An accidental phone call last March led Rashad Corey to what he calls the job of a lifetime.
Corey, 35, was trying to get hired for four months for the highly anticipated “The Color Purple,” the new musical version of the screen classic. But he kept being forwarded to supervisors with no success.
But that day, the husband of the project’s key costumer misdialed Corey’s number, which led to a conversation and subsequently an invitation to be hired as a costumer. One day of work led to Corey being elevated to the position of assistant costume designer. He worked on the movie while it filmed in 2022, and recently watched the finished product at a Los Angeles premiere that included stars of the movie such as Fantasia Barrino and Taraji P Henson, as well as producers Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg. The movie, which is based on the hit Broadway musical, has already generated Oscar buzz in advance of its theatrical release on Christmas Day.
“I knew it was beautiful when we established it on set, but seeing it on screen — the fabric, choreography. It’s beautiful work. It’s my best work so far,” said Corey, who was born and raised in Northeast Baltimore and now lives in Atlanta.
Corey is one of several people who play a pivotal role in the movie and have a Maryland connection. They include producer Oprah, who Baltimoreans claim from her time as an anchor at WJZ in the 1970s; Phylicia Pearl Mpasi, a Montgomery County native who portrays young Celie in the movie; and Baltimore natives Ngozi Olandu Young and Lawrence Davis, who worked as key makeup artist and lead hairstylist, respectively.
“I don’t know what it is. We just have a hunger for it,” Davis said of the movie’s Maryland connection.
Olandu Young, whose previous work includes “Mare of Easttown,” “Watchmen,” and “Wonder Woman 1984,” said she has never before worked on a production with such a significant Maryland presence.
“There is so much talent here in Maryland and Hollywood is recognizing it,” she said.
A chance connection also resulted in Olandu Young getting attached to “The Color Purple” as a key makeup artist.
Olandu Young, who lives in Pikesville, was recruited for the project by veteran makeup artist Carol Rasheed. The two met in 2015 on the set of the HBO movie “Bessie” starring Mo’Nique and Queen Latifah.
“It’s unheard of for folks to bring in outside artists to Atlanta for that. I was just honored that she reached out to me,” Olandu Young said.
Davis, who was born and raised in East Baltimore and now calls Atlanta home, attributes his involvement in the project to Oprah Winfrey, who recommended him as lead of hair.
The two met while Davis was doing Jennifer Hudson’s hair. From there, Winfrey hired Davis to style her hair for a 2015 cover of “O” magazine. The two also worked together for the 2017 HBO movie “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.”
Davis was one of the first people attached to “The Color Purple” — getting offered the position in 2021.
“Nobody else knew,” he recalled. “I had to keep that quiet until the following year. It was very hard.”
Working on the movie was a transcendent experience, according to Corey.
“I was in tears. It was literally all of my dreams as a child — designing and working on a major motion picture — came true,” recalled Corey, who graduated from Parkville High School before receiving degrees from the Art Institute of Philadelphia.
Corey dressed Jon Batiste, who plays Grady; Oscar winner Louis Gossett Jr., who plays Ol’ Mister; Whoopi Goldberg, who is a midwife; and the entire group of dancers in the Miss Celie’s pants scene.
Francine Jamison-Tanchuck, the lead costume designer for the movie, praised Corey’s work.
“It’s not very often that one is able to praise the work of an assistant costume designer in which you have no history of working with, but Rashad Corey is one of those rare moments,” she said. “He was literally an answer to a prayer.”
Davis, 56, whose past experience includes working on “Green Book,” “Bessie,” “Respect” and the second season of HBO’s “True Detective,” considers this one of the most iconic projects to which he’s been attached.
“It feels exciting just to be part of the project. It’s pretty much surreal,” he said, adding that he did extensive research preparing him for achieving historically accurate hairstyles for the characters of the movie, which takes place between the 1900s and 1940s. “It’s exciting to see it get so much excitement and praise.”
In her position as key makeup artist, Olandu Young, 43, worked exclusively on one of the movie’s lead actresses, Danielle Brooks, in addition to overseeing the hiring of other makeup artists and making sure the overall looks aligned with the vision of the director and creative teams.
“It was great. The technical portion was amazing. I had to de-age her to make sure she looked 17,” Olandu Young, adding that she was responsible for transforming Brooks for difficult scenes where her character is abused by a mob of white men and subsequently put in jail. “That was heartbreaking. It was more of an emotional layer. I felt like I had to be an advocate for her.”
“It’s bigger than just the makeup. I made sure that she had quiet when she needed it. I didn’t want her to think about one more thing. I wanted her to think about her scene.”
Brooks has been nominated for a Golden Globe Award for best supporting actress for her role in the movie. Many Hollywood experts are also predicting an Oscar nomination for the actress.
Shooting was difficult — particularly in the earlier months when Olandu-Young had to be away from her children, ages 4, 7 and 11.
“They were not happy to have me out the house and neither was my husband,” she recalled with a laugh. “They were missing Momma Bear.”
And although the children are too young to understand the gravity of the project, she said she wowed them when one of the actresses, Grammy-Award winner H.E.R., recorded a video message for her 7-year-old.
“My daughter loves H.E.R. I got cool mom points for that,” she recalled.
The Marylanders were able to reunite with the actors and crew Dec. 6 at the Los Angeles premiere.
Olandu Young, who graduated from Western High School and Morgan State University, called the experience “magical.”
“It takes you through an emotional roller coaster,” she said. “The film takes you somewhere else. It was great to see everyone else again — ‘The Color Purple’ family.”
Corey was also happy to reconnect with the cast as well as meet celebs such as Angela Bassett, which he called the “highlight of the night.” (He already met Oprah back in January.)
“It shows a powerful story about how someone can survive and thrive through all of their life’s adversities,” he said.
Corey has already transitioned into his first lead costuming role in the “The Holiday Flop,” an independent movie slated for release in December 2024. He said he will approach the project using the experience of working on the film — particularly the lessons he learned from Jamison-Tanchuck.
“Her beautiful work has helped me thrive as a costume designer,” he said.