Jordan Samuel, head of The Kennedys makeup department, faced three challenges when he took on the job of designing makeup for the historical drama. One was to accurately represent the periods, from the 1930s through to the late 1960s. Another was how to turn the actors’ faces into the iconic characters that everyone knows. And the third was how to age the characters as they move through the decades.
“Our main objective in designing the makeup was not to make our actors look exactly like those people. We tried to design a look that when the audience is watching they’ll say ‘I never noticed how much Katie Holmes looks like Jackie Kennedy’, or ‘I never noticed how much Barry Pepper looks like Bobby,’ rather than making them identical look-alikes. They don’t look like them enough to begin with and we’d lose the actors underneath all the makeup if we chose to go in that direction,” Samuel explains.
“We kept the essence of who they really are and tried to infuse the essence of who they were trying to portray. Along with their performances, great wardrobe and great hair… I think we came pretty close.”
The makeup for Holmes was a straightforward design, called “corrective makeup.” He explains: “We can alter the shape of someone’s face, their nose and lips using techniques of contour and highlight. If someone has very close set eyes, there are techniques to make their eyes look wider apart. When I looked at photos of Jackie Kennedy it was clear that Jackie had very wide-set eyes. So I used those creative techniques to make Katie’s eyes seem as wide apart as possible to broaden her face.
“I also changed her lip line so that the emphasis was on the bottom lip line to make her lips fuller, like Jackie’s. Once that was achieved, then the makeup was applied as if that was the structure of her face to begin with.”
Holmes was also made to age in the eight episodes. “We used subtle aging makeup and contour highlights,” Samuel explains. “She starts to get a little tired under the eyes as she gets further on in age. The last we see Jackie is in 1968 and at that point I tried to reflect the emotional nightmare she had been through (losing her husband and her brother in law). That was achieved with straightforward makeup techniques such as coloration under the eyes, playing up the shadows in her face and slightly altering the color of her skin to make her look fatigued and showing the physical signs of what Jackie had gone through.”
Makeup for Barry Pepper
The only actor in The Kennedys who was required to wear a prosthetic was Pepper. A silicon nose was created for him and applied every day to change his profile and the tip of his nose to get his nose to look as much like Bobby Kennedy’s as possible. “We wanted to give Barry the essence of Bobby, without trying to do a complete look-alike makeup,” Samuel says.
Pepper was given dentures as well because Bobby had a very specific smile and a particular look to his teeth. He also wore blue contact lenses to match Bobby’s eye color. Samuel also applied contour and highlighting makeup on Pepper to make his face look more like Bobby’s.
Makeup for Tom Wilkinson
As Joseph Kennedy, Tom Wilkinson ages 30 years in the series. “Every main character in The Kennedys ages, from the time we see them to the end. The entire project is based on a series of flashbacks, so it’s been challenging that way,” Samuel says.
“Tom Wilkinson’s and Diana Hardcastles’ makeup were the most complicated makeup that we did. We used a series of wigs and bald caps and aging techniques to take Tom and Diana from their early ages in the story into their 80s.” Aging techniques include creating wrinkles, shadows under the eyes, liver spots on hands and foreheads and sagging skin.