A version of this story about the designers behind “Angelyne,” “Impeachment: American Crime Story” and “Pam & Tommy” first appeared in the Down to the Wire: Drama issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine.
A nostalgic look in the rearview mirror is nothing new for television creators. But it is unusual when so many mine the same era, in this case reframing controversial personalities and events from the recent past. The frenetic landscape of the 1980s smashing directly into the 1990s was omnipresent in three different limited series: Peacock’s “Angelyne,” FX’s “Impeachment: American Crime Story” and Hulu’s “Pam & Tommy”. They not only provided viewers with a satisfying reintroduction to the excesses of those decades, but also gave their leading female characters a dissecting reevaluation. And the designers on all three projects were vital to the series’ success.
“Angelyne” depicts the eccentric billboard queen of Los Angeles during her heyday of TV appearances and “Earth Girls Are Easy” fame. Dubbed by one right-wing talk-show curmudgeon within the series as “famous for absolutely nothing,” Angelyne (not her real name, of course) is notable for her inscrutability and deflections, making things challenging for the show’s creators. And while “Shameless” vet Emmy Rossum, who disappears impressively into the role of the buxom Angeleno, did get some one-on-one time with her, costume designer Danny Glicker did not.
“I had no specific contact with her,” first-time Emmy nominee Glicker said. “But what I did have was an enormous amount of research, because obviously the real Angelyne is a spectacularly public figure. I wanted to say, ‘What does her world look like?’ It was sort of like making her this ultimate ball of light, and everyone who touches her gets a little bit of that magic and is transformed.”
Glicker and his team also leaned into the series’ depiction of the titular figure as otherworldly: She even gets a full-on dance number with back-up dancers decked out in checkerboard prints and fishnet stockings, a nod to Angelyne’s real-life “My List” music video from 1986. This fantasy version, though, is set to Nina Hagen’s funky earworm “Cosma Shiva” and includes a buttoned-down reporter (Alex Karpovsky) wandering into the pop-culture diva’s dream world. (The reporter character later admits in a first-person interview in the series that he was momentarily swept up in her aura.)
“I wasn’t trying to recreate any tangible truth,” Glicker said. “I was totally liberated to use the language established in our research and then expand upon it for our version of events, which is taking place in an infinity mirror of unreliable narrators.”
But while Glicker referenced Angelyne’s iconic looks, he knew he couldn’t rely solely on the popping pinks and purples in her wardrobe. “It would be easy to do that,” he said, “but that’s not very fun to watch for five episodes, right? I really had to hook you in and then I had to make sure that you understood that each outfit was actually giving you a peek of something Ang didn’t want you to know. And that, for me, is the ultimate joy. It could be something as small as a tear in her stocking. I was always trying to build a small secret into each costume.”
Glicker turns gleeful describing his close working relationship with Rossum. “I was so moved by being able to tell an entire story through the narrative of a person who is reaching deep within them in a very vulnerable way to reveal their ultimate truth to the world through artifice,” he said. “Artifice being a tool for authenticity. Any success that I was able to accomplish was due to the fact that I had Emmy, the most fearless and willing collaborator. I don’t think that we could have accomplished what we did without a total commitment to character. It was pure joy.””
IMPEACHMENT: AMERICAN CRIME STORY
“Impeachment” takes place on the opposite coast from “Angelyne” and “Pam & Tommy,” in the Washington D.C. of the Clinton administration, and department head hairstylist Natalie Driscoll had her work cut out for her in recreating the ’90s styles of hundreds of real people. “We had 378 cast members on this project, and every one of them wanted to transform,” said Driscoll, an Emmy winner for both previous installments of “American Crime Story.” “So even if we could only find one picture of that (real) person back in the day, we’ve tried to do whatever we could to make them look on point.
”The work involved the transformation of actors such as Beanie Feldstein and Annaleigh Ashford as the media-maligned, late-night-fodder figures Monica Lewinsky and Paula Jones, respectively, treating them with much more respect than snarky pundits offered at the time. “Paula Jones had a major transformation going from small-town Arkansas, where I’m from, to the more sophisticated big-city look,” Driscoll said. “But because it’s Arkansas, it needs to have a kind of 10-years-prior look. There were a lot of blunt edges, blowouts, those kinds of things. I could only get three wigs and had four looks (for each of them). So, I wondered, ‘Do we take one of the looks away and only do the three looks?’ But I figured out a way to not have to do that because I really wanted to show passages of time and tell their story through their hair.”
“With Beanie,” Driscoll added, “Monica had that very specific, thick, luscious hair of hers. When it comes to reenacting, I’m a perfectionist, so I really love to make sure every little detail is realistic and not tweak it in any way unless I have to.” Driscoll has also said she always went back to the TV show “Friends” for some inspirations for these 1990s styles. “They had the iconic looks throughout the decade.”
Another thing that had to be factored into the hairstyling was geography. “There’s a lot more humidity in D.C., which we really didn’t deal with when we were working in Los Angeles (on the O.J. Simpson series of “American Crime Story”),” Driscoll said. COVID restrictions during filming also kept some of the team separated—namely Sarah Paulson, who underwent a massive body-and-hair transformation playing Lewinsky confidante and eventual betrayer Linda Tripp.
Lewinsky herself fully gave her blessing to “Impeachment” (she’s even a producer on the series) and dropped in on the hair department briefly. “It was short,” Driscoll said, “but she was so sweet and kind and was really happy with the way that Beanie was transformed into her.”
PAM & TOMMY
Pamela Anderson was a Los Angeles queen of media in the same era as Angelyne, until an ill-timed sex tape with then-husband Tommy Lee — the narrative crux of “Pam & Tommy” — derailed her escalation in the biz they call show. However, makeup artist head David Williams and effects makeup artist Jason Collins felt they needed to honor Anderson’s legacy as a trendsetter.
“We had a plethora of images and even some of the products that she used — lip liner colors and those things, that iconic baby Bardot look for Playboy that makeup artist Alexis Vogel created (in 1993),” said Williams, who also worked on the makeup team for “Angelyne” and is competing in two different categories at the Emmys this year. “Whether it was “Baywatch” or even the “Barb Wire” leather, we had to all work together to make sure that you didn’t see any seams. We wanted to make sure that there was enough coverage, that you could still not break the illusion of what we were doing. The “Baywatch” bathing suit was the most iconic look we had to create,” adds Williams. “That was the most stressful day I’ve ever had.”
The detail extended well beyond the two leads, Lily James as Pam and Sebastian Stan as Tommy. “There was painstaking effort to make sure that everybody’s look was detailed and specific,” Williams said. “Every single lipstick, the shaping of the facial hair and sideburns of Nick Offerman’s adult film star/producer (Uncle Miltie), the stay-in-home look of Taylor Schilling’s Erica Boyer, Mötley Crüe and its band members… We wanted images of the same world, the same universe, and the same attention to detail for everybody.
But James’ uncanny Pam was at the center of the series, which also meant an emphasis on spray tans and close work with costume designer Kameron Lennox, who was responsible for various thongs and one-piece bathing suits among other period-specific duds. “We always wanted to have that sun-kissed Southern California look,” Collins said. “And Lily doesn’t naturally have that. To get the exact color tone we wanted, that spray tan was only used as a base, and we would do a full body spray on her every single day. Every part of her body that was showing was painted with makeup, usually an illustrator color, or EBA (European body art), which is also alcohol-based. We had a formula that we used for the right combination of colors, and we just kept a lot of it on hand.”