Tattoos, Scars, and Eyeliner: Turning the Cast of ‘The Gentlemen’ Into Ladies and Gangsters

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There’s a scene in the first episode of Netflix’s “The Gentlemen” where, as part of Eddie Horniman’s (Theo James) introduction to the world of the gangster empires his late father had been doing business with, his new mandatory partner in crime Susie Glass (Kaya Scodelario) takes him to an underground boxing match. In the space of about three seconds, we see American, Russian, Ukrainian, Albanian, Chinese, and Traveller members of the underworld, all gathered to bet on a big fight.

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It’s the kind of world-establishing beat the audience isn’t meant to think too hard about — especially when fail-son Freddie Horniman (Danny Ings) and his garish fur coat are waiting for us at the end of the ring. But it’s a huge amount of work — and a huge labor of love — for the production team to make that world feel believable and fun. Hair and makeup designer Niamh Morrison spent hours meticulously researching the cultures she would need to pull from just to make those background players pop — and not just in reference books.

“I [would go] heavily onto Instagram and find a guy that I like and then find people who follow him and get some real cool images [for the tattoos],” Morrison told IndieWire. “I really wanted to be careful of being really cliché with all the gangsters and I really believed that within our heightened world we’re building, we can create really believable, interesting, colorful characters.”

Morrison would build “hero” tattoos in Procreate herself or employ the work of concept artists before getting them cleared for use on the actors; there were also certain designs she could pull from stock companies that offer tattoos already available to use in films and TV shows. But wherever they came from, the results were transformative.

“What’s so funny in this show is the bigger the baddie, the sweeter the person. The cast were all so adorable,” Morrison said. But it was satisfying, for instance, to lay in a facial scar on Blanket (Logan Dean) that fooled director Guy Ritchie or to use a curated selection of fierce nails, a hairline-raising bald piece, specific business-lady wig, and a strong lip to transform Martha Millan into the dangerous, take-no-shit Mercy.

Martha Milan as Mercy in Netflix's 'The Gentlemen' stares out of frame, her face entirely covered in blood.
‘The Gentlemen’Netflix

Morrison wanted to be particularly exact when it came to the Irish Travellers who play a part in how Eddie adapts to the very illegal weed farm on his family’s estate. “We have a heightened world, but there’s points where you want to be quite sensitive. I’m Irish myself, so it was important to really, really research that — I was all over the background. You have to be sensitive within elevation,” Morrison said.

It’s always a balancing act between realism and heightened reality, particularly in a Guy Ritchie joint, and one that Morrison and her team developed over the course of the series’ prep period. She originally had a more countrified, frizzier idea in mind for Horniman matriarch Lady Sabrina (Joley Richardson), but based on Richardson’s interpretation of the character and the ideas of costume designer Loulou Bontemps, went in a different direction. “She exudes elegance. She exudes expense. And with her makeup and her earthy tones, everything complemented her costume and complemented the world that she was in,” Morrison said.

Joley Richardson as Lady Sabrina in 'The Gentlemen' stands outside her family's estate with a very set expression on her face.
‘The Gentlemen’Netflix

That puzzle piece fitting in a slightly different place impacted Susie Glass’s look, too. Morrison had thought about making her very high-fashion, with her eyeliner as the ultimate armor. That latter part is still true; she’s always polished wherever she goes and always, like the apex predator/manager of a crime syndicate that she is, dressed to suit the environment. But Morrison eventually brought her style a little bit closer to a heightened London look and kind of a “Cockney chic.”

There were several character and set piece opportunities for Morrison and her team to go full high fashion in “The Gentlemen,” but even the toff men meant to look completely ordinary (and/or a little bit coked up) were pushed to a slightly elevated place. “We really wanted to push each character and we want you to know, at a glance, where each character belongs in this world,” Morrison said. “You’re never going to have an AD asking, ‘Have you been into makeup?’”

Even though “The Gentlemen” is a contemporary series, Morrison likens the makeup work to doing something period or genre; from blood and scars and tattoos to gala looks and the sharpest of fashion, the show demands a little bit of everything. The makeup, along with the rest of the design on the show, betrays a lot of information about the characters: where they come from, the image they want to present to the world, and how strong they actually are.

“Guy really lets you push the looks. He has very strong ideas but what I love about him is he said in my first meeting, ‘If you  feel really strongly about something, push for it.’ And I did,” Morrison said. “If you believed in something and you did something that was maybe a bit off-kilter, and you felt it was right,  you just knew he would like it. He has this kind of trust, and it makes you flourish. It was just a great way to work.”

Season 1 of “The Gentlemen” is now streaming on Netflix.

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