For the latest Showtime series, The first lady, Gillian Anderson, Michelle Pfeiffer and Viola Davis were commissioned to portray the forces of nature Eleanor Roosevelt, Betty Ford and Michelle Obama, respectively, before and during their time in the White House. Makeup artist Carol Rasheed was brought in for the project by a producer she had previously worked with to help bring these women to life on screen, a key aspect alongside the game itself. “To have the [chance] covering 108 years of work was the opportunity of a lifetime,” Rasheed told Coveteur. “I was very honored to exercise the knowledge of myself and my team.”
Rasheed’s previous work on films like Steel Magnolias and Hunger Games – Catching Fire prepared her for what many might consider a paramount exercise in the power of makeup. Although the first ladies belong to different eras spanning 100 years, Rasheed believed they had a similar approach to beauty, describing the common aesthetic as “contemporary with a twist”. The make-up was a line of continuity between the three eras, which helped create a cohesive visual experience.
After the series premiered on April 17, Coveteur spoke with Rasheed about the pressures of maintaining historical accuracy with character makeup, how she prepared for the special project, and her favorite makeup from series.
How did you prepare for this project?
“I took a different approach to research. I went online and grabbed some footage, working [alongside the] costume designer. [The makeup looks were] based on the information we have collectively collected. I didn’t want to watch any of the other shows because I didn’t want to have any idea what anyone else had done. I wanted [the makeup] to give it a whole new twist. We looked at historical events to make sure we understood. The translation of this information came down to conversations with the director and the costume designer.
How does your preparation process differ when capturing historical icons versus fictional characters?
“We create mood boards of different looks and styles [for each character] to show the director. We extract information that coincides with everyday things. For the project I’m currently working on, [The Color Purple], I created a video presentation for the director to show what the characters would look like, music included. This varies and depends on the content of the story.
When you started defining the appearance of each of the characters, was there a specific detail for each of them that you looked at?
“The three women themselves all had personal makeup artists [in real life]. The overall look of the show was decided early on by meetings I had with the director, some of the film noir I watched, and some of the conversations I had with the costume designer in terms of what kind of look was going to be [for] the show’s three overall arcs. As I watched everything for the show itself, I realized that from the early 1900s to 2007, makeup-consistent makeup was a bit underrated; there was more emphasis on the lips and eyebrows than on the complexion.
It was fun, but also quite difficult to give that consistency to each block. We took the same approach, but with different tones on the lips, for example. When we did the 70s, that was the only place we got to use some of the blues on the eyes and some of the great pastel colors. But it was still very minimal. It all came down to accentuating the beauty that each talent already had.
(L-R): Kathleen Garrett as Laura Bush, Viola Davis as Michelle Obama and OT Fagbenle as Barack Obama in ‘The First Lady.’
Pictured: Jackson Lee Davis/Showtime
Gillian Anderson as Eleanor Roosevelt in ‘The First Lady’.
Picture: Daniel McFadden/Showtime
Michelle Pfeiffer as Betty Ford in ‘The First Lady’.
Photo: Murray Close/Showtime
(R): Viola Davis as Michelle Obama in ‘The First Lady’.
Pictured: Jackson Lee Davis/Showtime
Did you have a specific approach to portraying the difference between first ladies when they were at home and when they were in public?
“There were home looks for some of the ladies. It was a time when you maybe didn’t use lipstick or anything like that. We’ve maintained a natural-looking finish, allowing the skin to bleed, with a bit of glamour. Glam is so understated, especially for Betty Ford and Eleanor Roosevelt. When we walked into Michelle Obama, it was a place where we could use a little more makeup, but it was still a little more low-key.
Is there a makeup detail that stands out as your favorite from the project?
“We made ears for OT Fagbenle who played Barack Obama. I think it helps them get into character when you accentuate those details and play them up a bit. I think he looked brilliant. We also added special teeth, and he had that character so well. He was practicing his dialect in the trailer, and it was strange. Wigs for Eleanor [Roosevelt] and Betty Ford, the makeup, everything was amazing to watch.
Watch Showtime The first lady every Sunday at 9 p.m. ET starting April 17 here.