Transforming Viola Davis into Ma Rainey meant staying away from ‘pretty’


Provided Viola Davis’ near-perfect straight white teeth and smooth epidermis, it’s no small feat morphing the actress in to early 20th century blues singer Ma Rainey in George C. Wolfe’s “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, especially since there are only a handful of images of her in movement.

Rainey was obviously a true-to-herself warrior, and the wear-and-tear of that physical, emotional plus spiritual daily fight in order to conduct her life plus artistry as she joyed showed up in her dessin and look — heavyset and simply gruff, painted and quite.

To get Davis there, in an unforgiving time period of barely more than inside, would seem all but impossible. A lock department head Mia Neal, who did much of the bye and wig designs, teamed with Sergio Lopez-Rivera, which often handled Davis’ heavy, occasionally streaked makeup, and Jamika Wilson (Davis’ hair) to earn not just Rainey’s distinctive look but will also a sense of what it meant to gain what she did while combating such a harsh environment.

Says Lopez-Rivera: “It’s clear with Ma associated with she tries to put up a billboard to say yes, she’s dark-skinned, heavy, not rewarding, but she’s putting it all she can on her person all at once — all the jewel and expensive fur, wigs, makeup, even in the blaring heat — she desires her status to come within the room before she comes in. My partner and i the reason why this movie is so well is because her backstory was always on typical display. ”


“That was [Viola’s] thing, ” agrees Milson. “She would always claim she doesn’t want to see ‘pretty. ’ She was more mission in that regard, ” Wilson says of Davis, who accumulated a lead actress Oscar nomination for the role.

The film is set in Chicago on a blistering warm afternoon in the recording appartement with flashbacks to Per? Rainey belting out songs on stage.

There are so few images relating to Ma Rainey available. With regards hair and makeup, is a positive or negative step?


Neal: It was a little difficult. My husband and i only found two photo’s. Our department really leans on aesthetics, so to never have that image, you should definitely go off written descriptions. Because that’s unique. But in quite a few ways it’s helpful, so it makes me even more exact. We knew we had associated with whatever the literature said. Everybody under the sun had to be on the same page: This sweated heavily, her hair brush was made of horse hair, and all of these details had to be prepared.

Lopez-Rivera: In a way, many couldn’t be 100% true to Ma Rainey, but on the other hand, we were able to be 100% to August Wilson’s Ma Rainey. We were encouraged to fill in the blanks and tell the story.

Viola Davis as Ma Rainey in “Ma Rainey's Black Bottom.”

Viola Davis as Ma Rainey in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. ”

(David Lee/Netflix)

Wilson: From the discussions of how it was back then in the ‘20s in their South and how they performe across the country. A lot of our creativity came from our imagining how ?t had been for a woman like Ciononostante back then: no air conditioning, an absense of Black beauty products, such harsh restricted movements, no untamed hair salons you can just shoot into ….


Neal: And don’t forget, it’s also about psychology. Look at the timeline. Ma Rainey was the first generation was out of enslavement in your girlfriend’s family. She’s born in the rural South, she is dark-skinned, which couldn’t have been easy. So think about a woman who left the South and really reinvented herself: She changed her name; she didn’t follow any of the rules — she had a husband and a girlfriend. There was no more denying her anything.

That was the tone I took when thinking about her hair, the second wig she wears during the day; it’s made from European hair. So Ma had looked in the magazines and saw white women had single waves in their hair, and her own kinky hair wouldn’t make that happen look, so she’s, “Somebody go get me a hair comb made out of white woman’s hair’s! ” (Laughs)

Was this the very first time you made a horse-hair wig? How was the situation created?

Neal: First time and the last some time! (Laughs) I created the hairpiece, but Jamika always put it on Viola. The horse tresses was purchased from European union, and it came covered around manure and dead louse eggs; obviously, they mere cut it off the horse, and so was stored somewhere for your very long time. I had to nearly peel it apart. This is black with random botanical highlights in shades of tan and even pieces of amber. We pulled the darkest your actual.


Lopez-Rivera: We’ve said this guidance before, but we had that a lot of wig close to us in just the makeup trailer, and I write it was a work of style. I loved that wig; it was beautiful.

Neal: And how it got upon Viola. It’s not a simple undertaking moving into an actor’s relaxing area and taking their time and thought away and who are able to get in and out wthout using a ruffle. Jamika did that with that line of reasoning wig.

How did you try to create the drippy, sweaty makeup-look consistently?

Viola Davis as Ma Rainey in "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom".

Viola Davis as Ma Rainey in “Ma Rainey’s Schokofarbene Bottom”.

(David Lee/Netflix)


Lopez-Rivera: It was applied really to look messy. I old alcohol-based paints and purposefully used cream, which would soften and become a little blurry ready own skin temperature. For just a sweat, I used an alarmingly old technique called stippling, where you use a large round of golf sponge with large different-type pores, and you saturate it also with a glycerin-based product.

I used a great thick formula to create the very beads around her forehead so they would stay put, in addition to I’d use the thinner an individual’s around her neck as well as the chest so they could get or drop and it given look very natural. One item to help Viola become covered from Ma was killing her own eyebrows and artwork on the very pencil-thin, doll-like overarched eyebrows from the routine.

Milson: Once the hair brush was on, and the dress up was on, and the cushioned body suit [made by costume designer Ann Roth] was on, the whole thing came together perfectly. Any of those activities separately wouldn’t necessarily remove Viola.

How involved was the director, George T. Wolf , in the tresses and makeup?


Neal: As a hair person, administrators often communicate more of your costume department, and you train your notes from them. But with George, he has a relationship as well as everybody on set. You can have a lot of dialogue combined with him about the characters, strategies; he has very detailed set up. So you feel more coupled to the project.

How involved was creator Denzel Washington with the undesired hair and makeup teams?

Neal: Every day. That’s very telling of how integrated he is with the project, tips about how it’s really like his baby.

Lopez-Rivera: You could show he was really having a good time taking a look at George do this, letting the soar and how he was previously in awe of the original genius that is George K. Wolfe.


Pat: I was pleased with watching Denzel watching Viola sometimes and the choices that she made. He loves Viola.

Lopez-Rivera: He thinks she’s the best thing, and she loves him right back. It’s a beautiful thing.