News of the World


by Jean Black Department Head Make-Up

(from left) Johanna Leonberger (Helena Zengel) and Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Tom Hanks) in News of the World, co-written and directed by Paul Greengrass.

It’s amazing how sometimes things come full circle. I was born and raised in Texas, majored in history at University of Texas, began my film career in Texas and now many years later, had the good fortune to connect with this incredible Texas story, a Western, with a deep resonance for today’s culture and join an incredible team of filmmakers to bring it to the screen.

News of the World was in the perfect combination of hands with director Paul Greengrass and Tom Hanks as Captain Kidd, and it was a very special honor when I received the call inquiring about my interest in working on this film. With Paul’s background as a documentarian and résumé of films that evoke such palpable realism and Tom’s repeatedly earned stature as America’s great actor of pathos and impeccable professional standards, it was apparent that this ‘would be an unforgettable journey.

(from left) Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Tom Hanks) and Johanna Leonberger (Helena Zengel) in News of the World, co-written and directed by Paul Greengrass.

Set against the brutality and uncertainty of 1870 Reconstruction Texas, we follow the odyssey of Captain Kidd and Johanna, two weary and wounded characters, in need of finding some new hope and sense of belonging. In our early conversations, Paul Greengrass challenged me, saying he wanted these characters to look like “life had made them up, and not make up.” I’ve long believed that the best realistic character depictions are supported by what make-up can do without drawing attention. Achieving this means both photographic and historical period research is essential to understand the authentic looks, fashions and customs of that specific era. Furthermore, it means assembling a team of artists who will embrace a culture of striving to create work that can genuinely hide in plain sight.

The first phase of teamwork, sharing research, discussions and design looks, began with Department Head Hair Kelvin Trahan. Kelvin and I worked together on a film in our home state of Texas almost 30 years ago, so it was a great joy, and another facet of coming full circle, to reconnect and collaborate with this wonderful friend on a period Western set in Texas. The amazing costume designer Mark Bridges and cinematographer Dariusz Wolski also provided helpful insights. As we dove further into the research and character discussions, Paul Greengrass made a number of references but the two that were most specific for me were Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath and his overt proclamation that he wanted the audience to feel like they could smell the characters. These two notes reflected his commitment to authenticity. Early on, Kelvin and I requested that all of our main cast members and background not cut their hair, beards, moustaches, sideburns and eyebrows so as to maximize our potential choices and “grow out” any modern vestiges of their everyday appearance. The harsh reality of most people’s appearance in this post-wartime and location, presented as weathered, dirty, grimy, dusty, highly individualized facial hair, long hair for women and primitively treated wounds and injuries.

Tom Hanks as Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd in News of the World, co-written and directed by Paul Greengrass.

By this time, we knew that Tom Hanks’ character would work in every scene, prompting us to plan ahead, making character design decisions in advance so that our teams could execute those for supporting and background players while we were on set. Also, the logistics on location meant filming in remote areas nowhere near our base camp trailers, therefore, needing to create speed, efficiency and portability whenever possible. I began assembling my team, bringing Stevie Bettles from Local 706 as my Department Head Assistant. Our working experience together, combined with his versatile talent, strengths in design, expertise with prosthetics, including his created line of Out of the Kit, peel and stick prosthetics would be a strong support and the right choice for the creative and logistical challenges ahead. Collaborating with Kelvin, we used recent cast photos to begin designing character looks.

Filming in New Mexico was a great help in building the make-up team. I was quite fortunate to have very talented additional make-up artists, Sheila Gomez as 2nd and Bonnie Masoner as 3rd. Working with them for several weeks prior to filming, we met with and finalized designs for most of the cast and background. This included cutting, shaping and sometimes augmenting beards, moustaches, sideburns and eyebrows with lace facial hair and laid hair, designing and choosing period prosthetic scars such as Almay’s facial scar to subtly shape character, testing and creating a variety of combinations to create the weathered and begrimed looks for these characters in a world where bathing would have been infrequent at best. To achieve this layered “lived in grime” look, we used PPI Dirt, make-up liquid, DK Brun Dirt & Soot, Mehran Cake Dry dark brown and mixed them with SUNBURN Warm Liquids and water. Also, there were significant doubles and stunt players that Sheila and Bonnie expertly handled to match the wide varieties of facial hair.

I wanted the look for Captain Kidd to be iconic but very organic, knowing that Tom Hanks’ performance would do everything else. I trimmed his grown-out beard and maintained a length that would seem to reveal more of his face when he was cleaned up and reading to his audience. Wanting Captain Kidd’s appearance to reflect the weariness of war, all his travels and sorrows, I colored his beard with gray and browns, reddened his eyes, tanned and aged him with layers of the dust, dirt and grime combinations to reflect different levels, along with varying amounts of sweat and weathering to reflect the elements while traveling in the open wagon and any particular situation they were in, such as the extreme cracked lips, dried skin and eyes from the windstorm. For the old scars on his back, along with all the other men’s scars, I pored over numerous photos and descriptions of Civil War era wounds and chose our prosthetics to reflect the weaponry of the period, from bayonets and sabers to rifles and muskets. Stevie made and applied these, and we colored them together. During the gunfight, Kidd is wounded by shrapnel. This wound ends up marking time as it initially bleeds, is cleaned, heals, scabs and finally, scars over during the course of his travels. We used “Out of the Kit” custom scars and wounds for their ease of application, excellent blending and ability to withstand all the extreme conditions of wind, sand, rain and snow during filming.

Helena Zengel as Johanna Leonberger in News of the World, co-written and directed by Paul Greengrass.

For Johanna, Stevie and I created a look to reflect her wild and punishing life experiences beyond her youth by weathering and sunburn on Helena Zengel’s particularly fair complexion, along with applied freckles using a template. Dust and dirt were varied to coordinate with the conditions and circumstances in the wagon. As their travels progressed, Stevie added an aging stipple to enhance Johanna’s dehydrated appearance and given her age, chose to paint her wounds to look three dimensional.

I’m very proud of the looks we achieved in this film and it would not have been possible without a great team effort with Kelvin Trahan and his entire hair department, the tremendous support, creativity and supervisory assistance from Stevie Bettles, the dependably excellent Sheila Gomez and Bonnie Masoner, as well as the main make-up artists for our background: Karen Romero, Katie Douthit, Siobhan Carmody and Janine Maloney, who all did a fantastic job!

Making News of the World was difficult but such a memorable experience. Long days, tough conditions, elements always throwing new challenges, a crew that always rose to overcome obstacles and solve problems, surprises like waking up to three inches of snow with none in the scene, trudging up and down hills with our gear like Cosmetic Sherpas, the haunting and beautiful honor of the Kiowa Native Americans drumming and chanting, giant tarantulas on the march to hide for winter and seeing Tom Hanks petting them are just a few of the images that recur. Tom Hanks is such a wonderful person to work alongside. He was out in the elements all day, every day, always prepared, never complained, a trooper and brilliant all the way. And it was a unique pleasure working so closely with Paul Greengrass who has such an amazing eye and ability to shape the richness of story on the fly, it is inspiring. And again, my team. Yes, this journey will stay with me.•


by Kelvin Trahan| Department Head Hair

(from left) Doris Boudlin (Mare Winningham), Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Tom Hanks) and Johanna Leonberger (Helena Zengel, back to camera) in News of the World, co-written and directed by Paul Greengrass.

It’s not every day that we get asked to work on a Western. In my 35-year career, this is my first truly “Period Western.” Being raised in Texas, trust me when I say it’s a big deal. Based on the fantastic novel by Paulette Jiles, this wasn’t just some shoot ’em up; News of the World  is a real character-driven story of two lost souls who find each other after the horrors of the Civil War and form an unlikely bond. So, it was exciting when I was contacted about working on this project and to find out that Paul Greengrass was going to write and direct, was just icing on the cake.

I’d been a big fan of Paul Greengrass’ films and after working with him, my admiration has only grown. Certainly, this was among my favorite experiences with a director as Paul was not only friendly and open-minded from the beginning but also completely trusting in the process of our work. The odyssey of this story had a natural connection when Paul said to think of the John Ford classic The Searchers. But when he added, “I want to smell them from the screen,” it was an invaluable and specific note that conveyed a lot about his intentions for the characters in our film and became a mantra for me and my team.

To do good hair for a film, you must put together a great team of hair stylists. We were shooting in New Mexico on primarily remote exteriors with quite a number of large crowd scenes and stunts, and I needed a very strong local stylist to be my 2nd. Nichole Miller was recommended to me from a Local 706 make-up artist who I’d worked with several times and trusted. She was the perfect choice. Nichole is not only a talented hair stylist but also a hard worker and the ultimate team player!

My longtime friend and 2nd, Catherine Marcotte, had already retired but she agreed to come on board as the 3rd. Catherine has worked with me throughout my career and is exactly what any department head would cherish. She’s always been supportive, reliable and able to figure out and achieve anything you throw her way. Before I was lucky enough to bring her into the feature world, she had a long career in television and also ran a wig shop at one time. Coming in from Los Angeles, she was in charge of all the wig work for our many stunt players and helped supervise the background. She has been my rock and my career would be s*** without her!

As department heads, we are only as strong as our support. I have to say New Mexico has outstanding hair stylists and if there is one thing they’re experienced with, it’s the Western. Some of them may be tired of Westerns, but for me, they were a godsend. When I showed them my period research, they knew exactly what we needed. They were amazing and I learned so much from them.

After doing extensive period, as well as Texas research, we got current photos of all our main actors and I chose looks for each that I thought would suit them as their character and would be period-correct. Because of the hygiene issues of the time and the country being in a depressed state, it was important that the actors look more authentic than necessarily their most attractive. Fortunately, our director had chosen mostly cast members with theatrical backgrounds who were more than willing to collaborate on creating authentic looks.

(from left) Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Tom Hanks) and Johanna Leonberger (Helena Zengel) in News of the World, co-written and directed by Paul Greengrass.

Tom Hanks’ character ‘Captain Kidd’ was in every scene of the film, so make-up designer and  Department Head Jean Black and I had to strategize ahead of time about our overall plan. I asked Tom to grow out his hair beforehand and then maintain a choppy scissored haircut so that it didn’t look fresh and also to enhance his naturally curly hair. I would get him ready in the morning, then oversee and help out with other characters before leaving with him to go to set. For Captain Kidd, and all the male characters, we searched high and low for vintage hair creams and pomades to use such as Brylcreem, Groom & Clean and 3 Flowers pomade. We were able to use these older products to style like the oils and waxes of the period that also helped to make their hair greasy and dirty-looking. Also, these products lasted throughout the day in whatever weather conditions we experienced.

Playing ‘Johanna’ at only 10 years old, Helena Zengel had strict restraints on her work hours, so she typically came to set later. I gave Helena a very chopped razor cut because as an orphan in Kiowa culture, her long hair had been chopped off. Nichole got Helena ready every morning and not only maintained her haircut throughout the film but also used a variety of products, such as Rahua’s salt spray and Reuzel’s green pomade to achieve her dirty, piecey, unkempt, “wild”  look. Since I was typically already on set with Tom, Nichole would send Helena to set and stay back in the trailer to get any additional principal day players ready.

For most of the women, additional hair was added either with pieces or extensions to achieve the long hair that was put up and center parted, as was the style of the period. Nichole expertly achieved this with the female principals. We used dry shampoos with color to help blend the additional hair with their own and encouraged all the principals and background players to try to not wash their hair every day to help with the downtrodden looks. As you can imagine, some were better at keeping “dirty hair” than others.

I’d like to recognize the main hair stylists working on our background players who were so important to the overall look of the film. The authenticity of the crowds at Captain Kidd’s readings and around the various towns our duo travel through were vital. Emerald Ortega was in charge of the background tent. Grace Esquibel, K-Bobby Edgar, Janessa Bouldin and Aleka Kastelic were our primary daily stylists and I’ll be forever grateful for their hard work and commitment to the film.

(from left) Director and co-writer Paul Greengrass and Tom Hanks on the set of News of the World.

More than some might expect, accomplishing the realism Paul Greengrass is known for in this type of film required a lot of research into the distinct locale and period styles. Beyond those creative challenges, planning for the logistical demands of Tom Hanks working every day combined with our remote locations was crucial as we had to rely on our teams back at base camp. Toward the very end of our prep, the studio asked Jean Black and I to prepare a “look book” for the film and though the timing of that request gave us some concern, it actually helped us make decisions that solidified the look and proved very helpful once on location. There was never any question about the look after that. With our remote locations, once we left base camp, we were always on the move and rarely returned until the end of the shooting day, so we had to be prepared for anything with our kits and the conditions. Think pack mules. From the extremes of weather, hills, rocks and dust, my body will never be the same, but what a glorious journey.•