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Cruella’s Nadia Stacey on making Emma Stone a punk princess

One of 2021’s most memorable movie images emerged at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in a Disney movie that was surprisingly entertaining and visually intoxicating. In Cruella, actress Emma Stone, playing the titular villain in her pre-dognapping days, arrives at a ball dressed to kill in a floor-length gown and her signature black-and-white hairdo. The words “The Future” are etched across her face in black spray paint and her mouth sports ruby red lipstick with a hint of bedazzled jewels across her lips. It’s a stunning visual that defines the film’s haute couture punk style and helped make Cruella, more so than other Disney villain origin stories like Maleficent, a film that is still talked about today.

That’s largely due to British makeup artist Nadia Stacey, who, along with costume designer Jenny Beavan, created the look for the longtime Disney villainess and modernized it to the 1970s, when punk was just emerging as a musical, cultural, and fashion influence. Recently nominated for an Oscar for her work on Cruella, Stacey talks about her professional relationship with Stone, how that iconic entrance look came to be, and what’s next for one of Hollywood’s best makeup artists.

An "Oscars Week" badge overlaid on a still of Emma Stone in Disney's 'Cruella.'
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Digital Trends: How did you become involved with Cruella?

Nadia Stacey: I got a phone call out of the blue from Emma Stone on a Saturday night and she asked, “Do you want to do Cruella for Disney?” And you don’t really say no to that kind of offer, but I didn’t really know much about the movie at the time. I just thought it was going to be something similar to the Glenn Close live-action version that we all knew or the 1961 animated film version. I had no clue that it was going to be this kind of ‘70s punk rock version of it. I love working with Emma, so I agreed to do it.

Did your previous experience working with Emma help you create her look for Cruella?

Emma Stone lays down in front of a fireplace in The Favourite.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

We formed quite a bond on The Favourite and we’d become friendly from that experience. I know what works on her and she trusts me to let me play and to let me try things on her. Emma is really into makeup and skincare products and that kind of stuff, so she was like a kid in a candy store when we were getting all these products out to try. I know what will work on her and what won’t work, which isn’t a lot, to be honest. I mean, that face, pretty much anything works on it.  It’s not a difficult job, but it definitely helps having worked with her before.

The film’s overall look seems to be inspired by the 1970s in general, and particularly when punk was becoming popular in the English music scene. Can you tell me what references you used in creating the looks for the film?

There’s a misconception about punk that if you search for “punk” and “England” on the internet, you would get that you get that kind of slightly later look, which is brightly colored mohawks. The punk scene in the ‘70s was much more DIY. They were kind of quite scruffy and kind of very home-done. The fashion was borrowing and stealing things and putting things together so the look was very chaotic and a real kickback against the establishment and society. It was quite a small scene at that time as well and the Sex Pistols were very much a big part of that. I was definitely looking at bands like the Sex Pistols and Siouxsie Sioux and the Banshees. The latter became a big reference because if you look at Siouxsie Sioux’s eye makeup, you’ll see the kind of shapes that I was looking at in terms of creating that look for Cruella. But then also at that time, there was that glam rock look where there was a real kind of gender fluidity and gender blurring with Ziggy Stardust and T. Rex, which helped with Artie’s Cruella’s assistant look.

When you have a movie set in 1977, you’re really deep into the seventies. So it’s not a very clichéd look of the ‘70s. We were able to do that on the streets and in the crowd scenes. But then you could home in on this very kind of small punk scene. Then you could also do sort of glam rock. So it was lots of pockets of things to explore, all from the same era, which was really exciting for me.

With Estella, she’s creating the Cruella look herself, so she’s mixing up her looks and trying things and changing things. I always think about that shot in Estella’s apartment and she’s almost got a kind of corkboard of things that she’s ripped off and borrowed from. And I feel like that’s looking inside her head: “Let ‘s borrow this, let’s rip this, let’s steal this.” That was kind of very informative of what I could do. It gave me a lot of scope to be able to play with her looks.

Digital Trends: In working with a main character who has such a signature hairstyle, what were some of the challenges in honoring the Cruella look that everyone knows because of the past versions while also making it unique to the film?

I didn’t really think about it too much in terms of what we knew before, because Craig Gillespie, our director, was very kind of strong about us making a ‘70s punk movie. He approached it very much in that way. I didn’t worry about it too much. I just felt that it gave me an opportunity to play with this iconic hair.

Cruella’s hair in itself was such a challenge. It was really hard to work with because there’s a real black and white duality to Cruella, even down to the hair. One side behaves differently from the other side because of the treatment that it goes through in the movie. I felt like I had the scope and the freedom to try something different, so I didn’t really worry about what we’d seen before.

Digital Trends: The most iconic look from the film is Cruella’s entrance look at the London Gala, where she has “The Future” spray-painted across her face with bedazzled ruby lips. How the hell did you come up with that and what work went into creating that look?

Cruella poses in a motorcycle jacket in Cruella.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

It said in the script that she gatecrashes the gala on a motorbike. She comes in on a motorbike and takes her helmet off in front of the Baroness. The next day in the paper it says, “Is Cruella the future?” And I knew that the look needed to be impactful. She needed to be in front of the Baroness to say, “I’m here, gatecrashing your big night.” So I knew it needed to be sort of an in-your-face look, but I didn’t really know what that was. I was thinking about the tire screeching in on the motorbike as a kind of black tire mark across her face. And then I kept thinking about how we could portray that she’s the future. How do you say that? I had the Sex Pistols album cover up on my wall, and I googled one day to see if the font for “The Sex Pistols” was an actual font. And it was! I was like, “Oh, hang on a second. Could we actually write this? Could we be literal about it and write it across Emma Stone’s face? Is that crazy?”

I pitched it to everybody, and they all said “You should try it. Go for it.” So we printed the stencil out and cut it out. It’s a really simple look, actually. I wanted to team it with the jeweled look because every time we do that kind of punky hard thing, I always wanted to give it a fashion element because punks are fashion designers too. I always wanted to give it a sort of fashion element. I never realized it would do what it’s done so it’s kind of amazing.

In contrast to “The Future” look, Cruella later adopts “The Past” look, which contains a military jacket and a long ruffled red dress. The makeup and hair here is unlike anything else in the film. What went into creating that look?

Cruella poses in a dress in Cruella.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

It’s kind of a bit of everything. I felt like by that point, in terms of a character arc, she’s really gaining confidence. Before, Estella/Cruella’s hair and makeup is used as a kind of shield that she hides behind. First as a child, then when she needs to pretend she’s not Estella in front of the Baroness. I just felt by this point, when she’s trapping the Baroness in her own car and not letting her out at her own gala, she’s really gained confidence, and with that confidence came bolder colors. I used dark colors and painted a dark lip on Emma.  There’s silver around her eyes, there’s a little cross painted on her face that telegraphs to everyone “Here I am.” And then the crown on the head was because I just felt like she was saying, “I’m the new queen of the scene. This is me.” I’m new, you know?

When I saw that the costume was quite military and it’s got little toy soldiers on the shoulders, there’s something kind of royal about this look then. So that’s where the crown came from. I liked the idea that she’s constantly kind of shapeshifting. If you look at the silhouette of her in all of those looks, it’s always completely different. The silhouette from “The Future” look to the garbage truck dress with the 18th-century wig to the “The Past” look, every scene is a completely different silhouette because she is constantly evolving and creating this persona. I think she doesn’t know exactly who she is yet. She’s still figuring out who she is.

Can you describe your working relationship with Jenny Beavan, Cruella‘s Costume Designer?

The costume team is always on board before us. They’re always there for a while. So when I came in, they were gathering all their references and starting to pull ideas together. Jenny said, “We just need to take it chunk by chunk. We just need to do one at a time and figure it out.” And I thought for somebody that had done such massive films, for her to say that meant Cruella was a big undertaking. We just kind of approached it like that. It was always a very safe space where you could go in with these crazy ideas and go, “I’ve been thinking about this, what do you think?” When you can work that closely, you kind of get in sync with each other. For instance, the garbage pail dress was in a room on its own for a long time and it contained pinks and purples and blues. I kept seeing it every time I went up to see Jenny. And then that inspired the colors of the makeup for that look.

With “The Past” dress containing toy soldiers on the shoulders, I thought my look could be harder. It can be all kinds of military looks. It’s just very lovely Cruella’s costume and makeup teams worked together very well. I think that is a massive reason that we’ve both done very well in Cruella is that the looks are absolutely in sync. You can’t have one without the other. It would be unthinkable if makeup artists were up for awards without costume designers or vice versa, it wouldn’t make any sense. Both teams work together.

What’s your favorite look from the film? 

Split image of Artie talking and singing in Cruella.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

I love all those kinds of pop-up moments, you know, “The Future” look and the garbage truck dress, and I love Artie’s look on the punk runway when he sings. The camera comes in just for a moment on Artie, but you see it. We kind of put his hair into a mohawk and dyed the ends of the wig. And then just before he’s about to leave the makeup chair I went, “Oh, hang on a second.” And then I put safety pins up the side of the wig and applied a big splash of color and tiny individual crystals all around his eyes. I felt that was a really cool look. There are so many. I love the 18th-century ball. I thought the crowd did such an incredible job with it. If you come in close on those, the makeup is 1960s, but the hair is 18th century. When we went to set the first day that they were on, it was kind of a dream come true, really.

What’s next for you?

When you finish a job like that and you think, “Well, that’s it, it’s never going to get better than that.” But I keep being incredibly lucky in working on interesting projects. I got back just before Christmas from doing a film Poor Things with Emma again and the director of The Favourite, Yorgos Lanthimos. I got to be incredibly creative again in a very, very different way in the Victorian era, but obviously with a kind of Yorgos twist to it. I’m doing Snow White at the moment. I don’t try to play by the rules, ever, so I’m constantly trying to push non-traditional looks on that film.  And then hopefully, Cruella 2, that would be amazing.

Digital Trends: Yeah, that’s right. There’s a sequel in development. I trust that they’ll invite you back. I hope they do. If they don’t, that’s it. I won’t see it.

I think we’ll be alright.

Cruella is now streaming on Disney+. For more of Stacey’s work, please visit her Instagram page.

Cruella (2021)

59 %
pg-13 134m
Genre Comedy, Crime
Stars Emma Stone, Emma Thompson, Joel Fry
Directed by Craig Gillespie
Disney's Cruella | Official Trailer

Editor’s note: Interview has been lightly edited for clarity. 

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Movie images and data from:
Jason Struss
Section Editor, Entertainment
Jason is a writer, editor, and pop culture enthusiast whose love for cinema, television, and cheap comic books has led him to…
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