I met Doug at his home in Los Angeles. He just returned from working on his most recent project “A Lesson Before Dying,” starring Cicely Tyson. Doug was Ms. Tyson’s personal makeup artist and created a unique character makeup for her role.
How did you get started as a makeup artist and how long have you been in the business?
I have been a professional makeup artist for 14 years. My story is very interesting on how I got started. I took freshman choir as an easy credit when I was in high school. I was 15 years old and my voice had not changed yet. My choir director had a great idea to do a play that had not been done in years because they never had a male with, dare I say, a “soprano voice.” I was roped into singing the lead role. Unfortunately, high school kids can be ruthless. That was my last year of choir and the end of my singing career. My involvement in the play introduced me to the world of stage makeup.
I found makeup to be fascinating. I had been an artist for many years drawing, sketching, and painting. My makeup career was born. I attended beauty school right out of high school to get more training in makeup and hair.
My first professional makeup show was Sweeney Todd at a playhouse in Columbus, Ohio. I learned both crafts’ of hairdressing and makeup. It was initiation by fire. I had no business being there but I had some gracious people looking out for me. I did the professional theatre circuit in Pennsylvania, New York and Ohio.
What happened after your theatre touring stint? How did you get into television and film makeup?
I would say it’s a lot of backing into things, but more being guided in the right direction. The costume shop where we got our makeup when I was 15 hired me. The owner of that shop went to school with a makeup artist named Stan Place. Stan is now Maybelline’s cosmetic authority. Stan told me if I went to beauty school after high school he would put me to work.
I got out of beauty school and went on the road with Maybelline. I was a platform makeup artist at trade shows. I also worked with Revlon for a short time. While working with Maybelline and Revlon I was still dabbling in theatre, doing special effects. I started doing commercials and my name began circulating.
The film business came about in 1990. I was working at a special effects house called Theatre Magic. I was making gobo’s, which are lighting templates. The shop was involved with a project called “Mr. and Mrs. Smith.” That show fell through but I had tapped into the vein of the “movie circuit.” I had my finger on the pulse of what was going on. “A Rage In Harlem” came to Cincinnati in the summer of 1990. I had a friend working on the film as a grip. He told me to come visit and see what was going on. So I did.
The makeup artist on “A Rage In Harlem” was Suzanne Sanders. I bugged the hell out of her. I would not leave her alone. She finally asked if I could do black makeup and I said “absolutely!” I worked a week on “A Rage In Harlem.” We did 50-60 people a day. That was my start in film. Suzanne said she would take care of me and help me if I came to Los Angeles. So she did. I came to LA and she put me to work on several movies: “Critters 3″, “Nightmare on Elm Street 6″, and “Deep Cover”, among others.
Suzanne Sanders really helped launch your career in the film industry.
Yes. I would bow to her grace. She is a wonderful human being. She kept me very busy and took care of me. She put me on my feet. She instilled in me a sense of what it is to be a makeup artist. The morals and ethics she lived by were examples to me. She didn’t brow beat me at all. The style in which she lived really set a tone through which I followed.
What great guidance!
I truly believe I was lead to great people out here in Los Angeles.
Did you have any other formal training as a makeup artist, besides getting your cosmetology license?
Zero. When I went to beauty school I taught the makeup portion of the class. My instructors saw where I was and where I was going. At that point I had more up to date knowledge than the textbooks did.
So you are a “natural artist”?
Yes, since I was a kid.
Who are your mentors?
Bill Corso has been a wonderful human being. Bill does effects, straight makeup, and is an amazing artist. The bottom line with Bill is “Why Do Fools Fall In Love,” “Susan’s Plan,” “Batman and Robin,” “A Lesson Before Dying,” and “Mama Flora’s Family.” All these jobs go back to Bill. He’s another person who doesn’t shove stuff in your face.
I am drawn to people who live by example. Bill Corso, Suzanne Sanders, and Mark Boley are all in this category. They practice what they preach. Mark Boley hired me at the costume shop many years ago and got me into the theatre circuit. He had no business hiring me. His influences were early on. He believed in me and thought I was impressionable enough that I would retain. I quickly learned. Mark was a big factor in my makeup career starting out. He currently works with Steve Johnson making hairpieces and doing makeup.
If you had to pick one type of media to stay in what would it be?
Film. It is absolutely the most creative, most critical and there is nothing forgiving about film. What you see is what you get. Its got to look real to the human eye. They usually give you the time in film to do what you need to do. In film, if they say 65 days you can bank on 70-72 days. TV if they say 44 days they mean 44 days. The creative freedom that comes with film is the most exciting venue that you can travel in.
Which film has been your favorite?
“Deep Cover” is my favorite. I had so much fun. I was very green. I didn’t even know about personal makeup artists at that time. I worked with Jeff Goldblum, and Lawrence Fishbourne. I took good care of Fishbourne but I never pursued being his personal makeup artist.
What was your least favorite project?
“Hellraiser: Bloodline.” I got fired off that film and it had gone union. The work was fine. I enjoyed what I was doing. The personalities did not mix well and that created a lot of tension in the department.
So you became a member of I.A.T.S.E. Local 706 while working on “Hellraiser: Bloodline?”
Tell me about your most recent project “A Lesson Before Dying.”
I did a character makeup on Cicely Tyson. She plays the aunt of a gentleman who is a school teacher. The school teacher has been chosen to speak to a young black man who was caught in a bungled robbery. The two men that killed the storeowner in the robbery were also killed. The man who didn’t pull the trigger but picked up the blood money is going to die. The time is 1947.
Ms. Tyson’s character called for beady, piercing eyes, a tight mouth, and a quick tongue. Cicely Tyson is a makeup artist’s dream. Whatever the script says that’s how she wants to pursue it. She loves character makeup! We’re talking about Ms. Jane Pitman after all! She was buried in prosthetic makeup 30 years ago before prosthetics were as commonplace as they are today.
To make her character come alive I did little skin tags around her eyes and utilized smaller cornea contact lenses. I painted her teeth yellow, gave her two silver caps and aged her with tattoo makeup paint. She did not wear foundation. I grayed her eyebrows, gave her a mole with a couple of hairs growing out of it. For someone as elegant and esteemed as Cicely Tyson to say put a mole on my chin with hairs coming out of it. That’s a dream for me as an artist! How many people do you know would let you glue a hair anywhere to their face?
Do you consider yourself an all around makeup artist? If you had to narrow down and do a specific type of makeup what would it be?
An all around makeup artist, absolutely! There is nothing that scares me. I know that I can do anything that is thrown at me. If I had to choose a specific makeup technique it would be character makeup. Character makeup covers everything. It can be a beauty makeup, then slap a prosthetic on, or add some tattoo makeup for age.
What are your favorite products? What is a main staple in your professional makeup kit?
Kiehl’s Lip Balm #1 is probably the only thing I can say because I use so many different products. I love RCMA bases, ISOMA bases, Visiora, MAC colors and lipsticks, Origins: lipstick, pencils, No Puffery for eyes and Spot Remover. Channel is great if you can afford it. Aveda colors have great pigment. I love Philosophy’s eyeshadow and blushes and they have a unique skin care line.
As a professional, would you say you keep up with the new products/lines that are out there?
What is your goal as a makeup artist in the next 3-5 years?
I want to continue to grow and learn as an artist. I want to do character makeups that people will remember. Be proud of the work I do and less worried about what others think. I would like to earn an Emmy as a Department head on a TV project. The illusive Oscar would be grand!
What projects do you have coming up?
I am going to do some day work with Todd McKintosh on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I think we are creating some Demons.
How would you describe your career and what you do to others?
Play. I can’t believe it when I get a paycheck. I’m having the time of my life!
Do you have any final thoughts or advice for our readers?