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If we could take our beauty-loving selves back in time, we’d undoubtedly travel back to the 1920s. Marcel waves, bobs, red lips…we swoon at the thought.
So when we were given the chance to travel through time and space to Paris, 1929, we jumped at the chance. No, we haven’t found our very own time machine; we were invited onto the set of ABC’s hit drama Forever to get a firsthand look at what it takes to recreate the beauty looks of the twenties. Turning modern actors into vintage vamps and playboys…how could we say no?
In case you’re NOT already a raging fan of Forever, the show follows Dr. Henry Morgan (played by the very handsome Ioan Gruffudd), a New York City medical examiner…who also happens to be immortal. As he applies his keen intellect and advanced scarf-wearing talents to solving crimes alongside Detective Jo Martinez (played by the gorgeous Alana De La Garza), he also attempts to unlock the secrets of his own undying condition.
Oh, did we mention that he’s being stalked by a murderer, who also happens to be immortal? Yeah, this show is amazing.
From a beauty perspective, one of the most unique things about the show are the flashbacks. In tomorrow’s episode, an unthinkable crime against a prima ballerina reminds Henry of an incident in Paris, 1929.
TV sets are chaotic places, and when you’re filming on location in New York, they’re even more so. But at 8am, the hair and makeup trailer is an oasis of calm and coffee.
“It’s easy to make everyone look pretty and contemporary,” hair department head Jasen Sica told us. “Taking modern hair and making it look period? That’s a challenge.”
When a show hops through as many eras as Forever does, that’s an absolutely massive challenge. And inaccuracy is not an option.
“We do a LOT of research,” said Jasen. “Hair changes a lot from year to year, and even from place to place. This episode is set in Paris, 1929. So we look at a lot of books from and about that era to see how people were wearing their hair, and then we think about how those styles will work on actors with modern hairstyles.”
Era-accurate beauty isn’t just about establishing the feel of a time period, but also about establishing character. Though characters exist on the page, their hair and makeup tell us things about them in a way that words can’t.
“Hair immediately tells the audience who these girls are,” Jasen told us. “Just like in real life, you wear your hair a certain way and it says, this is who I am and how I want to be seen.”
Elisabeth Gray, who plays Valerie in Tuesday’s episode, was stoked to get into character as a beautiful, dissipated artist. “I usually play young moms,” she said. “It’s fun to play a drug addict!”
But this is TV, so even drug addicts need to be totally glam. “We want Valerie to look romantic and sweet, yet frivolous, like a glass of champagne,” said Jasen. “So the hair has lots of volume and curl.”
Sica’s secret for fabulous, long-lasting curls? A whole lot of setting lotion. “My favorite setting lotion is by Kusco Murphy,” he said. “But it’s not made anymore, so my team scours the internet for it.”
“I love Phytolaque Soie Hairspray ($19), too. It’s so lightweight, but gives great hold.”
Styling Gray’s medium-length hair into a late 20s curl cloud required some creativity. Jasen sectioned out 1” sections of her hair, curling each piece with a double-barrelled waving iron. He then wrapped the waved hair around a bendable hot stick and held it in place with a pin while the curl set.
Once the curls had set, he sprayed them with hairspray, brushed them out, then sprayed them again for super hold.
“We want this to look romantic and sweet yet frivolous, like a glass of champagne” he said. “We want this to have volume and fun to it.”
By contrast, actress Bridget Ori got a full vamp makeover to play the dark, dramatic Nanette—which included a fabulous wig.
“I love wigs,” said Gary Marton, key hair. “You can style them the same way you’d style your own hair, and they look so great on camera!”
“I’m the bad girl,” laughed Bridget, immediately transformed by the angular, dark wig.
“That’s why we took you full Louise Brooks!” said Gary.
But hair is only half of the 20s makeover equation: makeup is also crucial to establishing character, mood and time period.
“When it comes to period makeup, the first challenge is conveying a look that doesn’t seem unflattering to modern audiences,” said Todd Kleitch, makeup department head. For this episode, that meant a lot of kohl-rimmed eyes, brown eye shadow, finely-drawn (but not pencil-thin) brows and red lips.
The second challenge? Shine, the ultimate nemesis of film. Even slightly sweaty skin appears so pronounced on camera that it can require entire scenes to be reshot, so the makeup team is always on their guard.
There’s a constant murmur of “Does she need powder?” between takes, as they dart out with compacts and brushes to banish any shininess.
But the stars of the episode aren’t the only ones being transformed: over in staging, the extras are being turned into glamourous party guests. Long hair is faux-bobbed, lips reddened and eyes are made smoky; men’s hair is sharply parted and slicked back while stubble is shaved. All except for Aaron Dean Eisenberg, who plays Hemingway; he sports a magnificent moustache.
Walking onto set after a morning spent observing individual makeovers is a somewhat dizzying experience. “Welcome to 1929,” Jasen Sica announces grandly as we arrive to observe the party scene filming. And despite the lights and cables running everywhere, it really is like being transported back in time.
Gone are the modern men and women in jeans and sweaters from the morning; in their places are languid vixens and suave lotharios. The makeovers haven’t just transformed people’s looks, but their attitudes and how they carry themselves. It’s a stunning testament to the transformative powers of beauty.
Especially stunning is the transformation of Elisabeth and Bridget (as Valerie and Nanette, respectively). Through their skills as actors (and their amazing 1920s makeovers), they have truly become their characters.
But what happens to our bad girl and our curly-haired artist? What does any of this have to do with Henry Morgan’s current day case? You’ll just have to watch Forever on Tuesday, April 7 at 10/9c on ABC to find out! And trust us—you DO want to find out.
Graphic design: Rolando Robinson.
Photography: Jonathon Wenk.
A million thanks to Sarah Nicole Jones for making this story possible, everyone on the set of Forever for their extraordinary kindness and generosity, and Warner Brothers for all their fabulous assistance.