If your heart stopped the moment Rachael walked into the room in Blade Runner 2049, you weren’t alone. The cameo, a visual effects marvel, transported audiences back 35 years to the 1982 premiere of Blade Runner, to a young replicant wreathed in smoke, driving Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) out of his mind.
When you think of Sean Young’s Rachael, you most likely think of those crazy shoulder pads, the unusual hairstyle, and, of course, those red lips that were practically reflective they shined so brightly.
Deckard was, understandably, speechless at Niander Wallace’s (Jared Leto) recreation of the love of his life. Of course, Deckard also got the last word, insisting that Rachael’s eyes were green and that Wallace had gotten the color wrong.
Nonetheless, the CGI recreation of Young’s Rachael — who was portrayed by Loren Peta in 2049 — is part of a growing trend; a young Johnny Depp appeared in the latest Pirates of the Caribbean movie, Carrie Fisher was famously de-aged for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and audiences got to witness a young Harry Hart (Colin Firth) in Kingsman: The Golden Circle.
Donald Mowat, the film’s makeup department head, spoke with Inverse about his team’s part in the look of Blade Runner 2049, including his work with Peta and Sean Young herself.
Obviously, a large part of the Rachael recreation was left up to 2049’s visual effects team, but the layers underneath were all Mowat and his crew. The makeup department of 2049 was responsible for Ryan Gosling’s just-so scruff and the painstakingly chosen, pearly pink skin of Ana de Armas’ Joi; it also laid the groundwork that allowed the VFX department to truly make movie magic.
The color of Rachael’s lips is burned into my mind. Was it a challenge to recreate that?
The shiny red lips. No because you know what, it’s interesting with Rachael. Because, the look, it’s really ‘40s. I was so in awe of the original film. I didn’t want to copy them. I thought at the time what was so interesting with the makeup [in Blade Runner] was that it was kind of ‘40s-inspired but not really. Because the shiny red lips became very popular in the ‘70s. Everything repeats itself.
So she has the hairdo, which is sort of iconic, and the shoulder pads, which were ‘40s. But what was interesting was that they gave her a shiny lip, kind of made it ‘40s but also a little ‘70s. And that’s what we did. I think we just used a classic red lip on her. We didn’t do all the big shine. For digital, they like the makeup to be very, very clean. I felt like we pulled it back and made it cleaner and smoother than the harder, graphic lines.
What was your involvement with helping the VFX team recreate Rachael with Loren Peta?
We did so much face replacement. We had to do the CG indicators on the face. So we would do that on [Peta], since she was the body and face. And we didn’t do that much on the film! That’s more something you do on a Bond movie because there’s so much face replacement. But we did that. We gave her the red lips, we did the eyebrows, and then what they did was so — I didn’t even expect it was going to be like that, when she walks along…
And Sean was very nice, she was actually very nice for the short time she came to visit. I think they did scanning with her, but that’s about it. We didn’t put her in full costume and makeup. I think we did a very basic makeup to scan her with, which is pretty standard.
Now, I should have known there was something [going on]. Because earlier on I was filming another film and I would get these cryptic phone calls and emails from the visual effects team saying, “Could I have a makeup artist come to such and such place for scanning.” So we did scan people. We did some of them earlier on. And then some of them we did on location. Like Ana [de Armas], we scanned her in the pink makeup.
What was it like to keep that huge secret for so long?
It sounds really foolish, but I didn’t understand it for the longest time because we were sworn to secrecy. Eventually, you start to not understand because you don’t know who you can call and say, “Hey, I’m really confused.”
We didn’t call her Rachael, so it was confusing. We called her “Rita.” I’d call up one of my people, saying, “You know, Rita!” and that would confuse people even more. And then I made the mistake of saying “Old Rachael” and somebody said, “Please don’t say that.” So, it got to the point where it’s such a secret that the only analogy is like when you hide easter eggs and a year later you find one. That’s what it was like because none of us really understood what was going on.
And then, she turned up!
Sean Young was on set?
Sean Young turned up [on set], which is a big secret and I’m probably going to get fired for saying it. [Laugh.] I don’t know if it was just for her voice work because we had this other woman, [Peta, portraying her]. So, the hair folks had to recreate the hair [on Peta], we recreated the makeup. I had a moment where I went, “Oh my god, did she have red nail polish or not?” I couldn’t remember.
And then came the marriage of [the makeup and VFX]. We did so much scanning of people that I knew this was really more VFX-focused than makeup and hair-focused, but nonetheless there’s a lot of work in that. So that was one of our secret people.
The other was Gaff, right?
Yes, we had also Edward James Olmos for just like a second. But I don’t know if people even picked up on that. I’m not sure they did that right. I, personally, didn’t think people would make the connection if they weren’t, you know, old enough to have seen the movie.
And that was a lot of work for me because I had to get that little soul patch made for him on his chin and I had to get contact lenses as well to match the original because he wore lenses in the first film. So there’s all these little things.
I had an email saying I was not to say his name so I started calling him “the secret actor,” and then that confused the contact lense people. “You know, for the secret actor.”
It’s funny, thinking about it now, all the secrecy and all the spoiler alerts I think kind of hurt [the movie] a little bit. Maybe it would have changed things [if people had known about the cameos].
But certainly the Rachael thing was amazing. [Sean Young] actually was helping the hair people do the hair on the girl who sort of stood in for her.
What was that like?
It was kind of interesting, weird. I feel like in my own life, it’s like looking at pictures from 20, 30 years ago; sometimes it makes me a little sad. I don’t know why. It makes me a little sad. Like small kids make me sad. Sometimes it does because you think of yourself from all those years ago. But it was beautiful.
Blade Runner 2049 is now playing in theaters.