- On Hulu’s “The Girl from Plainville,” Ellen Fanning plays real-life teenager Michelle Carter.
- Carter was accused of encouraging her boyfriend Conrad to commit suicide via text message.
- Makeup artist Erin Ayanian Monroe spoke to Insider about the challenges of transforming Fanning into Carter.
With a deep tan, 2010s-appropriate makeup, and thick, dark eyebrows, Elle Fanning is nearly unrecognizable as Michelle Carter in
‘s new drama “The Girl from Plainville.”
The show is based on the real-life case of the controversial Massachusetts teenager who was accused of encouraging her boyfriend, Conrad Roy III, to commit suicide via text. Carter was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in Roy’s death in 2017 and later served an 11-month prison sentence for the crime before being released in January 2020.
The series stars Fanning, Colton Ryan as Roy, and Chloe Sevigny as Roy’s mother Lynn. On first glance, Fanning and Carter are polar opposites in terms of appearances — Fanning has fair skin, delicate arched eyebrows, and tends to favor more subtle makeup looks on the red carpet. Carter, on the other hand, has a pronounced tan in most of the (many) photos from her trial, and was frequently pictured with bold, black eyeliner and straight dark brows to match.
Following the emotional finale of “The Girl from Plainville” on May 3, Insider spoke with makeup artist Erin Ayanian Monroe via email about her work on the show, including why she made sure Fanning’s mascara was “clumpy,” and how they managed to give the actress a fake tan without irritating her delicate skin.
Elle Fanning is a dead ringer for the real-life Michelle Carter in the show — how did you go about transforming her into Michelle? I started by watching every documentary about the case multiple times and collecting as many images of Michelle in different stages of life as I could. I took note of the placement of her moles, freckle pattern, skin tone, and the makeup she applied to herself on every occasion where we have public record of it.
Michelle’s eyebrows, in particular, definitely stole the show. Were they an area of particular focus for you when working on Elle’s look for the show? How did you shape Elle’s brows to look so similar to Michelle’s?
Matching Elle’s brows to Michelle’s was a bit tricky as Michelle has very straight brows and Elle’s are arched. I just drew in the shape as closely as possible, and I think we got a close enough match to sell the look. It took roughly 10 minutes and it was just two L’Oreal pencils in tones of brown and espresso.
You told Elle magazine that you had to find “a spray tan workaround” because Elle’s skin was so sensitive. Did she have some kind of a reaction to a spray tan you tried on the show, or did you just know not to use it from working with her previously? What was the workaround you ended up using to darken her skin tone?
Working with Elle for many years, I know at this point what will agree with her skin over several months of applications and what won’t, and a spray tan could easily have caused problems that I didn’t want to risk. To avoid staining the lace of her wig, we applied Roxanne Rizzo Bronze Glow to her hairline after wrap every night. It has a semi-permanent effect that doesn’t transfer to the lace if allowed to dry well.
The rest of her face was just a sheer wash of foundation with a smattering of freckles and the moles that matched Michelle’s over it. This was applied with an alcohol activated Illustrator Palette. I gave her a good coating of Chocolate Sun [sunless tanning cream] periodically in various shades to tan her body to match the tan Michelle had in the different years our script covered.
Was there anything else about the real-life Michelle’s look that you tried to incorporate with Elle?
It was very important to apply Elle’s makeup to not only match Michelle’s in the scenes where we have a photographic record, but to apply it in a way that looked as if a teenager had done it. I had to incorporate flaws like allowing the eyeliner to be wobbly, the mascara clumpy, and choosing to apply it in an unsophisticated way in color combinations that might appeal to an ordinary teen.
How did Elle react to her super strong, very-2014 eyebrows? Was she hesitant to undergo such a drastic change?
Elle is absolutely committed to authenticity when it comes to creating the makeup for a character and her only reaction the the extreme eyebrows was excitement when we felt we had it right! She is always eager to go as far with the makeup (or lack thereof) as it takes to make her look like the character she’s portraying.
Lastly, what was it like transforming Elle-as-Michelle into Michelle-as-Rachel Berry for that “Glee” musical sequence?
For the “Glee” sequence, it was just about looking to a few images of Lea Michele as Rachel Berry and then filtering that through what we know about Michelle’s actual taste in makeup.
Elle and I have become great collaborators over the years and this project was very special to both of us. Real people were being portrayed and there was responsibility to to so in a sensitive, respectful way. I think the creators and cast achieved that and I am so grateful to have been a part of it.
This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.