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How Meryl Streep and Anna Kendrick Got Into Character for 'Into the Woods'

The costume and hair designers of "Into the Woods" tell us how they made the magic happen.

There are few things that warm the soul like a fantastical holiday movie, especially if you're the type to geek out over awesome costumes and makeup. (Hi.) So while we were excited about the all-star cast of the upcoming film adaptation of "Into the Woods" — Meryl Streep, Johnny Depp, Anna Kendrick, etc. — the big question was what kind of styling spin the design teams would put on the musical's host of fairy tale characters. 

As you've probably seen from the photos Disney has dropped so far, it looks pretty damn good. Streep, for instance, has crazy blue hair. Like, that's it. She won the war.

With the film hitting the big screen on December 25, we hopped on the phone with costume designer Colleen Atwood and hair and makeup artist Peter Swords King to get the lowdown on how they created each of the characters' looks.

The Witch

Colleen Atwood, costumes: "My one true thing that tied [all of the costumes] together is that it’s called 'Into the Woods,' and I wanted to interpret the feeling of wood and things that come from the woods. I used textures and created a lot of textiles within the film that had the idea of shadows in the woods or bark in the woods.

"[Streep's dress] before her transformation is leather cord that’s laid onto chiffon so it has a real bark texture... you're stitching a hard cord onto a sheer fabric. It's quite a process, but we got it down to a sort of manufacture."

Peter Swords King, hair: "We chose the color purely from fabric samples. Colleen had done the dress, and had chosen her fabrics, and we all thought she should have blue hair. It's more fantasy and fairy tale.

"That hair is all dyed with fabric dye. I don’t use chemical hair colors. You put the color in boiling water and throw the hair in. Fabric dye is meant for wool and silk and cotton, and her hair is just another part of all that chain. All my wigs that I work with now — that I have done for the last 30 years — are all done with fabric dye.

"[The wig] was first set on rollers, then it was backcombed, then it was tonged on little tongs, then pulled and stretched, and you keep sort of putting product in — mostly hairspray on that one — and you keep playing with it and plying it until you get this awful mess. You start out with something that looks like it does when she’s beautiful, then mess it up.

"We had to make [Streep's younger and older looks] relate in some way. It was sort of the younger look first, then what would it look like 150 years down the road? So it’s a dreary, drab blue color. You see her as an old witch, but then when she turns young it’s fantastic. Meryl looks fantastic in that blue."

The Wolf

Atwood: "We started with a different look, but then I heard Johnny's recording of the song. Johnny and I talked, and we’ve always wanted to do a zoot suit and never had the chance. So we said, let’s do the zoot suit! How can it interpret a wolf without being a fur costume? So I took photographs of fur and I did a drawing for an embroidery, and I drew these fur shapes and embroidered them flat on a piece of wool. For the tail and the collar, the same embroidery came up. I wanted to make fur out of thread — there's a technique to make it look like fur with thread. They used to do wigs like that in the '20s."

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The Baker's Wife

Swords King: "With someone like Emily [Blunt], she’s beautiful anyway, so you want to enhance her natural beauty. So for the hair, you want it to be beautiful and clean. We twisted it up very simply. The profile is always very important. A lot of people might give her a bun at the nape of the neck. But you put it somewhere else and keep the neckline clean, which exaggerates the jawline. Though she’s meant to be simple, we can still do things to heighten the look rather than just make her look dowdy. If we’d wanted to do that, we would have put the bun at the nape of the neck."

Atwood: "Emily Blunt’s velvet, linen and silk bodice in the first act is all a mega closeup of bark. It's a crafty kind of patchwork effect."


Atwood: "With her transformation dress, I wanted something that would be part of the tree [that grows at her mother's grave] and that world, that golden green sort of world... It was a complicated costume in the sense that you wanted it to be Cinderella, but you didn’t want a pink 'fluffball' Cinderella. You wanted one who doesn’t really want to be Cinderella, which Anna was so perfect for. It was a little bit of a journey for me, that dress. I think I got there with the tree [inspiration]."


Swords King: "Originally we were going to have hair that was all out, all flowing. But then we looked at it, and I did a bit of a test. It was a nightmare on set, the maintenance of it — 30, 35-foot-long hair. It [was] going to pick up everything. We'd have to employ at least three people to look after it. The plait made it a bit more practical. We decided to make it not so lovely and neat. There are bits of hair hanging out, which is how it would be if you had 35-foot-long hair." 

"It look three people to plait it. Each had a strand, and we did it in the corridor outside the makeup room. Literally it was like a maypole dance in the 1950s in England. Then what we did after that is we literally attached it to her head and wove her hair at the back into the plait to make it look like her own hair. [Mackenzie Mauzy] was fantastic, really professional, and we helped her with it. She’d hang it over the back of her seat when she sat down. 

"When you see in the film, with the witch climbing up, that’s the real plait. The hair is very strong. What we did is in the middle of each strand, we put a very thin climbing rope and wove the three into the plait.

"The idea of someone combing her hair all day was very Disney princess, and what we wanted to do was steer away from the Disney image. She’s very cross. She’s been kept up here. She’s not allowed to cut her hair. So like a teenager would, the last thing she’d do is keep it nice. You’ve got that whole teenage rebel thing... It’s all a little bit reverse psychology. I think in real life, if there's a girl who’s always been told she has the most beautiful hair, the first thing she wants to do is cut it off."

 The Princes

Atwood: "They were great because they were very different. One is the dark, not quite a prince, and the other is the aristo-prince. They have a number called 'Agony,' which is a show stopper. They're standing in a waterfall ripping their shirts open. They were so game.

"Chris Pine as a prince is more classic. His costume was influenced from a Nordic fairy tale that I had at home that was the ultimate prince. It was so simple. I liked the idea of it for him."

"[Billy Magnussen's] character with Rapunzel is kind of the bad boy, a little biker-y. The guy your mom doesn’t want you to go out with in high school. Then Cinderella’s prince is the romantic fairy tale who turns out to be rather weak in character. The reason I chose black [for Billy] was I wanted that sort of '50s take on it. We used silver embroidery thread and studs."

Swords King: "We wanted them to look princely but we didn’t want to turn them into caricatures. [Chris Pine's] look is slightly modern, because he had to look good. You’ve got to think of the audience and make him attractive. We did a minimal cut of his hair, blow dried it and used the fullness to exaggerate it. Then with Billy, we gave him a haircut, gave him a side part. He has nice blonde hair. You don’t want to be looking at [their hair] too much because of what they’re doing. If the hair is too distracting it would have been annoying, so we just kept them looking gorgeous. You can understand why, for instance, Emily Blunt's character falls for him briefly."