There hasn't been a solid teen sex comedy in a hot minute, and there haven't ever been anything like Bottoms, even as it borrows from and lampoons movies as diverse as Fight Club and Mean Girls and Pineapple Express and... who the heck knows what else. The New York Times called it a "horror-indie-drama-action-teen-sex comedy," and somehow that works, too.

The movie follows two queer teens, PJ (Rachel Sennott) and Josie (Ayo Edebiri), who really would love to date two cheerleaders before they graduate. Through a series of unlikely events and a wacky rumor that paints the girls as fresh out of juvie, they start a women's self-defense class which ends up just being a high school version of fight club.

Directed by Emma Seligman, the movie is surprising in all the best ways. It's just an absurd and irreverent film, a joy.

As makeup department head, Natalie Christine Johnson was in charge of not only the characters when they were at their best, but also when they were beaten up, bloody, and bruised. Johnson, who has a background that includes horror films and primetime TV, was well-equipped to create looks that captured the simple, bare-faced sense of high school and the brutality of cinematic violence.

We spoke with Johnson via Zoom during the film's wide release. Dive in for her great advice!

BOTTOMS | Official Red Band

Editor's note: The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

No Film School: We're very education forward on No Film School. So anything within your vast experience that you can tell people that might just be getting started, or might not have the training, will be great.

Natalie Christine Johnson: Well, I actually didn't do any of that either. I pretty much have been really lucky and just—networking, is all I can say. Network, work hard, and be pleasant.

NFS: Yeah. A lot of people say the same thing. Just actually be a nice person.

Johnson: It's surprising how far it will get you.

NFS: What attracted you to Bottoms?

Johnson: The moment I read the script. Because I got the email of interest, and I was intrigued, and I tried to do a little digging, but there wasn't really a lot out there. So I wanted to, via Zoom, meet Emma [Seligman].

Just reading the script and hearing her passion behind it. Because she had written this with Rachel [Sennott]. Also, there's never been anything like it, so I immediately tasked myself with, "I need her to fall in love with me so I can be a part of this project."

Ayo Edebiri, Rachel Sennott, Zamani Wilder, Summer Joy Campbell, Havana Rose Liu, and Kaia Gerber in 'Bottoms.' Ayo Edebiri, Rachel Sennott, Zamani Wilder, Summer Joy Campbell, Havana Rose Liu, and Kaia Gerber in 'Bottoms.' Credit: Orion Pictures Inc.

NFS: I was talking to a friend yesterday who hadn't seen it yet, but he was really just excited about the fact that it was a teen comedy in theaters, and those just don't get made that often.

Johnson: Especially not anymore.

NFS: I know you've worked in TV, film, a lot in horror. How did all of that inform this film?

Johnson: It was actually a really easy transition because I had just come off of eight Blumhouse movies in a row. And even in the beginning of my career I did a lot of horror, but I've always... I love every genre and I want to work and continue to work in every genre.

But there's something so fun and gratifying about melding beauty and horror together. Not that [Bottoms is] horror, but with all the fight aspect being brought into it. So it really wasn't that difficult. It was pretty fun and it just elevated all of our spirits to be able to make something beautiful and then kind of deconstruct it at the same time.

Summer Joy Campbell, Havana Rose Liu, and Kaia Gerber in 'Bottoms.' Summer Joy Campbell, Havana Rose Liu, and Kaia Gerber in 'Bottoms.' Credit: Orion Pictures Inc.

NFS: I am really interested in how you designate different groups at the school. I noticed the cheerleaders at some points had that really bold red lip, which I loved.

Johnson: I took this on as I also grew up watching high school comedies, and rom-coms. It's a personal genre that I personally love to watch, even now. Just it's nostalgic for that time. Something about creating the look of a lunchroom where you see every genre of clique was really fun.

But as for the cheerleaders, I wanted them to look natural when they were just in school. But then with the pep rally and of course football games, I wanted to elevate their look and it kind of brought a Bring It On aspect to it. It was me tipping my hat to all those movies I grew up watching.

NFS: I do want to talk about the wounds and bruises. What's your process there? How do you work in those elements?

Johnson: When bringing that into it, once I get a script, I'm simultaneously doing a breakdown. That way on the day that we're filming—because we all film out of order—there are no mistakes.

But when you're bringing bruises, cuts, and things like that, you want to age them appropriately so that the last thing I want to do is take an audience member out of it when something doesn't make sense visually.

So once I do my breakdown, everything's pretty easy and we can just age everything appropriately until it heals or something new gets brought into the equation.

NFS: What does that breakdown look like? Is it just like a spreadsheet or how do you actually do that?

Johnson: It's literally a spreadsheet.

NFS: Yeah. Good old Excel.

Johnson: Yep.

Bottoms Movie Clip - No Bun (2023)

NFS: The first time you see the two main characters, they're getting dolled up and going to the fun fair. I'm interested in what the thought process was there for their look.

Johnson: You're going to love this. Ayo wanted to stay pretty natural just because her vibe was more costume-related for that scene. But for Rachel, one of our first meetings was, "Hey, have you ever seen Girls?" I was like, "Yes, of course. I've watched Girls. Who hasn't?" She said, "Do you remember that scene where Marnie ... In that episode, Marnie gets married and she gets her makeup done, but it looks awful and horrifying?"

She wanted an element of that to be brought into the fair makeup where this is PJ's interpretation of what girls do their makeup like. It's basically a fusion of every TikTok makeup tutorial thrown on her face and her being her most confident self because that's what she thinks girls in high school are supposed to look like, and it's just horribly wrong and too much.

NFS: Yeah, I almost got a Euphoria vibe, and then it never came back. I'd love to hear more about that collaboration with the actors.

Johnson:Havana [Rose Liu] and I lightly discussed it for the big football games to bring gems into it. Just because it's something that I started on years ago doing Claws. I did the first season and then I wanted to kind of bring it back.

Also, I love all the looks on Euphoria. I think they're beautiful, but I wouldn't have done it for this movie just because I wanted everyone to stay age-appropriate at the same time. So it was kind of finding a delicate balance between all of it.

Rachel Sennott and Ayo Edebiri in 'Bottoms'Rachel Sennott and Ayo Edebiri in 'Bottoms'Credit: Orion Pictures Inc.

NFS: I think I read another interview where you were working with a stunt coordinator on these looks. I'm interested really in that collaboration too.

Johnson: That collaboration is very important because when you have fight choreography that's supposed to have an aftermath, you want it to meld perfectly.

I wanted to see rehearsals and videos of how the girls were going to fight on the day because then we would run in and add the fresh bruises and cuts and scratches, and then let them do the aftermath of that. Of course, that day was a lot of fun because it was literally one day in a gymnasium, and it was hours of the girls running to their trailers to change, running back, getting different makeups, running to set, doing it, then repeating. It was a lot of fun.

NFS: I know you kind of touched on it at the beginning, your advice—networking, being a nice person. But what other things can you talk about if someone wants to get into makeup? How should they get started?

Johnson: Definitely put money into your education. You don't necessarily have to go to a type of film school, but there are bald cap classes, there's effects classes, there's beauty classes. Definitely put your money into things like that, and not only does that help you with your skill, but you're meeting so many people which brings the networking into it and just be a hard worker, be really, really pleasant. And honestly, I'm proof that you'll go far.

Marshawn Lynch in 'Bottoms'Marshawn Lynch in 'Bottoms'Credit: Orion Pictures Inc.

NFS: Are there ways to create those effects, those sorts of wounds and things at a lower budget?

Johnson: Oh yeah. Like one of my first movies, I figured out from my department head—go to crafty, go peruse. We needed brains on the day, and mashed-up bananas and blood is awesome. Or grapefruit. You have no idea how smart you can be when you're put in a corner and you have to figure something out in 20 minutes.

NFS: Is there anything else you wanted to bring up in terms of working on the film or any other advice?

Johnson: Oh, this was probably one of my most favorite films that I've ever worked on. And just seeing the feedback from SXSW to now when actually it's being released in more theaters, I honestly can't wait to go watch it in a room full of strangers.

From Your Site Articles