GET ON UP
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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