Elisabeth Moss may be best known for her chilling role as Offred in the TV adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, but the actress recently ditched her white bonnet and red cape for smudged eyeliner and ironic tattoos in Her Smell.
In the film, Moss is Becky Something, a grunge-band frontwoman on the precipice of career downfall. After watching Something unleash a barrage of emotions onscreen, her dramatic collapse takes center stage — so much so that, in the midst of her meltdowns, you most likely missed one tiny, albeit critical, detail of Becky’s story: her tattoos.
Her Smell is divided into five parts, each of which displays a new phase in Becky’s life and career. Pay attention and you’ll find that, as the film progresses, the singer’s collection of tattoos scattered on her arms and hands grows. Turns out they’re not just there for decoration — they significantly add to Becky’s story.
Emma Strachman, makeup department head for Her Smell, tells Refinery29 that creating the tattoos for Becky required folders and folders of photo research thanks to tattoo artist Jeremy Sutton. Sutton shared a collection of books archiving tattoo styles from the ’90s grunge era the movie is anchored in, which inspired the five or six tattoos Something has racked up by the end of the film — including one the crew ended up referring to as the “Drunk Cat.”
“It’s basically a hazy double image of a cat on her left arm,” Strachman explains. “I think it’s really representative of what Becky is probably feeling inside.” She is referring to the mental health spiral and substance abuse Becky endures, and violently exhibits, during the course of the film. Even more than the apt underlying meaning, Strachman says that the makeup team, including Sutton and Amy L. Forsythe, the film’s makeup designer, just really loved the tattoo visual.
The telling imagery isn’t only representative of Becky’s internal monologue, but also her past relationship with ex-beau Danny (Dan Stevens), who she shares a child with: Turns out Danny has a similar cat tattoo, placed on his neck instead of the inside of his arm. Although it doesn’t exactly mirror Becky’s design, it does lend to idea that at some point — in between one of the five parts — Becky and Danny’s relationship blossomed, and they got a matching tattoo to commemorate it. This, Strachman says, is all left up for interpretation, but certainly adds to the greater narrative.
If getting a couple tattoo of a cat sounds weird, then you won’t believe that Becky has another matching tattoo. Instead of with an ex, it’s with her Something She bandmates, Ali van der Wolff (Gayle Rankin) and Marielle Hell (Agyness Deyn). The tattoo is a fly, and the meaning? Well, it doesn’t need one — it’s punk rock, after all.
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