Behind Zac Efron and Jeremy Allen White’s Transformations in “The Iron Claw”
When photos from the set of “The Iron Claw” surfaced in 2022, fans were shocked at the cast’s drastic physical transformations. Not only did lead actors Zac Efron, Jeremy Allen White, and Harris Dickinson bulk up significantly to play real-life wrestlers the Von Erich brothers, but they also donned ’80s-style mullets that reflected the time period.
The A24 film, which hits theaters on Dec. 22, chronicles the rise and fall of the Von Erichs (whose real surname is Adkisson) as well as the storied “Von Erich curse,” which refers to the family’s infamous string of tragedies. Because they didn’t interact with anyone from the Von Erich family in preparation for the film, makeup department head Elle Favorule and hair department head Natalie Shea Rose relied on director Sean Durkin for inspiration.
“He knew what photos were from what matches, so he knew where he wanted to take each of the looks that we were creating,” Favorule tells POPSUGAR, explaining that the tight production schedule didn’t allow for each actor to have a ton of different looks. “That’s where Natalie and I were like, ‘OK, where can we hammer this down per character to have an overall arc for them?'”
From elaborate body makeup to painstakingly detailed wigs, keep reading for all the behind-the-scenes hair and makeup details in “The Iron Claw.”
Creating Characters Inspired by Real-Life People
Though some cast members underwent serious transformations, filmmakers were careful not to create exact replicas of the real-life Von Erich brothers. Favorule and Rose say that instead, they strove to capture the Von Erichs’ essence in a way that looked realistic.
“I feel like if you push it too far to look exactly like the person, it starts to pull away from [the story] a little bit,” Rose says. For example, Efron’s wig differed slightly from Kevin Von Erich’s actual hair in the ’80s. “If I matched it exactly, it wouldn’t have matched with [Efron’s] skin tone, and it would have looked wrong,” she explains. “You have to take so many factors into consideration.”
It was a similar process for Favorule. “When it came to the costumes and things like that for wrestling, that was where they put the effort in,” she says. “They weren’t guys that wore sunscreen.” She also had to consider sideburns and facial hair “in terms of what [the Von Erichs] actually looked like and what the everyday man looked like in the ’70s and ’80s.”
Behind Zac Efron’s Chiseled Look as Kevin Von Erich
The dichotomy of Kevin Von Erich’s life as a professional wrestler and time spent on his family farm was reflected in Efron’s preparation on set, but subtlety was key. “His everyday look and his wrestling look were so similar but also had subtle differences,” Favorule says. “When he was wrestling, he was bronzed and glowing and perfectly shaved. On the days when we were filming at the farm, we let things go a little bit. It wasn’t as perfected.”
These changes were so subtle that most viewers probably won’t even notice them – and that’s the intention. “We just want you to believe that this is a real guy that goes through his everyday life working hard for his family and then wrestling on top of all of it,” Favorule says.
Rose agrees and approached Efron’s hairstyling in the same manner. “You don’t ever want to have anybody notice what you’re doing because then it takes away from the story and who they really were,” she says. “I want it to look as natural as possible.”
Efron wore two custom-made wigs, with every individual hair laboriously hand-tied. Rose started with Efron’s natural color as a base, then added highlights until the color was just right. “We eased into it because we can’t really pull back with any of these [wigs], they’re so fragile and delicate,” she says. “They only really last a few weeks.”
Embracing Jeremy Allen White’s Natural Hair Texture as Kerry Von Erich
White’s natural curly hair texture is close enough to Kerry’s, so Rose used hand-tied extensions rather than creating a whole wig. “I wanted to match his natural pattern, so I bought hair that was already textured so that it blended in with his hair,” she says. Rose also notes that it was important that White’s extensions be undetectable during wrestling scenes, since his hair would be blowing in all directions, and she didn’t know where exactly the camera would be. Additionally, the production shot the wrestling sequences in one long take, during which hair and makeup couldn’t step in for touch-ups.
White’s body makeup needed to be just as impervious due to his extensive collection of tattoos. “Normally you’ll do one fight scene or an underwater scene,” says Favorule of the tattoo cover process. “We were doing 10- or 15-minute matches over and over and over again, all day long. This couldn’t be a quick tattoo cover-up job; it needed to be flawless because he was going to get thrown around that ring.”
Why Each Actor Required 5 Bottles of Body Makeup
Hiding tattoos was just the tip of the iceberg when it came to body makeup on the set of “The Iron Claw.” Between makeup to cover tattoos, body oils, tanning, and fake sweat and blood, Favorule had a lot to consider while getting the actors ready.
“You want it to be flawless, but flawless in the sense that it matches who they are, not flawless like a Ken doll.”
“It was all about layering; the appropriate layers and the correct order,” she says. “We were using a tattoo makeup from Bluebird [FX] that we airbrushed on. I think each of the boys had four or five different bottles; the orange or coral or red that we use to knock out the [tattoo] ink color, then their base color, then the color over that we used to add their redness, freckles, or whatever the texture they had back onto their skin.” Favorule would also apply a sealant after every layer.
Creating natural-looking texture and dimension was an important aspect of Favorule’s work. Without these steps, the actors’ skin would look jarringly perfect. “The tattoo cover can be very flat, and with all of the layers we had to add on, it gets quite thick,” she says. “You want it to be flawless, but flawless in the sense that it matches who they are, not flawless like a Ken doll.”
Lily James Was Almost “Too Gorgeous” For Certain Beauty Looks
Lily James’s portrayal of Pamela Anderson in Hulu’s “Pam & Tommy” proved that she’s not afraid to dramatically alter her appearance for a role. Playing Pam Adkisson, Kevin Von Erich’s wife and a veterinarian in rural Texas, required something very different, but Rose and Favorule say she was more than happy to go all in. “She really allowed us to go take her wherever she needed to be instead of trying to be super pretty or too done up,” Rose says. “She knew who the character was.”
An early scene shows Pam and Kevin meeting after one of his wrestling matches. “We kept her very simple hair-wise because I didn’t want her to look like she was like trying too hard,” Rose says. “It wasn’t really her character. I wanted her have a natural, effortless beauty, which Lily already had.”
In fact, James’s beauty sometimes posed a challenge. Rose recalls wanting to put the actress in a simple ponytail for a more serious scene, but it looked distractingly flattering on her.
“Our issues with Lily kind of mirrored each other in terms of not making her too gorgeous because [the character] is a small-town girl,” Favorule echoes. “We basically amped her up and then took her back down.”
Pam’s wedding look was one of the most memorable for Rose and Favorule. The pair agreed that they wanted her to hit the hallmarks of classic 1980s wedding style without going over the top. Rose gave James a voluminous updo, while Favorule utilized “fun, upward blush” and “eyeshadow that sat on the bone, not in the crease” to showcase the period.
“It needs to look like her mom or her sister did it,” Rose says of Pam’s wedding glam. “She wouldn’t have had somebody come in and do her hair and makeup, they didn’t have the money like that.” In case you were wondering, yes, James is naturally blessed with full, luscious hair – Rose didn’t use any wigs or extensions on her.
The Making of a Perfect ’80s Mullet
It’s no secret that mullets are trending once again. Stars like Miley Cyrus and Billie Eilish have put a modern spin on the choppy, face-framing style, but as Rose points out, it’s a far cry from the harsh, almost purposefully unflattering mullets of the ’80s.
“The mullet’s come back, but it’s a different mullet,” she says. “They didn’t look good in the ’80s. They were awful because it was just a straight cut and there was no feathering; you didn’t customize the cut. They just went and spent 20 bucks and got a blunt cut. It has come back, but there’s a reason why it’s doing so much better – it’s a better cut.”
To stay as authentic as possible, Rose steered clear of the modern mullet and leaned into the traditional cut when creating the Von Erich brothers’ hairstyles. “I was like, ‘If it looks good, it’s gonna look bad,'” she says.