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Hot Pants: Costumes, Hair and Makeup
Get on Up follows James Brown as a child when he strays into "Sweet Daddy" Grace's United House of Prayer for All People and absorbs the ecstatic abandon of gospel music, along with the drama of a flashy cape. "The Godfather of Soul" always looked sharp, and completely unique. His brilliant smile, elaborate hairstyles and flashy clothes were as important to his identity as the two syllables of his name. Oscar-nominated for her work on Dreamgirls and Ray, costume designer Sharen Davis dressed Boseman for the part. Makeup department head JULIE HEWETT oversaw the actor's face and physique as he aged from 16 to 63, and wig consultant Robert Stevenson fashioned his fabulous hair.

Davis served as Taylor's costume designer for The Help, which allowed her to hit the ground running. "It was great working with Tate a second time," she says. "He gave me a lot of trust. Viola and Octavia, too. They were fantastic."

The costume designer was also reunited with director of photography Stephen Goldblatt and production designer Mark Ricker for Get on Up's Mississippi shoot. "We're always on the same page," she says, "and when you're moving as fast as we did on this film, it's great to know you're with a team you've worked with before."

Davis dressed dozens of principal cast members and more than a thousand extras for a film that depicts many moods, and more than 50 years. Creating flowery frocks for voluptuous Aunt Honey and threadbare necessities for down-and-out Susie Brown were a treat for Davis. Plus, she had the luxury of designing those looks at her home base in Los Angeles.

"Both Viola and Octavia generously gave me time in L.A. so that we could do their fittings and make their clothes here. Octavia's dresses were fun to make, and she enjoyed wearing them," the designer says. "The impoverished looks that Viola wears in the beginning of the film are the hardest to do, but I loved distressing the clothes and making them look real."

The band members who appear in Get on Up required a different modus operandi. "A lot of the musicians were cast on short notice, and we were in Mississippi by then," Davis explains. "But we decided on the look of the concerts far enough in advance to be prepared. We tried to have every size available." Designing for Brown raised another issue for Davis. "James Brown was the originator of reinventing himself," she says. "He took big risks in his wardrobe and didn't wear what anyone else was wearing. My challenge was, do I make it outrageous or rein it in?"

After digesting the research, she split the difference. "I used the silhouettes of my favorite outfits, then let the scene dictate whether to tone something down, or bring it up," tells Davis. "For the concerts, I always stuck to the real looks. He has 50 changes in the movie, most made-to-order, and I wanted them all to be exciting. I also wanted to make sure his favorite looks occupied space in the film." She offers that Get on Up's lead was an easy man with whom to work. "He just put on the costume, manipulated his body and became it. He never complained."

Boseman's height, however, presented a design challenge. At 6 feet 1 inch, the actor is five inches taller than the man he portrays. Davis settled on a solution that worked visually, and also gave Boseman more room to move. "James Brown wore his pants really tight, but tight pants on Chad emphasize his height and the length of his legs. By making the pants looser, we made him look a little stockier. It was all about the silhouette."

Brown's hair and smile were also part of that silhouette. As he declared in his 1986 autobiography, "James Brown: The Godfather of Soul": "Hair is the first thing. And teeth the second. Hair and teeth. A man got those two things, he's got it all."

Hair and teeth were also important external tools for Boseman's interpretation of the man. In an early scene, when The Famous Flames are about to shed their identity as a gospel group, they're together at a Toccoa, Georgia, barbershop, getting their hair relaxed. In the next scene, two years later, they meet Little Richard (portrayed by BRANDON SMITH) at a juke joint. It's 1954 and the flamboyant musician makes a big impression with his stage style, not to mention his hair. Bring on the pompadour!

Stevenson, a longtime James Brown fan, had nine "hero" wigs for Boseman, plus a few tricks that squeezed additional looks from his inventory. "Whatever time and place Tate wanted to do, we found pictures and duplicated it, with a little artistic license when necessary," says the veteran movie hairstylist. "James Brown had a thing about looking good, and changed his hair often," he continues. "He always wanted to set himself above the band. If they all had their hair straightened, his was still different. He was always out front."

As times changed, that hair wasn't always politically correct, according to some commentators back in the day. "He was black and proud, but with his hair, he did what worked for him," Stevenson says. "There are a few pictures of him natural. He tried, but it wasn't his thing. He was a showman, and did his talking with his music."

Stevenson admits that his favorite look is the pompadour. "It's the hardest to do, but the most fun. We added pieces to the wigs we'd already made to give it more height and body."

Hewett's makeup team focused on doing work that did not call attention to itself. "We kept it as natural as possible so that it would never distract from Chadwick's performance or the story's dramatic power," she explains. Natural doesn't mean easy. "First, James Brown's an icon and has very distinctive features," Hewett continues. "Second, the film covers many decades, so aging him and collaborating with the hair and costume departments to show the passage of time were a big part of the job."

Boseman's smile needed a bit of altering to replicate Brown's. The prosthetics makeup team provided him with a set of removable teeth to create the star's distinctive underbite. "When you see James Brown, you always see his bottom teeth," says makeup artist GREG FUNK. "We had them made early so Chad could get used to them before shooting started."

As the decades passed in the Get on Up narrative, Hewett's team and Stevenson's team aged most characters "out of the kit," with wigs and makeup tricks. But Brown needed more, and the prosthetics experts aged Boseman with a neckpiece and eye bags, plus a fat suit that added two inches to his waistline. "It was hot, extremely hot, with the fat suit and prosthetics," sighs Boseman. "The wigs were hot, too. You lose weight just sitting still!"

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