(Pop Culture)

In ‘Madame Web’, The Perfect Lipstick Is As Character-Shaping As The Supersuits

The movie’s MUA tells all.

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Dakota Johnson on Madame Web set

Marvel movies have become as much a part of the American cultural fabric as football and hotdogs, and as such, audiences understand that there are a few key things any superhero — or superheroine — needs. There’s the compelling backstory that propels them to greatness, there’s the cast of supporting players that makes the narrative feel emotionally-centered and human, and there’s titular character’s distinct look. Usually, the transformation from mild-mannered citizen to world-saving crusader just involves shedding eyeglasses and squeezing into a skin-tight supersuit. But in Madame Web, the makeup is just as critical for telling this latest story in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

There is likely no more qualified person for the job than Madame Web’s makeup department head Vasilios Tanis. Not only does he come equipped with the lifelong passion for iconic superhero comics necessary to build each look with love and attention to lore, but he’s worked on makeup in nearly ever action-packed blockbuster you’ve seen in the past 15-odd years — his high-quality brushes have been on everything from original The Hunger Games trilogy to Top Gun: Maverick, and all the most major Marvel releases.

Tanis’ vantage point is a unique one, and he sat down with TZR to share a behind-the-scenes look at what it took to bring a new, exciting Spiderverse character to the big screen.

Johnson on-set.Jose Perez/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images/Getty Images

From The Comic Books To The Cinema

Marvel and Sony have been turning larger-than-life superheroes into even bigger movie stars for nearly a quarter-century now, but Dakota Johnson’s character Madame Web, also known by her more human identity Cassie Web, presents a special and particularly exciting challenge. She’s very different in this movie than in the initial comics, Tanis explains. “I don't want to call it an origin story, but for the audience that isn’t really familiar with the Madame Web character, it’s a good introduction,” he shares. In the initial comic run, Web is an elderly, blind clairvoyant hooked up to a massive cluster of medical devices to stay alive. In this version, she’s a mid-30s paramedic who develops the gift of supernatural foresight.

As such, Tanis explains everything beauty-wise had to be somewhat realistic to a degree, but the setting did vary. “We also had to deal with aspects of weather, like for some jungle scenes, you have to deal with humidity, so everything needed to be adjusted for that,” he adds.

For the everyday action sequences, when Johnson’s character is first discovering her abilities, Tanis describes her as polished, with a light hand used for her cosmetics. “As she evolves, and she's going through her action sequences and discovering her powers, we beefed it up a little bit,” he explains. “We emphasize her features a little bit more from how we started with her normal look, and just kind of built on that.”

Eventually, as she blooms into a full-fledged superhero, her look gets increasingly dramatic, culminating in her deep red supersuit with a bold lipstick to match. Johnson even helped collaborate on that final hero look, Tanis shares. “I gave her a lot of great references, like fashion editorial references that she can like draw inspiration from because my job is not only to put makeup on someone, but also help develop the character [with] the actor. It’s a very collaborative process.” Tanis pulled a lot of hyper-stylized beauty shoots and portraits for Johnson — think Richard Avedon-style — describing her trailer as “wallpapered” with reference images that helped her fully immerse herself into the character.

Hero Products For A Superhero

For those exciting, done-up moment when Web is discovering her otherwordly abilities, Tanis needed to use products he could rely on to deliver color and definition, but look incredible on 6-foot screen, too. Skin prep was key first, he shares, a strategic process of layering products. One critical pick was the Le Domaine The Cream, which Tanis says he liked to apply in stages as the actor was getting ready in for hair, too. He also used eye patches from Talika to set the stage for the cosmetics (and high-def cameras) to follow. “I used a foundation from Koh Gen Do because Dakota has amazing skin so she really doesn't need a lot of coverage and I wanted to keep her fresh,” he adds, but her radiant complexion is bolstered by the BYROE Hibiscus Tea Glow Mist. “It’s got a lot of essential oils in it,” he says, and “it just basically refreshes the makeup so you don't get makeup buildup.”

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For a celestial glow — crucial for any superhero — ADDICTION TOKYO’s The Glow Stick in shade Above The Moon offered the perfect noir highlight. Tanis likes to buff it out with with a brush over blush for the healthiest hint of shine. “Every time [Johnson’s] head would move or the light would hit her, it would just be a glow that would just be such a huge pop. It just makes the skin look effortless and like you didn't really put makeup on — it looks very natural and healthy,” he tells TZR.

Of course, special attention had to be paid to the glorious moment when Johnson emerges as the fully realized Madame Web, complete with a suit-matching lipstick. The exact product used was the Maybelline Super Stay Vinyl Ink Liquid Lipstick in shade Wicked, selected for its long-lasting weartime and slight sheen.

If these products can stay in-tact through Johnson’s upside-down suspension from wires on-set, they are indeed super.