Blonde has been controversial from its outset. Since the adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates’ novelization of Marilyn Monroe’s life became official, hot takes on the dark subject matter, Twitter battles about whether Ana de Armas could pull off the iconic—and specific—role, and discussions about how the film portrays the Old Hollywood star all contributed to the buzz around the project. But, when the first teaser trailer dropped a few months ago, all hesitations were dropped. From her breathy drawl to the way she walked, de Armas was Marilyn Monroe.
Of course, a knockout hair and makeup team, led by Jaime Leigh McIntosh and Tina Roesler Kerwin, respectively, helps, and thanks to their handiwork, de Armas was nearly indistinguishable from the real Marilyn. Much like Monroe depended on her makeup artist, Allan “Whitey” Snyder, to transform from Norma Jean, three hours of hair and makeup prep each day were essential in bringing De Armas’s performance to life.
Ahead, we spoke to McIntosh and Kerwin for a behind-the scenes-look at Blonde’s hair and makeup.
Transforming any actress into arguably the world’s biggest—and most recognizable—beauty icon is no small feat. Even if you’ve never seen a Marilyn Monroe movie, everyone has a crystal-clear image of what she looks like—something Kerwin and McIntosh knew going in. “I mean, it’s incredibly intimidating,” says McIntosh. “And it still is, even after we’ve done all the work, but people have still got to see it. I don’t think we took the task lightly at all. We kind of knew the weight behind it.”
The upside of paying homage to an icon is there’s no shortage of source material—in fact, most of the film’s stills were based on existing photos. About a month before the shoot, the beauty leads poured over every reference they could get their hands on—from books to photos and films. “And then, as we figured out that what things we were going to try to specifically recreate, we’d really gotten very much into the weeds on those particular images,” says Kerwin. “We just found everything we could, and there wasn’t a lot of time to think about it. You just had to do it.”
A more unconventional source of inspiration for Kerwin were the many drag queens who played homage to Monroe. “The thing that’s so interesting about drag queens is that not only are they usually really, really talented makeup artists, they will sometimes exaggerate something that you might not see otherwise, and so it kind of makes you take a second look at something,” she says. “There are some really incredible Marilyn impersonators that do such a beautiful job.”
In addition to reference images, Marilyn’s makeup techniques—usually applied by her beloved makeup artist and confidant, Snyder—are well documented. However, Kerwin used them more as a guide than a step-by-step manual. “The goal was for Ana to look as much like Marilyn as possible, but using techniques that worked on Ana, as opposed to just duplicating what worked on Marilyn,” she says.
“I looked into some of those things, but Ana’s skin is kind of sensitive, so I was careful about what I used—we used a Guerlain lipstick that was similar to what Marilyn had used, and we used the Max Factor powder [she used] as well. But it was more important to recreate it in things that we could control a little bit better—trying to figure out the lighting, and trying to create a really beautiful reflective quality.” Monroe used Vaseline as a makeup base for her signature dewy look, but Kerwin opted for TikTok’s favorite foundation, Charlotte Tilbury’s Flawless Filter ($46), to be easier on de Armas’ skin. “I just knew it was the right one as soon as we put it on.”
De Armas had a total of five wigs she wore throughout filming, ranging from Norma Jean red to almost pure white. “Because I was working with wigs and not a natural head of hair, it would have been difficult to incorporate some of the authentic practices into those styles,” says McIntosh. “Although I will say, the wigs were always washed and wet set with rollers, so that’s kind of an old school practice. I very rarely used curling irons and stuff, only when I needed to do quick changes on set, would I use a modern iron.”
De Armas only wore three prosthetics during the whole shoot, all on her forehead to conceal her natural dark hairline under her light wig. “We basically did a partial prosthetic bald cap every morning,” says Kerwin. But when it came to the actual shape of De Arma’s face, “it was all contour or weighing down her eyes a bit with lashes to change the look of her eyes. But no prosthetics on her face. Just contour and lots of lashes.” In total, it took the team about three hours per day to transform De Armas into Marilyn.
Marilyn’s look is iconic from head to toe, but if it boils down to one element, it’s her perfect cherry red lips. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to copy Kerwin’s formula as it changed regularly depending on the lighting, as well as wether they were shooting a scene in black and white or color. “Some reds would look great in color, but then they would go really, really dark in black and white. So it depended on whether we were matching a color photo or matching a black and white photo,” says Kerwin.
However, there are two other signature elements that are easy to recreate. One is Monroe’s beauty mark, which Kerwin drew on with Make Up For Ever’s Waterproof Liner ($13). “Once we landed on that, we never used anything else, because it held up really, really well. It was easy to draw it on, and it would hold the right shape.” As for Marilyn’s sultry bedroom eyes, Kerwin depended on the individual lashes from LashLash. “I used a combination of those. When she was younger, we use the thin brown ones. And then as she got into the Marilyn look, we’d use a combination of the thin and the thicker and just pile [them] on so she had an iconic eye and that really heavy lash line.”
Kerwin and McIntosh were not only tasked with transforming De Armas into the starlet and sex symbol Marilyn Monroe but also the person behind the lights, Norma Jean Baker. Doing so was a careful balancing act between signaling to the audience that she was in “Norma Jean mode,” without making her look too much like Ana.
“Just trying to really create more of a natural at-home feel for her, she may not have had her hair set that day, or even set in the last week if she’s at home hanging out,” says McIntosh of the starlet-off-duty look. “It’s just having those different looks and feels and shapes. And, you know, we see her fully dressed up to the nines and fully Marilyn Monroe. And every hair is in place—the lashes, the lips, the costume, and everything. And then to be able to do more (it’s probably not the right term), but a more broken-down version of that, and more natural lived-in version. I have to say I was equally satisfied, and enjoyed doing her more natural, lived-in real-life kind of looks as well.”
Kerwin adds that though the film was shot out of order, their very first day of shooting featured a pre-fame Marilyn going to meet her mother. “It was one of those times when she looks like Marilyn, but she has a softer lip. She’s still not quite all Marilyn. And so that was really interesting to start there. And then kind of build from that, and go on that journey with her and Ana.”
We’ve been in an endless cycle of ’90s and early 2000s trends, but with the release of Blonde alongside Elvis and Don’t Worry Darling, it’s safe to say we’re going to return to the ’50s and ’60s any day now. Kerwin argues that Marilyn’s look will never go out of style: “It’s a classic look, and it’s going to be one of those looks that you can pull off almost anytime.” If it feels too done, Kerwin suggests picking two of the three elements of the look—lashes, liner, lip—for a more modern take if it feels like too much.
“Any roller set with a side parting can help create Maryland’s shape, even if they aren’t blonde—brunettes can also have fun with this,” McIntosh explains. “It is such a classically beautiful style there. I think people can have fun with it anytime, it’s great into the past, future, and present. It’s always going to hold up it’s, it’s pretty amazing.”