Elle Fanning's Transformation Into Michelle Carter Is Just as Complex as the Story Itself

Elle Fanning's makeup artist, costume designer and hairdresser detailed the efforts that went into transforming the Girl From Plainville actress into Michelle Carter.

By Cydney Contreras Apr 02, 2022 3:00 PMTags
Watch: Elle Fanning Talks Finding Herself On "The Great"

The devil is in the details.

Seeing Elle Fanning play Michelle Carter in The Girl From Plainville is an eerie experience for those who watched Conrad Roy's murder trial unfold on national television. And that's largely because the actress has mastered Michelle's mannerisms and has an uncanny resemblance to the teen, who was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in 2017.

But it's the subtleties of Elle's makeup, costume and hair styling that make her performance so believable. From the myriad of bracelets to the bushy brows, it's hard to see Elle as someone other than Michelle.

"I watched that documentary probably five or six times all the way through," makeup artist Erin Ayanian told E! News of studying HBO's I Love You, Now Die about Michelle's case. "Down to parts of the court scenes where we could see she'd been chewing on her lip and there was like a little scab on her lower lip."

Also on repeat: court footage. Costume designer Mirren Gorden-Crozier shared in a separate interview with E! News that she spent "so many long nights" surfing the internet in search of the exact outfits Michelle wore in court. 

Stars' Epic Hair Transformations

"The story happened not long ago, but it's long enough for [the outfits] not to be in stores and things like that," she explained. "Basically, with a lot of internet trolling I finally landed on it."

As in Ann Taylor Loft, the brand Michelle wore for a majority of the trial, many of the pieces largely lifted from mom Gail Carter's closet. As Mirren combed through courtroom footage, she realized that Michelle was wearing shirts and jackets her mom had previously worn to the trial. This realization made Mirren's search a lot easier, saying triumphantly, "We found every single item she wore."

Steve Dietl/Hulu, Charles Krupa/AP/Shutterstock

Accessories were a bit harder to nail down, but they found similar items, with Mirren highlighting a pair of patent leather high heels that Elle specifically requestedbecause they were a size too big causing Michelle to "walk differently," a characteristic that Elle wanted to replicate on-screen.

Mirren was more than happy to fulfill this request for Elle, saying, "I think costumes really just affect the way someone can stand and how their body feels and how they want to be presented to the world."

And like most teenage girls, Michelle obsessed over her appearance. Capturing those minute details meant Elle spent two hours in makeup "if you can believe that," Erin remarked.

Steve Dietl/Hulu

The end result was barely noticeable, a sign of a job well done. "You are really trying to help tell a story and unless the makeup is a story point, which it hardly ever is, you want the makeup to just sort of disappear," she explained. "You don't want it to really be a thing because I think if you're noticing it too much, it can take you out of the story. So you just kind of want to support the story and take a backseat a little bit. Be invisible."

Of particular importance to both professionals was depicting Michelle's struggles with bulimia and body dysmorphia. Mirren kept this in mind as she chose outfits, saying, "I do think that oftentimes you can even read how a teenager or girl is feeling based on the way that they're presenting themselves in that manner."

Hairdresser Jules Holdren wrote in an email to E! News that she too reflected Michelle's struggles with bulimia in Elle's three wigs, made by Alex Rousse in London. In addition to matching Michelle's appearance, Jules "cut short pieces in the hairline to give it the feel of thinness and hair breakage due to Michelle's bulimia." 

Charles Krupa/AP/Shutterstock

For the second wig, which Elle wore during the sentencing scenes, Jules worked with Ren Studios' Arjen and makeup artist Todd Watson to apply a prosthetic forehead piece. "This gave us the ability to show thinness and hair breakage due to Michelle's drastic weight loss," Jules said, adding that it took about an hour to get Elle ready.

With the early episodes, the team had to be a bit more creative as there's less footage available of Michelle from before the trial. Mirren said, "We kind of had to come up with our own version of Michelle and how she would dress and emulate—she's sort of a chameleon."

They were aided in their endeavors by Elle, who was an executive producer on the series. Mirren said that the actress was invested in portraying "the small nuances and trying to get as real as possible," adding that it was "a hard challenge."

But seeing Elle on-screen made it worth it, with Erin saying, "I'm just so incredibly proud of Elle's performance."

See the results of the team's work when Girl From Plainville streams Tuesday on Hulu.

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