In Hulu’s newest crime drama, The Girl from Plainville, Elle Fanning transforms into Michelle Carter, the infamous girlfriend of the late Conrad Roy, who died by suicide after Carter encouraged him to kill himself via text messages. (Remember the “texting suicide case” from a couple years ago? This is it.)
Carter was later convicted of involuntary manslaughter for her involvement in Roy’s death, and the show—which premieres March 29—dissects the pair’s complicated relationship, the events leading up to Roy’s death in July 2014, and the aftermath as Carter goes on trial in Massachusetts. (The show’s name is a nod to Carter’s hometown of Plainville, Massachusetts, a few towns over from where Roy lived in Mattapoisett.)
In the show, Fanning, 23, looks eerily like the real Michelle Carter. Her transformation required three wigs, strategic placements of individual moles and freckles, and even the creation of artificial scabs on her lip from Carter’s nervous gnawing. Makeup artist Erin Ayanian Monroe re-created what she described as the “outlandish eyebrows Michelle adopted during her court appearances,” and Fanning wore a silicone piece on her forehead to change her hairline. Ahead, BAZAAR.com finds out more about how it happened.
The Key Players Behind the Look
The transformation came about thanks to a power duo. Hairdresser Jules Holdren has a career spanning more than four decades in runway, print, advertising, commercials, and feature film; her credits include work from Black Widow to House of Cards to Mad Men. Makeup artist Ayanian Monroe has done makeup for 30 years, including work for Grey’s Anatomy and Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, and as Elle Fanning’s makeup artist on multiple prior projects, like 2019’s Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, 2017’s Mary Shelley, and 2016’s 20th Century Women. Between just the two women helming the beauty team, there is more than 70 years’ worth of experience. In other words, they really know what they’re doing.
The Preproduction Process
“We were very lucky not only having the court publicity photos, but personal photos of Michelle Carter’s life to pull from,” Holdren says. To prepare to shoot, Holdren says she thoroughly broke down the script by character and scene numbers, then pulled any reference photos or inspiration images to present to Fanning and the show’s co-creator Liz Hannah.
For her part, Ayanian Monroe watched every documentary about the case she could find, several times over—notating Carter’s skin tone, exactly where on her face Carter’s moles and freckles were, and even noticing when a scab formed on her lip after she gnawed at it nervously. “I stockpiled images and put them up in the trailer sequentially with the dates they were taken on them so that I always had a reference for any particular scene that there was a public record of,” Ayanian Monroe says.
The Hair Process
For the project, Holdren had three wigs to take the character from age 15 to age 20, all made by Alex Rouse in London. The first, her younger look, was 23 inches in length; the second, her sentencing look, was “the iconic shoulder-length cut,” Holdren says; and the third was the dramatic short hair Carter sported for her final court date, when she was taken off to jail.
For the sentencing scenes, a forehead prosthetic was designed by Arjen from Ren Studio and applied by Todd Watson, Holdren says. “This gave the wig hairline the look it needed to show Michelle’s weight loss and loss of hair due to her anorexia,” Holdren says.
Holdren says it took about an hour and 10 minutes each day to wrap Fanning’s hair, apply the wig, and style it for the scene. “Elle had great ideas when it came to the looks we created,” Holdren says.
To get the look, Holdren says she used only a little oil on her wigs; because the wigs were blonde, she opted for Olaplex oil. When the wigs needed cleaning, Holdren went with Olaplex shampoo and hydrating conditioner to get the job done, and to combat flyaways, Holdren used Oribe anti-humectant hair spray, which Holdren says she always uses when filming in the South (the show was shot in Savannah, Georgia).
“My most favorite was the shoulder-length bob,” Holdren says. “Her look for the infamous prom photos were a lot of fun to re-create.” Her least favorite: the dramatic short haircut at the end of the series. “The final short wig wasn’t a very flattering haircut,” Holdren says. “Not my favorite.”
The Makeup Process
“Elle is extremely pale, so it was a challenge to cosmetically create Michelle’s skin tone each day,” Ayanian Monroe says. Another challenge? Transforming a glamorous Hollywood actress whose makeup is being professionally done into a teenage girl who doesn’t have a beauty veteran of 30 years behind the scenes.
“During the earlier time period, it was very important to me that the makeup disappeared into teenage-girl world,” Ayanian Monroe says. “It needed to look amateurish and realistic, as if she had applied it herself. When you are doing character makeup, you need to incorporate the everyday flaws that occur when a nonprofessional is applying it. Flawless makeup can actually distract from the story if it doesn’t jive with who the character is.”
With hair and makeup, the process could take up to two hours total, Ayanian Monroe says, and closer to two and a half hours if the silicone piece was being applied that day. Throughout most of the show, the makeup is minimal, reflecting that of an everyday teenage girl. For the prom scenes, the courtroom scenes, and a Glee-inspired fantasy sequence, “It was all about matching everything as closely as possible to reality,” Ayanian Monroe says. “We had numerous photographs to reference, and the absolutely genius costume designer, Mirren Crozier, had sourced the exact garments Michelle Carter had worn in court.”
In those courtroom scenes, a dramatic beauty transformation happens to Michelle Carter in the form of “the outlandish eyebrows Michelle adopted during her court appearances,” Ayanian Monroe says. “The eyebrows were a thing. I wanted to match Michelle’s as closely as possible without destroying Elle’s own brows in the process. Elle’s have a much more pronounced arch, and Michelle’s are very straight—so it couldn’t be exact, but I think we achieved the impression of a match.”
Ayanian Monroe has done Fanning’s glam makeup many times. but it was different, she says, to make Fanning look glam not for a red carpet, but a high school prom. “The prom look was the most fun,” she says. “It was just so entirely out of our wheelhouse for Elle’s real-life appearances. The kind of makeup you see on unsophisticated teenage girls who like to use every single product out there, all at once.”
The Final Word
Though Fanning bears some natural resemblance to Carter, the hair and makeup teams took her to doppelgänger status. But even if Holdren and Ayanian Monroe did their part, it was Fanning herself who fully embodied the character. “The way she walked, facial expressions, to her frailty to mania was quite remarkable,” Holdren says. Ayanian Monroe agrees. “The project was a challenging one, but in the end so satisfying,” she says. “Elle is astonishing in the role.”
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