Zendaya Ages 15 Years Without a Stitch of CGI or Prosthetic Makeup in “Challengers”

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In The Scenario, reporter Kirbie Johnson takes readers behind the scenes of the buzziest movies and TV shows to reveal how the best wigs, special effects makeup, and more are created. For this edition, Johnson spoke with the team behind Challengers, who relied heavily on hairstyling to depict the relationships in the film.

Warning: Spoilers for Challengers ahead.

The power of “three” is abundant in Challengers. There’s the love triangle, of course. There’s the three acts of the film. There’s even “I Told Ya”, the cheeky tagline emblazoned on a T-shirt worn by Zendaya in the film, a sartorial and now-viral inclusion that dons three words and even a hidden tennis racquet within its design, as noted by this insightful TikTok. And then there’s the three hair “eras,” if you will, that help tell the story of fictional pro tennis players Tashi Duncan (Zendaya) Art Donaldson (Mike Faist), and Patrick Duncan (Josh O’Connor).

The film takes place over the span of 15 years, from 2006 to 2021, during which all three characters had to evolve and age from their late teens into their 30s. Hair designer Massimo Gattabrusi and makeup designer Fernanda Lucía Pérez tell Allure that they used mood boards to help guide the direction of each character throughout the three phases, sketching out each of their looks and incorporating images of real people for inspiration. Ahead, Gattabrusi and Pérez details how they thoughtfully designed each of the characters in the film.

The Hair of It All

Tashi (Zendaya) begs Art (Mike Faist) to get his head in the game.Niko Tavernise

No prosthetics, old-age makeup, or digital aging was used to show the passage of time in Challengers. Instead, it mostly boils down to some excellent wigs. For example, Zendaya’s moodboard for 2006 included several photos of tennis pros on the court, donning visors, slicked- back ponytails, and long braids. As Tashi ages in the film, her hair changes: The head of dark, long hair she wears as a spritely tennis prodigy gets cropped to a brown, mid-length cut after her career-ending tennis injury and ends in a blond-ish power bob by the third act, when she’s become a mother, a wife to Art, and the master puppeteer his career. “Zendaya suggested the blonde for the bob,” Pérez says. “She’s a woman in that moment—she’s an entitled woman. She makes [bold] decisions. It’s a way to make her very different from the beginning, which is powerful.”

Mike Faist and Josh O’Connor showcase the duality of Art and Patrick. Niko Tavernise

Faist and O’Connor also wore wigs in the film. “[Faist] was ice blonde and [O’Connor] was dark to find the polarity.” This was intentional to showcase their duality as opponents (both in tennis and love). “They were almost like ice and fire; white and black,” Gattabrusi says.

The Tashi Duncan Look

Zendaya’s personal hair and makeup duo, Kim Kimble and Kellie Robinson, transformed the actor from age 30 to age 16 to age 20, sometimes within a single shoot day, given they filmed scenes out of chronological order.

“In Tashi’s youth, I wanted a lightweight sheer foundation that would showcase her natural skin,” says Robinson, who opted for MAC Face and Body Foundation. [Zendaya wore the same product on Euphoria to appear as if she wasn’t wearing makeup at all.] To create a natural sunkissed blush, Robinson applied Benefit Cosmetics Benetint to her cheeks and Colourpop SOL Bronzing Balms created the look of “sun exposure and sunburn” on the court, per Robinson. She added freckles with Freck Noir from Freck Beauty.

Young Tashi’s long, dark hair is one of three wigs Zendaya wears in the film.Niko Tavernise

As Tashi matures, Zendaya transitioned to wearing NARS Natural Radiant Longwear Foundation in various shades to create dimension. She added a strong contour on Zendaya for a more mature facial structure.

To protect Zendaya’s skin while shooting outside, Robinson used Black Girl Sunscreen SPF 40, a hydrating facial spray was misted to refresh the skin, and Supergoop Glow Oil SPF 50 to emulate faux sweat.

Kimble kept young Tashi’s ponytail sleek by using her own Kim Kimble Edge Control and incorporated Amika Perk Up Dry Shampoo and Amika Headstrong Intense Hold Spray for her short bob.

The Sweat, Blisters, and Beards

Pérez explains that Patrick is the “sloppy one” and Art is more clean-cut. It’s not called out in the film, but you’ll notice that Faist’s legs and arms are shaved throughout the film, an intentional choice to show that Art “likes to take care of himself,” according to Pérez. To show his dedication to the sport, blisters were added to his feet using special effects makeup, and there are even prosthetic scars on his shoulder to insinuate that had surgery at some point. “You can understand why [Art’s] so tired,” Pérez says. “Why he’s telling Tashi, ‘I don’t want to play anymore.’”

Many may consider the copious amounts of sweat flying off the men during matches to be a fourth character in the film. “[Director] Luca [Guadagnino] adored the idea of the sweat, and he played a lot with it,” Pérez says. Guadagnino allowed the sweat to swell throughout the movie — from the matches played during the movie’s numerous flashbacks to the match being played by “present day” Art and Patrick, when there is what Pérez describes as an “explosion of the feelings and of the sensations,” including the sweat, which seems overflowing at that point.

Given the way the sweat dripped all over the actors’ faces and the fact that O’Connor had to wear a fake beard due to the shooting schedule, they opted to use mineral water instead of a traditional glycerin concoction for it.“You can use glycerin, but it can enter the eyes and ruin the makeup,” Pérez says. “I knew it would remove all the glue from the beard [and it] would be a mess, so the only thing we could use was water.”

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