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Behind Dakota Johnson and Sydney Sweeney's 'Madame Web' superhero glam

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Behind-the-scenes make-up with Marvel's Madame WebJose Perez/Bauer-Griffin - Getty Images

What would you change if you had the ability to see the future?

Marvel's newest film Madame Web explores the origin story of one of the franchise's most significant heroines who does just that. It stars actor Dakota Johnson as titular character Cassandra Webb, a paramedic in New York City who develops an ability to see the future. She ultimately forms a friendship with three women—Sydney Sweeney as Julia Cornwall, Isabela Merced as Anya Corazon, and Celeste O’Connor as Mattie Franklin—with unique and powerful destinies.

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Madame Web stars Dakota Johnson, Sydney Sweeney, Isabela Merced, and Celeste O’Connor on set.Courtesy of IMDb/Sony Pictures

The film's press tour has drawn a lot of attention among fans, most recently on the red carpet at its Los Angeles premiere. Johnson and Sweeney wore glamorous spiderweb-inspired gowns by Gucci and Oscar de la Renta to celebrate the occasion. Madame Web lead make-up artist Vasilios Tanis, who's also worked on productions like Spiderman: No Way Home and Top Gun: Maverick, says that while superhero movies are more popular than ever, this film stands out from the pack for good reason.

"I'm sure there is a good amount of superhero fatigue, but one thing that's positive is the fact that the superhero genre is now moving more towards more female aspects of heroism, which has been long overdue," he tells Bazaar. "But I think it's amazing—today, we actually have a standalone movie that is completely female-led." Not only is the film's cast mainly female, but it also features a range of ethnicities that help diversify it from other movies in its genre.

Tanis and his team were each given booklets ahead of filming that were filled with copies of original Marvel comics of each character to ground their beauty approach for each actor. After sifting through images, the artists narrowed down a few different make-up look options for the stars to choose from. "They gave [the booklet] to us as well as the actors," he says. "It was really cool because it's a two-dimensional image, and you try to have to make that different, yet kind of still true to the character. You want to create elements and try to bring that into the real world, and it's always a collaboration with the actor that you're working on."

For more details on Madame Web's beauty philosophy, Bazaar caught up with Tanis for a closer look at some of the skin prep and make-up essentials his team used on set—some of which the stars added to their personal routines after filming wrapped.


How did you prep the actors' skin ahead of make-up application?

As artists, we have to imagine that what we're doing is going to be exaggerated at a very large level, so everything kind of has to be perfect. And for me, that really starts with hydration. I think you also have to get the actor prepped properly when they're not at work with the proper products so you're both on the same page.

But I'm always layering skincare products—I really love Yon-Ka Paris, and typically use their Creme 28 or Pamplemousse as a base. I then go in with The Cream from Le Domaine, which is one of my favourites, and then apply under-eye masks from Talika Paris. While they're sitting in hair, they're getting their skin prepped, and by the time they come back to me it's really hydrated and ready for foundation. Also, CurrentBody's LED mask made a huge difference in the texture and tone of skin—Dakota loved using it in her trailer, Sydney loved it, Celeste, Isabella, they all were obsessed with that mask.

What were some of the staple products you used to perfect the stars's girl-next-door looks?

We really worked on using proper foundations, blending everything out, and making sure that we used hydrating products. Our blushes and highlighters were from Addiction Tokyo, and the highlighter that I specifically fell in love with is called Above the Moon, which is a glow stick. What we would do is apply it to the high points of their face and buff it out with a fluffy brush, and it just left such a beautiful glow. That was one of my favourite products because it doesn't have any sparkle. A lot of highlighters contain a bit of sparkle which would read as unrealistic when it came to this character set because they're supposed to be everyday people.

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Actor Sydney Sweeney as Julia Cornwall in Madame Web.Jose Perez/Bauer-Griffin - Getty Images

As Sydney is an ambassador for Armani Beauty, we prioritised essentials from the brand for her, including their Luminous Silk foundation and concealer. They were very generous, and sent over a lot of products that we could utilise. For Dakota's natural look, we used Koh Gen Do's Maifanshi Aqua Foundation, Addition Tokyo's eyeshadow in the shade Cafe Solaire, and their lipstick in the colour Wise with Age.

How did you capture the characters' transitions from everyday people to superheros with make-up?

Their looks transition as they discover they have powers, so we just beefed up their make-up slightly. We later enhanced certain areas with contouring and adding colour around the eyes as they started to evolve. And then when we got to their superhero looks it was like no-holds-barred—just full out glamour! I think back to the Batman series when Michelle Pfeiffer came out as Catwoman—there was nothing natural about her make-up look. But it's iconic, and just beautiful, and that's what you would expect. It represents a sense of power I think, and balances out the costume.

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Actor Celeste O’Connor as Mattie Franklin in Madame Web.Image courtesy of IMBD/Sony Pictures
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Actor Isabela Merced as Anya Corazon in Madame Web.Image courtesy of IMBD/Sony Pictures

It's no secret that many film productions consist of very long hours. What were some of the ways your team ensured each actor's looks stayed in place for the majority of the day?

It really came down to finding the right products that could withstand durability. Let's take Dakota for example: When she gets to her last look, her hero look, she had to have a red lip—but we couldn't put on just any red lip. Whenever a make-up artist has to do a red lip there's a little sweat on our brows, because you have to be careful, a red can create problems for you. And a lot of times she was strung up on wires and we couldn't get to her to reapply products. But I found that Maybelline's Superstay Vinyl Ink Longwear Liquid Lip Color in the shade Wicked was a lifesaver. It looked pliable, it looked realistic as far as its texture. It did not move.

Additionally, Byroe's Hibiscus Tea Glow Mist is my new secret weapon. And what it does is refresh make-up using ingredients like raspberry seed oil and hibiscus flower. It's hydrating, but it also gives you a beautiful dewy look, and re-energises the make-up. So, a few squirts of this in between takes saved my life. And also, Byroe's Mojito Lip Mask was really great to help keep their lipstick looking fresh. What it does is emulsify whatever you put on top of it for colour, and helps keep it in place since the lips are so hydrated.

How are the make-up looks in Madame Web similar or different from other Marvel films with female leads?

I think because we see a beauty graduation and evolution in Madame Web. As they start to discover their abilities, they evolve more into themselves, and that translates into their looks becoming a little bit more defined. So, we work on defining their looks more so than when you first were introduced to them in the beginning of the film. And by the time we get to the end where they're in their hero looks, the characters are completely metamorphosed into these other worldly powerful beings, in a sense, and that translates with their looks.

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