When the world first caught word of Jordan Peele's second horror film, a follow-up to the Academy Award-winning Get Out, fans were excited, to say the least. Most people assumed the forthcoming film would be a sequel, with its ominous and vague title, Us. Then Peele highjacked Christmas Day with the film's chilling trailer, and we knew one thing was for sure: This would not be a movie about Kanye West escaping the sunken place, but something much scarier.
Instead of an ersatz West, Us stars Lupita Nyong'o as Adelaide Wilson, a woman who takes her family on a beach vacation, which spirals into a violent home invasion. But these aren't petty-theft criminals hoping to steal a TV, or thieves playing on the Manson Family murders (Quentin Tarantino took that one). Instead, the four invaders are disheveled, vengefully violent, uncanny copies of the family they're attacking — and they have a name: The Tethered.
Scott Wheeler, the makeup department head for Us (who's been working with Peele since his start on MADtv), explains to Refinery29 that it was part of Peele's vision to make The Tethered looked like the Wilsons, but also like they've actually been living underground — so a bit insane and deprived. Although Peele had mapped out the underlying message of the film (we are our own worst enemies) when he initially wrote the script, the details for the characters' Tethered appearances wouldn't come until shooting nearly began. Around that time, Tym Buacharern, Nyong'o's makeup artist for the film, quickly realized the lead actress was just too beautiful to be her terrifying doppelgänger, Red.
"It was a task," Buacharern recalls. "We exaggerated her lines and veining a little more than usual and added some sallow texture to her skin, but something just wasn't working for her as Red." The crew agreed she needed something signature, like her Tethered son, Pluto, who has burn scars covering the lower half of his face because he loves playing with fire. "We thought maybe she could have a burn, too, but the prosthetic changes that would've been necessary to create that look would take too long," Buacharern explains. So, Nyong'o suggested they bleach her eyebrows to make it look like the hairs were singed by Pluto's pyrotechnics.
Although Nyong'o was committed to bleaching her eyebrows for the role, Peele didn't want to request such a drastic — and semi-permanent — change for someone as stunning as Nyong'o. (Who would?) So, Wheeler and Buacharern opted to use a special effects mascara to paint the brows a burnt shade of blonde instead. Unfortunately, Nyong'o still looked pretty cool with the bleached tint, so Buacharern had to backcomb her brows to make it look like someone actually took a flame to the hair.
Eventually, the disappearing eyebrows became a universal motif for the Tethered cast — in different degrees. Now, Peele can rest easy knowing he not only transformed Lupita Nyong'o into a believable monster, but he single-handedly turned the bleached eyebrow trend into our new nightmare.