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Fosse/Verdon: Using Hair and Makeup to Recreate Looks of the Stars

Award-Winning Artists: Debbie Zoller and Christopher Fulton

Eliza Kanner
Updated February 18, 2020

If you’ve had a chance to watch the incredible FX mini-series Fosse/Verdon, which highlights the complex partnership between famous choreographer and dancer Bob Fosse (played by Sam Rockwell), and one of the greatest Broadway dancers of all-time Gwen Verdon (played by Michelle Williams), you would most likely agree that the acting and cinematography is a visual feast for the eyes. For just that alone it is worth the watch. But as members in the International Beauty Industry community, the makeup and hair sorcery looks so perfect it may seem effortless upon first glance, that is, until you do a little digging…

For Michelle’s transformation, it took a team of seven hairstylists, and 11 makeup and prosthetics artists. This team recreated a timeline spanning three decades (1950-1980) and accurately nailed the slow aging process absolutely undetectably. One trick: using lifting tapes under their incredibly and painstakingly designed hair pieces and wigs for their most youthful days, using Michelle and Sam’s current aging for their middle age and adding prosthetics and SFX to accurately depict their older looks. 

Makeup Designer Debbie Zoller won an Emmy (Outstanding Makeup for a limited series or movie) for the looks created in the Fosse/Verdon mini-series. She talks about how the mini-series relied on hair, makeup and SFX: 

Because Fosse/Verdon is a period piece spanning over five decades, this show was all about makeup, hair, and prosthetics, especially because we had to make our actors look like people who actually existed. Every actor, dancer, and background artist went through fittings. I would pull specific lashes, lip colors or facial hair based on what each person needed to pull them into the period. We had to make Sam and Michelle younger and older. For their younger looks, we used cosmetic lifts under their wigs. For their older looks, prosthetics were used around the eyes, cheeks, forehead and neck. We also had prosthetic brow covers for Kelli Barrett who played Liza Minelli.”

Kelli Barrett as Liza Minnelli in Fosse/Verdon (left); Liza Minnelli in the 1972 film Cabaret (right)
(© Pari Dukovic/FX; Allied Artists from YouTube)


Debbie’s advice for future makeup artists? 

“I always tell new aspiring artists to not give up. Every day you have to do something to practice and perfect your craft and promote yourself and your career. It never ends! You have to be fully committed to yourself and your art. It helps to find a community of other makeup artists that can lift you up when you’re feeling frustrated and can celebrate your successes. Find a mentor. Someone who believes in you. A mentor does wonders for your self-esteem as an artist and you will pick up information and techniques that will come in handy for the rest of your career. It’s what you bring to the table that will get you hired time and time again.”

Hair Department Head Christopher Fulton (Emmy award-winner of the Outstanding Hairstyling for a limited series or movie for Fosse/Verdon), tackled and nailed an absolutely perfect comb-over, and multiple wigs, to create Verdon’s signature looks over the years.


So how did Christopher nail that absolutely perfect comb over? 

“It almost became a weird fetish thing for me, taking photos of balding men with comb-overs, I’d be in a restaurant or waiting in line or something and if I saw a man with a comb-over and extreme receding hairline, I’d just take a photo. I wanted Sam’s hair to look lived in and natural. I wanted the viewer to really fall into the 1950s or fall into the 1970s. A bad wig is the worst thing you can do on a show. It takes you right out of the story.”


Many viewers were amazed by Kelli Barrett’s portrayal of iconic Liza Minneli’s in the cabaret scene. Fulton said: 

“We wanted pinpoint accuracy because so many people remember these musical numbers. For me, the big payoff would be if I watch the show and say ‘She looks just like Liza.’ I was so finicky about every single detail, I certainly made everyone crazy.”

Kelli Barrett as Liza Minnelli, filming a Fosse/Verdon scene.
(© Michael Parmelee/FX)

Well, Christopher, you may have made everyone crazy, but it sure was worth it. The work you, Debbie and the entire team did to recreate and bring these characters to life was incredible. I suspect it will be remembered for its incredible hair and makeup artists for some time.

If you are looking for your next binge look no further than FX’s Fosse/Verdon. Michelle Williams nabbed a Golden Globe for portraying Fosse’s Muse and partner in crime, Gwen Verdon, and it was a very well deserved win. Congratulations to Debbie and Christopher for their well deserved Emmy wins!



Eliza Kanner

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