Transforming a world-famous, instantly-recognizable actor into a completely new character is a challenge by any metric. But what happens when that star needs to become another famous face, one belonging to an entirely different time period? For lead makeup artist Jackie Risotto, FX’s Feud: Capote Vs. The Swans presented a particularly unique opportunity to bring key female figures of the New York society scene back to life via carefully applied cosmetics, tricks of trade, and absolutely no prosthetics. It’d be a serious feat for any professional, but Risotto is a seasoned veteran of complete on-screen physical alterations and historically-based projects alike — the chance to dig in to such rich material, though, would end up being one unforgettable job.
Critically, the Feud anthology is far from an ordinary cable serial. Each season tells a complete, self-contained story of a famous falling out, and an exacting attention to detail is crucial for bringing these real-life worlds — all of which are filled with conspicuous and understated markers of wealth — to life. Fortunately, Risotto is the type of artist who’s as strategic as she is free-flowing creative.
Ahead, Risotto gives TZR an inside look at the makeup metamorphoses of Feud 2: Capote Vs. The Swans.
Swan-Diving Into High Society
The Ryan Murphy-led series follows Truman Capote as he navigates the dissolution of several high-profile female friendships in the wake of a scathing book excerpt that put his well-heeled circle on thinly-veiled blast. Demi Moore, for instance, plays Ann Woodward, showgirl turned socialite who made headlines when she shot and killed her husband in their Long Island home. It was ruled an accident, but Capote’s piece, a section of his unfinished Answered Prayers novel printed in Esquire magazine, features a character uncannily similar to Woodward who’s painted as a vindictive, murderous gold-digger.
Demi Moore as Ann Woodward
“I started researching these women, the characters that the actors were going to portray,” Risotto explained, describing two thick binders stuffed with source material she gathered in preparation for filming, as well as the mood boards she put together. She compiled photos of the actors and beauty looks they’ve worn along with the real-life Swans and their style through the years, “then I had another binder that was dedicated to different period makeup.”
The series spans the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s, so there was “extensive research all around, including facial hair and nail polish, length of nails, everything,” Risotto says. “It was a ton of research, but it was so fascinating and so much fun. Then we put together mood boards for our additional [actors] that would come and work with us.” Whatever time period the crew was working in at the moment could be matched to the meticulously thought-out boards. “These are high-end wealthy individuals, and we wanted to make sure that everybody looks the part.”
Striking A Delicate Balance
As an old moneyed individual knows, it’s easy to spot a copycat. One of the key points Risotto reiterates is how important it was to find a balance between true-to-life historical accuracy and the minor liberties needed to make sure the series feels like a cosplay. There’s a fine line, she says, between conveying the story but making sure it fits the women portraying the historical figures.
That meant that, for instance, Chloë Sevingy, who plays society darling C.Z. Guest, only required special effects makeup, hairstyling, and clothing for the role — no prosthetics either, across the board. “We used all smoke and mirrors,” Risotto shares, though she’s a seasoned prosthetics artist too. Instead, she focused on fine, distinctly human touches, like painting on freckling, that could transform the actors and make them appear to age as the show cycles through decades.
Chloë Sevigny as C.Z. Guest
The Makeup That Made It All Happen
Through filming, Risotto relied on Pat McGrath’s line of pro-favorite makeup to create the looks and really drive home the Old Hollywood-style glamour — or Old New York, you might say — that each of the Swans had in spades. “We definitely relied on the Skin Fetish foundation and concealer, they just create that flawless, beautiful skin that we were going for,” Risotto tells TZR. “These women in their time were just perfect, you know, and that help us give that perfect glow.”
Calista Flockhart as Lee Radziwill
For scenes with a bold lip, what would work better than McGrath’s best-selling (and always sold-out) MatteTrance lipstick in Elson? The blue-toned shade was perfect for the period, Risotto shares, as was the PermaGel eyeliner for definition and exposition. “Eyeliner was important at certain times with certain women depending on their looks,” she says, “we really leaned in to that classic glamour.”
Risotto’s attention to detail becomes particularly clear as the show hops between decades. In the ‘50s, she says, it was about more of an orangey-red lip with a lighter eye. For more elaborate occasions, like Capote’s famous (or infamous) Black and White Ball in the ‘60s, things get more intricate. “We had hundreds of background [actors],” she says, around 30 extra actors for that day of filming, and they each needed to be turned out in the perfect ‘60s looks. “You'll see bottom lashes, very cut crease eyes, just the colors, everything. We really really wanted to nail that party.”
Molly Ringwald as Joanne Carson
The ‘70s saw a return to a more natural feel and subdued shades, Risotto says, but there was another factor to keep in mind. “We did take into the account that these women still got up every day and put a face on, you know, so their colors might change ever so slightly to go with the times, but they had their signature looks.” That dedication to staying faithful to the real Swans is clear throughout the series.
The Biggest Total Transformation
Perhaps the most major makeover, though, wasn’t with the Swans but their friend-turned-nemesis. Tom Hollander plays the controversial writer in the show, and Risotto considers his transformation to be the most significant. “His arc and his journey is just extensive and amazing — he's just so talented,” she says. No prosthetics were used there either, which meant she had to hand-lay and paint hair lines, facial features, and all sorts of small touches that reflected the real man and the exhausting issues he faces through the show’s timeline.
Tom Hollander as Truman Capote.
“When he would get into character, and he's doing his thing, we would be watching behind monitor like, holy cow — this is amazing.”
A show of this scale only works if the entire ensemble and crew are equally dedicated. The consensus after the first batch of episodes is this is a team that put everything into the project and it more than comes through on-screen