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Pam & Tommy’s make-up and hair squad reveal secrets to unbelievable transformation of Lily James and Sebastian Stan: ‘We made magic happen’

The make-up team behind Pam & Tommy made the impossible happen (Picture: Hulu)

Hulu’s long-awaited biopic, Pam & Tommy, is finally here, which sees Lily James and Sebastian Stan take on the iconic characters in the wake of their infamous sex tape being stolen.

The world was blown away in May when the first images of Lily and Sebastian as Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee were revealed, and the award-winning make-up, hair and prosthetics team behind the transformation have revealed how they got the characters so spot on.

Make-up department head David Williams, Special FX designer Jason Collins and hair department head Barry Lee Moe gave the lowdown on the months of work that went into making Pam & Tommy.

Revealing how the initial conversations around turning Lily into Pamela began, David explained: ‘Both of the actors were doing projects prior to Pam and Tommy, so we had a lot of phone conversations before Jason and I sat down and began comparing the characters that we’re going to be portraying with the actors.

‘We were very focused on the structure and design of what we’re going to be doing on the character with the actor that we’re working with, so we would see pictures of Lily and Pam next to one another to discuss the differences in the facial structure.’

Rebuilding the forehead

Fans were blown away as the first images of Lily James as Pamela Anderson were released in May 2021 (Picture: Hulu)

While many had questioned how Lily, who naturally doesn’t look very much like Pamela at all with dark hair and a different face shape, would turn into the model, the use of prosthetics created the eventual uncanny resemblance.

David explained: ‘After multiple tests occurred, we decided the forehead was the way to go. It was a two-fold problem solver for us – we were going to need to cover Lily’s brows or reshape them in a way that was completely different to her natural brow, so we decided to sculpt a prosthetic forehead.

‘Jason and Autonomous FX sculpted it beautifully and very delicately and finely so that the thickness could be different where we needed it to be, and then create the top of the forehead giving Barry the ability to set the wig back a little further.

The concern is always expression – you don’t want it to be a Botox kind of result.

‘When you look at the facial structure of those two, Pam has a little bit more space on their forehead than Lily does, and so this gave us the ability to create that and to apply those beautiful brows that were done by Sasha Camacho Van Dyck, which were very delicate hand sewn lace pieces.’

Of course, with extensive facial prosthetics comes the issue of ensuring that the actress can still create all the minute facial movements and expressions that they need to portray the character, which required the team to fine-tune the materials used.

Jason revealed: ‘The concern always is expression, because you don’t want it to be like a Botox kind of result where she can’t really emote or have any emotions up there.

Lily and Sebastian’s transformation even took the crew’s breath away (Picture: Hulu)

‘That all comes down to thickness and sculpture, so when you’re sculpting that piece, you want to be very, very careful. It’s a very thin piece because we’re trying to accomplish a couple of things, one of which was to give us a little bit more yardage between the eyebrows and the hairline and the other one was to cover her eyebrows, because Lily has these amazing, beautiful, luscious eyebrows.

‘So if you just covered those up with a small appliance like an eyebrow cover, you’re going to have expression issues because it’s right at the expression line when she’s moving her face. So what we decided to do was take it from two inches past her hairline to right above her eyelid and in doing that, we were able to do the magic trick of hiding the edge somewhere where there’s natural folds.’

As a make-up artist, we are here to aid the performer, not inhibit their performance.

Once the initial prosthetics were created, the team worked with Lily on refinements in the areas where she needed more movement, with Jason adding: ‘As a makeup artist, you’ve really got to listen to that because we’re here to aid the performer, we’re not here to inhibit their performance. So once we listened to her, we changed the plasticity of the appliance and made it elastic so that it gave her much more articulation and emotion and motion out of it whenever she moved it.’

Making Pamela Anderson’s classic smile

Another part of making the prosthetics so seamless involved lightening Lily’s natural brows to make them easier to blend in underneath the thin appliance she had to wear over them, as well as by making upper and lower dentures to emulate Pamela’s famous teeth and smile.

David adds: ‘Pam has a very recognisable smile. There are certain attributes that she has that are undeniably Pam Anderson and that smile is definitely one of them.

‘We wanted to make sure that we gave Lily the ability to speak without interruption or problems from the piece that is put in her mouth, but also replicate that smile, because it’s a smile that’s used in many ways, in many situations. It can convey a number of emotions or feelings.’

To bleach or not to bleach?

So committed was Lily to the character that she even volunteered to bleach her own hair to Pamela’s icy blonde, however it was decided that wigs would be used instead for more practicality and to cut down the maintenance needed as well as time in the makeup chair.

Barry explained: ‘At the beginning, we had discussed with Lily the desire to use her own hair, because she was committed to fully transforming into Pamela and she thought why not just colour my hair.

‘With a high level blonde like that, it’s just a lot of maintenance, and she was already going to be on set and in the trailer so much with the transformation that I suggested that we utilise wigs because it would give us more flexibility and keep her hair healthy.

The prosthetics work had to continue on to Lily’s body to recreate Pam’s trademark bust in the iconic red Baywatch swimsuit, which also had to move naturally with her body (Picture: Hulu)

‘Her main concern was wanting to really be able to get into her hair and to play with it and to toss it around because Pam was so into her hair, and it was so much a part of who she was and who she still is.

‘By using the wigs, it gave us more flexibility and option to change looks throughout the day because we often shot multiple looks in one day so wigs were a better way to approach that.

‘In the end, she had a total of four wigs that were all custom built by Wigmaker Associates here in Beverly Hills, three of which were her hero wigs, which you see through most of the series with the fourth one for the flashback episode, when we see Pam first come to LA in 1989 for her first Playboy shoot.’

Pam was so into her hair – it’s so much a part of who she was and who she still is.

Lily spent four hours in hair and makeup each day, with Barry adding: ‘In a situation where you’re utilising prosthetics and the makeup call is going to be extensive, it allows me the time while she’s in the makeup chair to prep her wigs and style them and have them ready.

‘It does shave off a considerable amount of time, because when she comes to my trailer, I’m just putting the hairstyle on her and it’s already done as I’ve had the time to work on it while I’m waiting for her. Having those wigs prepped ahead of time, especially when we had multiple looks in one day, gave us that flexibility to quickly change looks and to get her in and out of the trailer as fast as possible.’

Channeling Pamela’s personality

While Lily may have spent four hours getting transformed, those moments were also spent honing her character, too.

David explained: ‘There was no better student of Pam or steward of her image than Lily. She really worked tirelessly and relentlessly to protect the character and create an image that was very authentic and believable. The four hours that it took to do her makeup in the morning, she was actually working on the character, she was working on diction and the American accent and the cadence of Pam’s speech, she was watching interviews.

‘She was constantly studying and perfecting and improving, which, for all of us who are perfectionists, as you can see, by the work that is left on the screen, it is refreshing to be able to work with other people who in their fields have a standard that is above average.’

There was no better student of Pam or steward of her image than Lily.

He adds: ‘It’s incredible to see, it’s incredible to watch. In my initial conversation, it was touched on that we have two actresses that are dissimilar. And I said: “We make magic. We make magic happen. That’s what our job is. If you give us the time, the space and the resources to do this, we will bring you Pam Anderson.”

‘From my initial meeting with Lily, we talked and I knew 100 percent that Pam Anderson was there in every way. Even when Lily was reticent, I knew that this was going to be exceptional, that Pam Anderson was going to appear.’

Recalling a moment on set after the initial transformation was complete, David revealed: ‘Early on in the process, we were walking across the parking lot, just Lily and I.

‘I had already had conversations with her about wearing prosthetic breasts and that she would feel like she has a shirt on so she’s not going to feel exposed, which is kind of the nice thing about that.

‘But consequently, people who see her aren’t going to recognise that that’s not her, so she has to be very conscious of modesty and keeping covered up and give extra thought to that one.

‘Very early on, in the first week or so of the process, we were walking across the parking lot in full Pam, and one of the grips was talking on the back of this truck on his cell phone and he literally almost fell off the back of the truck, and I looked at Lily and I said: “I think we’ve got it, we didn’t kill anybody today, but I think we’ve got it.” And when that first photo came out, I felt like the world got to fall off the back of the truck.’

Everybody has to be on the same page for lightning to strike in one place… and it certainly did on this project.

Jason adds: ‘Whenever you start a biopic like this, you never want to do anything that’s caricature and that’s the thing that we’re all afraid of.

‘The story that they’re telling is a heartfelt story. It’s something that’s going to resonate with a lot of people, it’s obviously a story that a lot of people are familiar with and have lived through. You want to make sure that nobody is pulled out of the material when they’re watching it, so we all wanted to get it right.

Lily James had wanted to bleach her own hair for the role but wigs were used for ease and to protect her natural locks (Picture: Hulu)
The team were tasked with making magic happen and it’s safe to say they succeeded (Picture: Hulu)

‘That’s why it takes a team of people and everybody to be on the same page for lightning strike in one place. And it certainly did on this project.’

Remembering the moment they knew they nailed the transformation, David says: ‘I think for all of us, it was exciting. One of the images that was released was the image of Pam biting Tommy’s nipple ring, and that was actually a test day.

‘When that happened, it was very organic. It was these characters coming to life in front of our face. I looked at Rob [Siegel, showrunner] who was standing next to me, and I said: “Look at this.”

‘Literally every single person on that set had their cameras out taking pictures of that moment and that’s when I knew we had it. I said: “I think we’re really close here.” He said, “David, we’re more than close. We’ve got this. This is far more than anything any of us ever dreamed of.”

‘And I was like: “Well, our dreams are bigger.” We’re just a constant every day. Perfection, perfection, perfection getting everything right. I’ve said a number of times, the devil’s in the details, and Jason, Barry and I are the three little devils. We never stop.’

Pam & Tommy is available on Disney+ now.

Credit: Original article published here.

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