Behind the make-up of ‘Bottoms’: ‘If we could have used more blood, we would have’

Part teen sex comedy, part Fight Club smackdown, Bottoms‘ wild duality comes through loud and clear in every aspect of its filmmaking — including its makeup looks. Characters are just as likely to be dusted with glitter as they are to be drenched in blood. Sometimes, they’re both at once!

So for Bottoms makeup department head Natalie Christine Johnson, the film presented a unique opportunity. On the one hand, she had to design bruised-up, gorier looks for Bottoms‘ many fight scenes. On the other, she was faced with developing beauty makeup for the movie’s high school-aged protagonists.

The strategy became: “Perfect the canvas, make it so everyone’s beautiful, everyone’s flawless. Then throw blood on it,” Johnson told Mashable. Throughout our interview, she also broke down her inspirations for the film’s makeup looks, what makes the perfect fake blood, and the ins and outs of shooting Bottoms‘ brutal final fight.

Perfecting the bruises and beauty of Bottoms.

Three young women sitting in a car, looking shocked.
Rachel Sennott, Havana Rose Liu, and Ayo Edebiri in “Bottoms.”
Credit: Courtesy of Orion Pictures Inc.

Despite the heightened chaos of the rest of Bottoms — Wrestlers in cages! Murderous football players! — it was important to Johnson that the makeup remained realistic and grounded. That way, audiences would remain immersed in the world director Emma Seligman establishes.

To accomplish that realism, Johnson made sure characters’ bruises and cuts matched up with the hits they were taking, coordinating with stunt coordinator Deven MacNair during shoots. She also had to track the stages of healing for every injury. After all, a bruise may start out a deep purple, but as time goes on, it morphs to green. Johnson has a background in horror, including The Purge TV series, so when it comes to covering actors in blood and wounds, she said, “I can do that with my eyes closed.”

The everyday high school looks presented a different challenge. “It’s actually harder to preserve beauty makeup just because you have elements like heat and wetness and changing in and out of clothes and your body’s natural oils,” said Johnson. “Not that it’s hard, but it’s definitely more to keep up with as opposed to when you’re a little grungy and dirty.”

For these looks, Johnson opted for naturalism, occasionally taking inspiration from ’90s comedies like She’s All That. Sometimes, the makeup veers into more current trends, such as putting gems on cheerleaders’ faces. But the most ostentatious look by far has to be PJ’s (Rachel Sennott) statement makeup in the film’s early fairground scene.

“She just has every makeup trend known to man on her face,” Johnson said of the look, which includes heavy contour and highlight, a severe cut crease, and minty blue eyeshadow caked on around her tear ducts. “This is what PJ’s interpretation of what a girl doing her makeup should look like, and it’s so wrong.”

Inspiration for this PJ look came from one very specific place: Marnie’s extreme wedding makeup from Season 5 of Girls. “Remember when Marnie got her makeup done, and it was horrifying?” Johnson asked. “That’s what Rachel and I talked about in our first meeting. She was like, ‘I want it to be Marnie’s wedding makeup, but tweaked.'”

Shooting Bottoms was a bloody business.

Two young woman with bruised faces standing in a high school gym.
Rachel Sennott and Ayo Edebiri in “Bottoms.”
Credit: Courtesy of Orion Pictures Inc.

Johnson may have drawn from ’90s comedies and Girls for Bottoms‘ beauty makeup, but when it came to the fight scenes, it was all about Fight Club and Kill Bill. Kill Bill in particular became a touchstone for Bottoms‘ fake blood, as both films’ blood is a tad brighter than the real stuff so it can pop more on screen.

Choosing the fake blood to use on-set was an intense affair all by itself. “So many e-mails back and forth,” Johnson said of the process. “You don’t want to use anything that could potentially stain skin or wardrobe.” (For anyone looking for fake blood advice, Johnson settled on Fleet Street Bloodworks Drying Blood due to its staying power, but she tweaked the “Fresh” color so it would be even brighter.)

Bottoms puts its fake blood (gallons and gallons of it) through the ringer, especially in a climactic fight scene between PJ and Josie’s (Ayo Edebiri) fight club and a killer football team. According to Johnson, the sequence was filmed over six nights. When the blood was involved, she and her team would have to bloody the actors, clean them between takes, and re-bloody them.

“It’s very red light, green light,” she said, “But it’s so fun. Four hours will go by and you’ll have no idea.”

That fun extended to the atmosphere on set. “It was like a summer camp vibe, because the girls were having so much fun with their fighting and they loved being covered in blood,” Johnson said. She remembers Sennott and Havana Rose Liu being especially excited about the blood.

“I always told [Rachel] that she was my Edward Norton,” Johnson said. “She loved being bloody.”

Seligman also loved the copious amounts of blood being used on set. For that final fight scene — and the movie in general — the rule seemed to be the bloodier, the better. “Emma always wanted to elevate it,” Johnson said. “She wanted that last scene to be the bloodiest. If we could have used more blood, we would have.”

Bottoms is now in select theaters.


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