Cyrano: How Production Design, Makeup and Choreography Crew Took On A Minimalist Approach
Joe Wright’s “Cyrano” is an adaptation of Edmond Rostand’s 1897 play Cyrano de Bergerac, the film’s script is penned by Erica Schmidt based on her 2018 stage musical. When Wright wanted to tell the story with Peter Dinklage in the starring role, he called on production designer Sarah Greenwood to scout for locations – Notto, in Scilly, would be the perfect location.
Wright also had ideas for makeup and even the film’s choreography – minimal was key.
“Cyrano’s” makeup designer Alessandro Bertolazzi says he used just one shade of red for the film’s makeup. In retrospect, Bertolazzi says not only was it a risky move, “but it’s quite crazy.”
His research process to find the right color meant looking at different grease palettes and water-based colors until he found the right color. Once he did, it was about taking that and creating a different result on every character that included Cyrano, played by Peter Dinklage, Roxanne, played by Haley Bennett and Christian (Kelvin Harrison). “There was this extraordinary organic effect where everyone was linked together,” he says.
Wright told hair designer Siân Miller that artist Jean-Antoine Watteau’s 18th-century works were a big inspiration for the look and feel of characters.
For crowd scenes and ensemble numbers, Miller had 60 to 70 wigs and 40 to 50 tie-backs that would be re-styled. She picked traditional wigs inspired by the era made from yak and goat hair, but wanted to set them in a contemporary way that was accessible to the audience. With Roxanne, Miller used two hero (principal) wigs because the actress featured in almost every scene. Each style was tailored to that moment in the storyline. “It went through a few variations; there was the loose style, at one point it’s a bit longer, and by the end, it’s faded and desaturated in tone when we’ve passed a bit of time, and the palette is more neutral,” Miller explains.
She wanted to make Dinklage look boyish. “I wanted something flattering and uncontrived as possible,” says Miller. Again, by the end of the film, she played with his hairline, letting it sit a bit further back while adding in grays.
When it came to the film’s production design, Greenwood had been scouting in the town of Noto, Sicily with set decorator Katie Spencer for another movie that never happened. Awed by its baroque architecture and stonework, Greenwood had mentioned it to Wright. “He said, ‘If we ever shoot “Cyrano,” that’s where we’ll do it.”
Adds Spencer, “Italy was quite impoverished for many centuries, and it still is, so Noto was not over-renovated. It was so full of character and it had this perfect patina and vibrancy that made it the perfect setting.”
Greenwood explains that the natural lighting enhanced the atmosphere of the sets. “You would see a difference in the evening light to the height of the sun and how it changed the color of the stone.”
The sets utilized a stylized minimalism, such as the army barracks where the ensemble breaks into song and dance for the reprise of “Someone to Say.” The song is Roxanne’s “I Want” song in the movie and her ideal love that goes beyond the surface and looks to a deep core. A troupe of army members dances with white sticks instead of swords. “We couldn’t afford the guns,” reveals Spencer. But in using white sticks, Spencer says that helped keep the purity of the location and helped audiences see how color was injected into the scene for storytelling purposes such as the red of the costume.
Since the film was shot during the pandemic, there was a production bubble which meant Wright kept the same ensemble. “It’s the same dancers you see in every scene,” Spencer says. “If you look closely, they’re bakers in one scene, dancers in the next. It was like a theater troupe.” That made it somewhat easier for choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui to work within the limitations of COVID production protocols.
With “Someone to Say,” an idea he had for the number was that “it would be this flower inside that was blooming, and creating a garden of soldiers,” Cherkaoui says of the song’s choreography.
He looked at finding organic formations and incorporating circular movements and having the dancers stand in circles, a sign of support and encouragement to Harrison’s Christian who at this point is smitten with Roxanne. Says Cherkaoui, “The moves were designed to feel as if he’s being encouraged to express himself.”
Cherkaoui conceived the number first with 10 dancers to get a sense of dynamics and worked outwards from there. “I kept on growing that troupe, and while I did that, I checked with Joe and through the cameras to see who needed to be corrected and who needed to move left or right.”
Since the number was shot on location rather than on a soundstage, Cherkaoui says he also rehearsed the number in the space itself which helped his imagination adapt to the space. “We also kept adding elements and set props to complete the creative bigger picture.”
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