Blisters, Bobs, and Lots of Sweat: How the “Challengers” Cast Got So Hot

Beauty secrets from Zendaya movie ChallengersBeauty secrets from Zendaya movie Challengers
Photo: Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures
Photo: Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures

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Watch out! This post contains spoilers.

Most movies hinge on our suspended belief. When you watch a horror film, you forget that a logical person probably wouldn’t seek safety in the basement of a creepy house in the middle of nowhere. When you watch romantic comedies, you refuse to accept just how unlikely an enemies-to-lovers reality is following a meet-cute in a coffee shop. That’s the best part about movies: escaping reality. “Challengers” seems to be this year’s anomaly to that rule — between the sweat, the scars, and the wigs, every moment of the film seems believable.

Directed by Luca Guadagnino, “Challengers” follows the story of two best friends, Art Donaldson (played by Mike Faist) and Patrick Zweig (Josh O’Connor), after they meet Tashi Duncan (Zendaya), a young, ambitious, and decorated tennis star. And tennis becomes their love language. In fact, the game and what it represents for all three characters is the heart of the film — and making it all seem real was Guadagnino’s goal. Every detail needed to feel authentic and intentional, from the choreography on the court to the fake blisters on the actors’ feet. Even Tashi’s hair transformation makes sense as the story unfolds.

Still, that type of authenticity doesn’t come together by magic. We talked to the film’s hair designer, Massimo Gattabrusi, and makeup designer, Fernanda Perez, to get all of the behind-the-scenes beauty secrets on how they helped make audiences feel like a fly on the wall.

How the Challengers hair and makeup team transformed the cast into tennis prosHow the Challengers hair and makeup team transformed the cast into tennis pros
Photo: Niko Tavernise

The Secret Behind All That Sweat

Most of the tennis sequences we see were scripted by tennis pro Brad Gilbert, but the actors treated these matches as if they were real. Months prior to filming, Zendaya, Faist, and O’Connor trained like professionals with Gilbert, so most of that sweat was a result of how hard they played when the cameras rolled. Gattabrusi and Perez also watched old tennis matches to gather inspiration and even asked Gilbert for his professional opinion (he said tennis players do, in fact, sweat a lot).

The three stars didn’t need a lot of help looking exhausted, but there were times when Gattabrusi and Perez exaggerated their fatigue by wiping off foundation as a match went on or using makeup to emphasize bags under the players’ eyes. At one point, they even resorted to dumping an entire water bottle on the actors’ heads. “I remember the time Luca [said] ‘More, more sweat! More!'” Gattabrusi says.

There are smaller details worth noting, too. Perez was inspired by a real-life tennis star to add blisters to the actors’ feet — something she noticed can heavily affect a player’s ability to perform (see: Jannik Sinner withdrawing from the Miami Open quarter-finals due to foot issues). And if you noticed the scars riddling some of their bodies, then Perez did her job well. The scar on Tashi’s right knee was written into the script, serving as a physical reminder of the career-ending injury that haunts her and Art throughout the movie. In the beginning of the film, we also see Art with his physical therapist. There, we get a glimpse of a surgical scar on his torso, which was something Perez spoke to an actual surgeon about, for the sake of accuracy.

The makeup that went into creating Zendaya's sweaty beauty look in ChallengersThe makeup that went into creating Zendaya's sweaty beauty look in Challengers
Photo: Niko Tavernise

The Meaning Behind Zendaya’s Blond Bob in the Film

Gattabrusi and Perez collaborated closely with Zendaya’s hair and makeup team, including Kim Kimble and Kellie Robinson, to bring her character to life. According to Perez, Zendaya suggested Tashi have a french manicure, as opposed to something more colorful, when we first meet her because that’s what she remembered getting at that age. And as real as her blond bob may be today, the blunt cut in the film was a wig, created by Kimble. Perez and Zendaya were aligned with making the bob haircut much lighter than Tashi’s natural hair, which Gattabursi agreed gives the character a new energy.

The same goes for the long dark, siren-like hair she has when first meeting Art and Patrick in 2006 and the medium-length cut seen in another flashback when Art asks her to be his coach. But the hair length wasn’t just used to indicate her age so much as it was to articulate her power. For Gattabrusi, the long hair helped Tashi look like a warrior and a fighter — especially when tied in her signature long braid. “It was an instrument for [Zendaya] to use,” he says. But Tashi doesn’t just have power on the court, she also has power over Art and Patrick.

Why the Challengers hairstylist gave Zendaya a bob haircutWhy the Challengers hairstylist gave Zendaya a bob haircut
Photo: Niko Tavernise

On Tashi’s Luxurious Beauty Routine

Some people might remember the scene between Tashi and Art the night before his match against Patrick for Faist’s submissive, maybe even pathetic, performance. He kisses the scar on her knee (the one that inevitably brought them together), and it’s a tiny detail that says so much even without dialogue. But beauty lovers will notice another moment that says even more about Tashi’s character.

As if her Cartier accessories weren’t loud enough, you may have noticed the recognizable blue jar of Augustinus Bader The Body Cream ($190) she vigorously uses to massage her knee (yep, the same one). Some people think it’s a product placement, but Perez confirmed Guadagnino was intentional with this choice. In fact, he selected it out of a lineup of 10 options.

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How the Challengers hair and makeup team created Mike Faist's blond hair and Josh O'Connors fake beardHow the Challengers hair and makeup team created Mike Faist's blond hair and Josh O'Connors fake beard
Photo: Niko Tavernise

Mike Faist’s Blond Hair and Josh O’Connors Fake Beard

Faist recently told Variety that one of Guadagnino’s biggest concerns was that he be blond. “This was Luca’s vision,” Perez explained. “From the beginning he said, ‘I want him blond!'” Gattabrusi added that the contrast between Art and Patrick — light and dark, “fire and ice,” as Perez puts it — was important, too.

Their looks were meant to go in different directions while still feeling connected to each other. When one character’s look had to change, Perez and Gattabrusi consulted the other characters’ mood boards: one could not evolve without seeing it alongside the others. This is why we notice Art and Tashi’s hair mimicking each other’s when they’re married: she cuts her hair short, he cuts his hair short. Meanwhile, Patrick looks different from this buttoned-up, power couple — he’s scruffy and unkempt. They even added fake facial hair to O’Connor’s jawline to make him appear even more wild and ragged. He was sort of living out of his car at the time, after all.

Samantha Sasso is an editor of branded content for Vox Media, and covers the latest trends in beauty, fashion, and entertainment. Beyond PS, her work has appeared in The Cut, NowThis, and Refinery29, among others.

This post was originally published on PopSugar

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