Constructing the look of Sharp Objects: An interview with make-up department head Michelle Radow

Episode 8, debut 8/26/18: Amy Anne Marie Fox/HBO. Acquired via HBO Media Relations site.
Episode 8, debut 8/26/18: Amy Anne Marie Fox/HBO. Acquired via HBO Media Relations site. /

Michelle Radow, the make-up lead on HBO miniseries, Sharp Objects, spoke with Hidden Remote about designing the female characters on the show.

Sharp Objects is the critically acclaimed miniseries based on Gillian Flynn’s novel of the same name. The series premiered last summer and many were blown away by the impeccable performances from the main cast of women including Amy Adams, Patricia Clarkson, and Eliza Scanlen.

We had the chance to speak with Michelle Radow, the accomplished make-up department head who was behind designing the looks for the women on the show. Radow’s other credits include Big Little Lies, The Affair, and many other acclaimed series.

Hidden Remote: What were your initial thoughts upon reading the script for Sharp Objects?

Michelle Radow: One of my initial thoughts was about all the scarring. That was a huge part of it. I was lucky enough to have a special effects make-up department head who, his sole responsibility, Adrien Morot, was to conquer that whole side of production.

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My other thoughts were about how different it was from any other project I had done. I had to approach it differently. It’s a very dark series. It took place in the middle of the country.

It’s a small town, it’s supposed to be Wind Gap, Missouri, which is a fake place but we actually went to a very small town in Georgia called Barnesville. I don’t even know what the population is but it was maybe three blocks long by two blocks wide.

I had to get my mind set on where we were and who these characters were. What might they do to themselves? They’re sweating, one has razor burn, one has scars from something, one has freckles, I had to figure out how to build these characters.

Sharp Objects
SHARP OBJECTS — photo: Anne Marie Fox/HBO — Acquired via HBO Media Relations /

HR: Can you compare what it was like to do the make-up for the women on Sharp Objects in contrast to Big Little Lies?

MR: You really have to think about the environment, their status, their jobs, what part of town they live in, it’s very different. Everyone from the character Alice, who was in the mental institution with Camille, what she might look like, to Adora. I wanted Adora to look always put together with a Southern ice queen vibe.

I kept her skin really pale, I even took her half a shade paler than she really is. We used a rich, luscious, venomous, fuschia lipstick. And the nails were so important to Patty (Patricia Clarkson who played Adora). Because she talked with her hands and touched her kids, I wanted them to look like an extension of her hand, almost like claws.

Kate Biscoe was Amy Adams’ personal make-up artist on the show. We were all in the same trailer. She did a great job. We tried to do a contrast between Adora and Camille. Kate used a cooler palette with blue undertones and for Adora, I tried to go with pinks.

Sharp Objects
SHARP OBJECTS — photo: Anne Marie Fox/HBO — Acquired via HBO Media Relations /

HR: Speaking of Adora, she has her own self-harm tactic. She plucks out her eyelashes. Was that a practical effect?

MR: Yes it was! When we did the present-day Adora she was supposed to be somewhat normal, we did layers of mascara. When she was supposed to look like she had been misbehaving and plucking them, I did tricks where I would do no eyeliner on her and in fact, I would take a taupe or a white color, and I would put it on her eyelashes with no mascara so it had the illusion she had less than she did.

When we did the flashback to the ’90s, when Camille was supposed to be a teen, I added individual lashes so it looked like she had more. At Marian’s funeral, you’ll notice she has the lashes. I actually ordered lash extensions and cut them to the length I wanted and then I glued the single tiny lashes in between Patty’s own lashes for the scenes when she has to pull them out so you can actually see them on camera, like pulling out individual lashes. So it was all practical, to my knowledge there was no VFX.

Sharp Objects HBO
Episode 6, debut 8/12/18: Eliza Scanlen. photo: Anne Marie Fox/HBO. Acquired via HBO Media Relations site. /

HR: Amma has a dual personality. A perfect daughter at home but a dark side outside of the house. Did you change your make-up routine depending on the scene for her?

MR: I designed both her looks and then Erin Rosenmann, from my team, took care of her every day on set. We wanted her to look baby-like for Adora. I would work with Alix Friedberg, our costume designer, to look at Eliza’s outfit so I could get inspiration from that.

For her “good girl” look, we would keep her skin milky and cover up any imperfections. At that age, when you see acne it becomes apparent that she’s getting older. So when she was in that “good girl” look we would disguise anything to make her look like an innocent little doll for Adora.

Sometimes with both the younger girls, like Marian, I would use the same color blush for both girls. It was a shade called Desire by Nars and it was the same one we used on Patty. We would keep her innocent, make her eyebrows manicured and combed, no mascara, no nail polish, her nails clean.

With her “bad girl” look, we would put dirt under her nails. We would give her sweat and even give her some pimples, or let her natural ones show through. We used a dark burgundy mascara on her because it gave a slightly evil look to her eyes. Then we would smudge some black around her eyes to make her look older.

Sharp Objects
Sharp Objects – Photo Credit: Anne Marie Fox/HBO. Acquired via HBO Media Relations site. /

HR: You mentioned the Nars blush but were there any other specific products you favored using on set?

MR: Patty’s signature lip color was Rose Petal by Elizabeth Arden. It’s funny, we didn’t even realize the correlation with Adora’s whole thing about roses. I was in the trailer one day and I flipped her lipstick over and saw the name. She and I looked at each other like, “oh that’s creepy.” And the fuschia color she wore at Calhoun is a Revlon color called Cherries in the Snow.

HR: If we opened your make-up bag, what would be some of the products you always have with you?

MR: I always have my Koji eyelash curler with me. It’s from Japan. It has a wider curve and I like the way it curls eyelashes.  I always have my Elizabeth Arden cream blush with me, it’s called Honey, and I always have one of my favorite mascaras by BADgal called Benefit.

And I always have a tube of Aquaphor with me because it’s so versatile. I can use it as lip balm or mix it with lipstick and use it as a tinted chapstick, and you can use it as a moisturizer for anything.

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HR: That’s funny, my mom swears by Aquaphor, too.

MR: I love Aquaphor it’s the best. And one of my favorite lip colors is called Lolita, I always keep that in my bag.

HR: Awesome, I’ll check some of those out! Thank you so much for chatting with me Michelle!

MR: Thanks, you too!

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

You can watch the entire season of Sharp Objects right now on HBO.