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‘Rocketman’ and ‘Judy’: Transforming Taron Egerton and Renée Zellweger into Elton John and Judy Garland

The remarkable makeup/hairstyling and costuming helped Egerton and Zellweger pull off their spot-on performances as Elton and Judy.

Taron Egerton as Elton John in Rocketman from Paramount Pictures.

“Rocketman”

David Appleby/Paramount Pictures

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Both “Rocketman” and “Judy” explore the darker side of super stardom for Elton John and Judy Garland: two incredible, legendary performers driven to addictions and other abuses in their search for love and happiness. And the remarkable transformations of Taron Egerton and Renée Zellweger as John and Garland, respectively, required creative makeup, hairstyling and costuming to pull off the spirit of their iconic appearances.

Makeup/hairsylist Lizzie Yianni-Georgiou achieved a grounded, recognizable look for Egerton’s John for the musical fantasy, allowing costume designer Julian Day to take more artistic license with the outrageous, glam wardrobe. By contrast, makeup/hairstylist Jeremy Woodhead reworked Zellweger’s face to approximate the 47-year-old Garland’s gaunt look, while costume designer Jany Temime needed to stylishly fit around the constraining posture of Zellweger’s emaciated, bird-like Garland.

“Elton gave Taron and [director] Dexter [Fletcher] carte blanche to not copy him or make a caricature,” Yianni-Georgiou said. “I wanted the makeup to be the essence of Elton and I think it went further than that just because of the way it was put together with the sets and the costumes and Dexter’s direction. When we had the younger stuff, I took away blemishes, made him clean shaven and gave him fine eyebrows, eye shadow, the sideburns, and the shorter hair wig.

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Rocketman

Rocketman

Paramount Pictures/YouTube

“His stage appearance was more blow dried hair to hide his baldness and thicker eyebrows and longer sideburns and painted in bags,” Yianni-Georgiou added. “And I dyed all the chest and arm hair as well because he wore quite a few costumes that showed off his chest. When Elton visited us, he asked if we were going to add some hairy chest. But it was all too much, and, in the end, we just dyed Taron’s own hair.”

One little quirk that Yianni-Georgiou kept was the gap in John’s front two teeth, but rather than using a minor prosthetic, which would’ve restricted Egerton’s ability to sing, she merely painted it in. The rehab sequences, though, were the most demanding, with the application of prosthetic eye bags, nose pieces, silicon jowls, bald cap, and wig. “I developed the character as someone who went from being young to well-known, who didn’t feel loved,” she said.

With costuming, Day had permission from John to be original when the rock star visited the production at Bray Studios. “He especially liked the Queen Elizabeth outfit, the one that he wears in Australia [instead of the flamboyant Mozart costume],” he said. “Elton has been known to wear a bit of drag in in his life and I wanted to get that in the film. And who is our most famous English monarch: Queen Elizabeth, who’s ball busting and antagonistic and [it’s perfect] the way the scene plays out with Elton not knowing where he is.”

Rocketman

“Rocketman”

Paramount

While the iconic, Bob Mackie-designed baseball uniform struck a familiar tone for John’s celebrated 1975 weekend concerts at Dodger Stadium, Day mixed it up by replacing the sequins with 250,000 Swarovski crystals. But his most original design was the pivotal devil’s costume John wears when entering drug rehab. He’s been quite a nasty, little shit at that point, so the idea is that he’s a devil,” he said. “But there’s a flip side to it as well, the idea that even in all his anger and frustration and addiction, there’s this little boy looking for love. So that’s why there’s the heart-shaped glasses, and, if you’ll notice, the shape of the wings in the back form a heart. Also, the actual head piece is in the shape of a heart.”

When it came to Zellweger’s difficult transformation as Garland, there wasn’t much for makeup/hairstylist Woodhead to work with: “While I can understand why Renée was cast because she’s a great performer and singer and did everything demanded of her, she quite different from Judy in face shape,” he said. “Renée has an oval shape and Judy had a more diamond shape. Judy was all about the eyes and Renée’s all about the mouth in terms of the features that you are automatically drawn to. So I had to concentrate on the few similarities that were there and bring those out and try to hide the ones that were the total opposite of each other.”

“Judy”

Roadside Attractions

Woodhead started by blocking out Zellweger’s eyebrows and redrawing them in higher, then adding weight to her cheeks to expand her face outward.  “Most of it was done with paint work,” he added. “The tricks that we used were very small, honestly.” But he pulled back on emulating how horrible Garland actually looked. “We couldn’t take Renée that far because it would’ve meant that we’d be looking at the ravage, and the teeth were really bad, and it would’ve been distracting.”

Dressing Zellweger’s Garland, however, was quite the task for Temime. The actress worked hard at changing her posture, which guided the costume designer. “She was so thin and sick and full of drugs in 1969 [the final year of her life],” she said. “She stood with her shoulders completely rounded, bending herself, and putting her belly in the front, and I had to make all the costumes with that posture or they wouldn’t fit properly.

“Judy”

Roadside Attractions

“I was completely obsessed by the idea that it was always a show, trying all the time to pretend, to be a showbiz woman, so for that she needed to have super fabrics,” added Temime. But Garland tried to be very fashionable to sustain her image and continue performing. “I like the orange trouser suit more than anything because it has a sort of bravado that she doesn’t have at all, and trouser suits were very popular in 1969,” Temime said. “I opened with that because I wanted to show how brave she was to have no money and the kids behind her and wear something very hip on stage.”

Temime experimented with fabrics as well. A black floral dress was comprised of several vintage pieces she found in a shop. “She was never letting go, really. She was always well dressed and tried to give a performance of herself. It was like ‘Life is a Cabaret.'”

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