have a strong relationship with an actor, you can do that, because it becomes an instinct. And you’re going to the same place that they are, which can sometimes be very emotional—and almost painful if they’re really good. You can help them look the way they want to look and be able to express what they’re feeling; you can only do that if you’re quite close. I’m thinking particularly of Olivia Colman, because we did this film “Empire of Light.” I went on that journey with her.
It’s vitally important to have a good rapport with your artist. As far as Emma [Thompson] goes, we’ve done five or six—maybe more—films [together]. “Cruella” was a big one that was exciting, because when an actor trusts you, they sit there and put their face in your hands. She doesn’t have any vanity, Emma. She’s matter-of-fact about what she needs to do.
What advice would you give someone who’s new to the industry?
Get as much training as you possibly can. All of that training got me where I am today, because knowing what to do gives you the confidence to take risks and create something. I would look for someone well-trained or willing to carry on getting trained, and to get trained in hair and makeup.
This story originally appeared in the Feb. 23 issue of Backstage Magazine.