There are likely only a handful of people on the planet capable of translating one of history’s most iconic and controversial female figures onto the big screen — and even among that select group, Napoleon movie makeup artist Jana Carboni is rather singular. When she brought the emperor’s beloved Joséphine Bonaparte back to life for Ridley Scott’s sweeping historical drama, it was far from a direct recreation of the figure’s most famous oil paintings. Instead, Carboni drew from extensive research, the film’s rich script, and creative interpretations of Joséphine’s legendary life to tell the one-time empress’ story through the power of makeup.
Reviving legends of the past is firmly within Carboni’s professional wheelhouse. She’s worked with Scott on a wide range of acclaimed projections, including other real-life story adaptations like House Of Gucci, for which she and the team earned several award show accolades. Speaking with the makeup artist, though, her deep commitment to both her craft and doing the actual Joséphine justice lent a special element to this project — it’s apparent in the film’s theater screenings and even palpable in small-screen teaser trailers.
Ahead, TZR gets an inside look at just what it took to nail the years-spanning depiction of Napoleon’s leading lady, played by Vanessa Kirby, including the actual products used on-set.
How She Set The Scene
It’s typical of most movies, but a story of Napoleon’s stature (so to speak) requires more prep work than most. Carboni tells TZR that she dug into the script first, a critical move to get her bearings on scope and timeline. There were mood boards, references, and lots of discussion between Carboni, Scott, and Kirby. “For me, it was very important to find a good balance between history accuracy and bringing in my creative sense and taste,” Carboni explains. Through our discussion, it’s apparent that the makeup artist truly dug into Joséphine as a person, and that intimate knowledge manifests in the original choices she makes for the portrayal. “I wanted her to be, in a way, kind of modern,” she says, and Scott was more than game. “I would say [we’re] lucky, because he was very open to something more bold, and more fun.”
And just like a great date, so much of this success is built on incredible chemistry. Along with her excellent working relationship with the director, Carboni shares that and Kirby clicked right away, sharing and comparing script notes and ideas. Carboni likens the easy creative camaraderie to speaking the same language. For instance, she says, she suggested keeping Joséphine’s eyebrows quite strong throughout the film, a way of maintaining her “wild spirit” that acts as a noticeable through-line even as the setting, story, and costuming changes.
Bringing The Looks (Back) To Life
Because Napoleon covers so many years of Joséphine’s life — including her narrowly avoided execution by guillotine, time as a prostitute, empress, and eventual death from pneumonia — Carboni was tasked with representing which phase she was in through makeup. Joséphine’s more downtrodden moments required the same attention to detail as the glittering coronation scenes. For example, she shares that, before Joséphine meets Napoleon, she’s wearing heavier makeup. “I think that was, in a way, to cover all the pain she went through, like she was almost behind that makeup,” she says. Then, when the pair first get together, the cosmetics are noticeably lighter — he can actually see her, in more ways than one.
To make it all a reality, Carboni turned to a slew of top-rated skin care and makeup products throughout the filming process. Key to the quintessential Joséphine look, she shares, is a delicate crimson blush. Carboni mixed up several samples in search of the perfect shade, eventually stumbling upon the remnants of a vintage lipstick color for sale at a small local market — it was perfect. She recreated the color by mixing a cream Hourglass stick in Adore with a Chantecaille powder blush in shade Horse Joy layered over it. For Joséphine full, willful brows, REFY’s best-selling gel was used for filming, with a quad of matte eyeshadow shades from Chanel used beneath to define the eyes.
Skin texture was critical for the film too, and Carboni relied on everything from red light therapy to Talika sheet masks and under-eye patches, as well as Payot body lotion spread all over for a luminous, lit-from-within glow across the body.
Napoleon is already reigniting a new generation’s fascination with the complicated relationship between two of history’s most recognizable figures. With Carboni’s creativity and master craftsmanship, Joséphine might end up reemerging as a 2020s beauty icon, too.
Shop some of the key products used in the Napoleon film just below.