The subtle craft of transforming transgender pioneer Lili Elbe (Eddie Redmayne) in The Danish Girl is one of the great stories this awards season involving production design, cinematography, hair/makeup and costume design.
For Eve Stewart, the way into the production design was through the celebratory paintings of Elbe’s wife, Gerda (Alicia Vikander), along with the dramatic difference in settings (restrictive Copenhagen vs. progressive Paris, though actually shot in Brussels).
For hair/makeup designer Jan Sewell and costume designer Paco Delgado, the contrasts in hair coloring, facial sculpting and fashion were crucial to the feminization of Elbe (born Einar Wegene), who became the first known recipient of sex reassignment surgery.(Additionally, cinematographer Danny Cohen played with light to explore the physical and emotional journey and made subtle adjustments in camera height to accentuate Elbe’s feminine side.)
“It’s very peculiar, the light that you have in Copenhagen, which is also interesting because it reflected that society at the time, which was quite buttoned up,” Stewart explained. “I don’t know if it’s the way the Northern Light hits the moisture in the air, but it has a very gray/blue effect. That not only suited the story of the character at the time but also gave us somewhere to go as Lili became more and more important. And Gerda’s art was so fascinated with Lili that we went toward that as a way into the Parisian society and the very curvaceous Art Nouveau, the feminine, and especially the colors. We had three painters working for three months.”
Stewart was inspired by Danish painter Vilhelm Hammershøi, known for his muted palette. He painted mainly empty rooms and it almost became a motif at the beginning for the separation of spaces and loneliness.
Meanwhile, Sewell steeped herself in research for making up Redmayne, particularly the transition from masculine to feminine. “I asked Tom about a timeline and he just said look at Gerda’s paintings,” she recalled. “And she painted Lili with the most vibrant colors and this wonderful auburn-colored hair, which worked like a treat for us because of Eddie’s coloring. Also, she painted Lili with very dark hair and early on I said to Tom, put every color of wig based on the 1920s shape and let’s see what’s going to work for us and it was pretty clear he looked gorgeous in dark hair almost as much as the auburn with his coloring and freckles and eye shape.”
Delgado took advantage of the difference in fashion between provincial Copenhagen and progressive Paris. “It presented us with the idea that Lili was trapped in a body that was like a cage,” he revealed. “We could picture her through heavily-structured Edwardian garments with high collars and tailored suits. And restricted tones of blues, grays and blacks. And when they move to Paris, Lili was more aware that she could be herself in the world, we went with more soft and fluid fabrics and warmer colors.”
Read the rest at TOH/Indiewire.