Sofia Coppola’s “Priscilla” is a feast for the eye, with its sophisticated sense of style and set decoration. But to tell the story of Elvis Presley (Jacob Elordi) and his bride, Priscilla (Cailee Spaeny), the look of the performers were the opening entry point. For hairstylist Cliona Furey, period pieces are her speciality; she’s also worked on opulent features like Guillermo del Toro’s “Crimson Peak” and “Nightmare Alley.”
Shooting the movie in just 30 days though put all the below-the-line team in a frenzy to get everything accomplished on time and under budget, and hair was no exception. At one point, working with Spaeny, Furey was helping the actress glue on her wig when the power in Furey’s trailer went out. “It was a 30-day shoot so everything was rush, rush, rush and a lot of daylight dependent scenes. So they were waiting for me when the power went out and I actually used a little battery operated light,” she said. “Cailee held it up and I had to just keep gluing. She looked great! I don’t know how I got that wig on that day.”
But with detailing the private life of Elvis and Priscilla, especially focusing on their hair, presented an overabundance of material to work with. “Priscilla Presley is a major hair icon,” Furey said. “It’s not hard to find photos of her and Elvis, as well.” The challenge though was detailing the thirteen year period of their relationship from behind closed doors. Who were they when they weren’t made up to be in front of a camera?
Furey went into detail on transforming Cailee Spaeny’s hair into the epic beehive of Priscilla Presley and more.
Interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
TheWrap: How did you narrow your focus for the hairstyling?
Cliona Furey: In reading the script there are historical beats, iconic moments that we’ve all seen. So it was a matter of trying to catalog all her looks. What looks I knew I had to respect and try to hit properly, as well as how would I take some creative license and not impersonate Priscilla Presley? That’s what I started to do before my first meeting with Sofia [Coppola].
I had made a little chart for myself of the looks I felt had to be included in the film. We were showing her from the age of 14 years old to 27, I believe. I narrowed it down to five wigs, actually seven, but two of them were shorter looks that I used for set deck, school photos and things. Within each wig I added extensions or tail switches. I added hair so that I could use the same wig for different eras to show it growing in length before I went the next.
You talked about creative license. Can you talk about that from a hairstyling perspective?
It’s more about their private moments between them. Those moments haven’t been photographed of the real Priscilla and Elvis. So that’s a time where I had to take a little creative license and ask myself “Well, I don’t want to impersonate Priscilla. I think it would be a little silly for her to have a huge beehive when she’s just getting up in the morning and they’re talking,” scenes like that. So certain scenes the hair is a little tamer yet she has full makeup on because Elvis never saw her without makeup. I would just ask myself “Well, Priscilla may not have worn her hair like this, but she might have liked to.”
Priscilla’s hair is so opulent and that beehive is infamous. How did you achieve that?
Priscilla, in her real life, would have visited a salon once a week. And her hair would have been roller set and wet set, and put under a hot dryer. Then she would have had it back combed, and teased, and back brushed. She would do that once a week [and] that hairstyle would last her week. But when she had Lisa Marie at the hospital that was the apex of the big hair. That was actually historically accurate. Priscilla did go to this salon in the hospital before she would come out with the baby.
Priscilla and Elvis were done up to the nines before they went out in public. I can tell by those real photos of her that she had a piece in her hair. So that’s what I did. I used hair rats. They’re basically nets stuffed with hair and you can use them to attain more height, as well as a vintage 1950s hair topper. It’s the whole top of a wig, and it’s very dense and you can you can tease that up. I would put that on top of her wig and then brush all the hair over to attain that style. It’s with large rollers in roller set, and a lot of back brushing and teasing using hair rats, add-on pieces and some hairspray.
What went into doing Jacob’s hair as Elvis?
Jacob wore three wig pieces to attain his look. So I had to respect those historical moments and be accurate for certain moments that we shot. For instance, the scene in Germany when he’s in his army uniform and she’s waving goodbye. That’s an iconic photo that the whole world has seen. I had to make sure he had more of a brown color hair for that and a very clean cut, barbered haircut, except the talk was a little fuller; Elvis didn’t have a proper army cut.
He somehow was allowed to wear his hair a little longer. I used a second wig with the black in the front when Elvis does start coloring his hair. I had a back piece on his hair to make it look longer. We did use his hair integrated with three different wig pieces with different colors.
“Priscilla” is in theaters now.