The relationship between actor and makeup artist is far different than that of the actor to any other film crew member by sheer virtue of the intimate and secluded nature of their work together. This holds true whether one is doing straight makeup for a day or prosthetic makeup for months. The makeup artist and the actor are basically stuck in a cabin together - that cabin being the makeup room. How often have I been doing prosthetic makeup on an actor - usually in the wee hours of the morning hours before the film crew arrives - when both of us are tired as hell? Like most of my makeup colleagues reading, we have all done this many times. It is the nature of the beast. One thing happens when you work closely with an actor in such situations. You get to know each other extremely well. The more times you do the makeup, the better you get to know each other. Secrets are shared and trust is given on both sides.
There may not be a lot of knowledge with film crews - the grips, gaffers and teamsters - about the ‘unwritten rule’ between makeup artist and actor, but it is common knowledge to any makeup artist with reasonable experience. The unwritten code is that all communications which the actor and makeup artist share together in the makeup room are privileged, confidential and not to be divulged. This information often includes intimate details of an actors’ personal life, how the actor feels about the film, the director, the other actors. The rule of thumb is that whatever is voiced goes no further than the makeup chair. In all my years of working, I have never heard of one instance of a makeup artist ever violating this unwritten rule.
My very first job was doing extensive scar makeup on a well-known actress, Didi Conn, for an American Film Institute (AFI) short called VIOLET. She had recently starred in GREASE and YOU LIGHT UP MY LIFE. Didi was really sweet - and more than understanding when I burned her face during a collodion scar test which left a nasty red welt. Instead of overreacting, she turned me on to Daniel Striepeke, a veteran makeup artist whose work I knew from PLANET OF THE APES and other films. Dan suggested some other materials, one of which I ended up using for the three weeks of filming.
I had a longer term involvement with Ronny Cox for the film COURAGE, a film he co-wrote with his wife Mary. It was about marathon runners in the desert pursued by weekend warriors intent on killing them. The makeup progressions and New Mexico heat proved challenging. Bart Mixon came on board and helped me for the entire film. We did every actor’s makeup ourselves, including beauty makeup for the women. This film was the first and only time I ever cut an actor’s hair - M. Emmett Walsh after he chided me, “Come on, you can do it! Just pick up the scissors and start cutting.”
The physical ravages the three runners faced were the job of Bart and I each day. It was tricky to maintain continuity but luckily the film progressed in a logical shooting fashion from place to place - they were running remember - and this made our jobs easier. Each day we put Ronny, Art Hindle and Tim Maier in full body makeup with PAX wash sunburns, 355 scabs, scrapes, cuts, peeled lips, scraped knees, dried acrylic blood, liquid dirt, greasy hair and lots of sweat before each take. It was then I learned that an actor sometimes has more on his mind than getting the makeup on. Since Ronny was the writer he often had conferences with the director as I was making him up. Unlike some actors who would be un-cooperative, Ronny was the opposite, as kind and considerate as possible. He spoiled me because I thought at the time all actors were like that. Even if Ronny was in the middle of a discussion with the director, I knew I could feel free to interrupt or simply grab his leg and twist his body so I could work on the area I needed to. He never complained about time or discomfort, in fact he was patient beyond words. When it came time for him to work, I extended the same courtesy. If Ronny preferred not to be wetted down with glycerine sweat but to instead ‘run it,’ I would let him do that, at risk of seeing my makeup wear off. Ronny let me do my thing, I would allow him to do his. So before a take, instead of spraying him with sweat, Ronny would run off a quarter mile and return - sweating the real stuff profusely - as cameras rolled and I rushed in to touch up anything I could.
I guess I got lucky working early on with an actor who also had a stake as the film’s writer. It was clear Ronny cared deeply about the end product and would bend over backwards to make it better in every respect. Ronny set the bar for me as far as professionalism in acting and the actor/makeup artist relationship. Indeed, he spoiled me because he was the penultimate professional. I am still in touch with Ronny 34 years after this film.
PHOTO AT TOP: Actor Rio Dewanto in JAVA HEAT. No, I did not put tattoos on him--those are his. My job was to put three bullet holes on him and cover the tattoos, back, sides and front. Time for bullet holes: ten minutes. Time for tattoo covering: three hours. (Makeup notes for Rio: I used a layer of orangey PAX first, followed by a neutral tone. I did most of my colouring with a Ben Nye Olive Palette, which worked beautifully on his skin tones)