Receiving an Emmy nomination a piece for her work on two Ryan Murphy series—as part of the makeup team on Glee, and then as department head on The People v. O.J. Simpson—Zoe Hay linked up with a new TV titan on NBC’s runaway phenom This Is Us, crafting the looks for one of America’s favorite TV families.
Known for his wholesome and compelling big screen work, which transferred powerfully into this series, scribe-turned-series-creator Dan Fogelman offered Hay the significant challenge of developing aging makeup for actors including Mandy Moore and Jon Huertas—makeup which wasn’t overpowering, but convincing enough for HD closeups.
Speaking with Deadline, Hay explains how The People v. O.J. prepared her for the task at hand on This Is Us, and the tack she took with an unconventional, timeline-jumping drama.
What were the attractive elements for you when considering taking on This Is Us?
One of the most appealing things was the fact that it’s a period show where we see the same characters appearing at different points in their life. Something that I find really fascinating is to create those little things that those characters need that can transform them in a very realistic way.
I had worked with our costume designer, Hala Bahmet, before on The People v. O.J. Simpson, but I had never worked with Dan Fogelman. One of the things I really wasn’t anticipating, but I always love when it happens, is when it’s a true collaborative experience.
That comes from above, from Dan, and they really care about the story that I can help tell. That, to me, is the icing on the cake, when you get that tier of people who are really invested in that dialogue.
Though very different, The People v. O.J. and This Is Us are two of the most highly lauded series in recent memory. Production-wise, how have the experiences compared?
I’m so glad I did O.J. first. [laughs] I want all my actors to feel very well taken care of, in addition to having their makeup done well, and I think that prepared me for managing a large crew of artists. We had 40 principals in for about three days every episode on that show, and this show is a lot like that.
We have a huge cast on this show. In the same way that O.J. did, every one of [the actors] has something, whether we’re adjusting skin tone, or they’re getting contact lenses, or we’re doing facial hair that we have continue through the ages.
What did Dan Fogelman convey to you in Season 1 about his makeup and hair preferences for his characters?
When we started getting into a discussion about facial hair, they were very concerned. They were like “Oh, it’s going to look like a fake beard,” and then “No, it’s not, trust me.” I’m lucky because I make my own facial hair, so I have a lot of control over how I can make it work for a high definition camera, and how I can make it work on the actors to make it more comfortable.
I think it couldn’t feel precious—it had to feel very organic and real, and it’s something that we’ve been working through with the age makeups on the show, also. We decided through many tests and through dialogue with Dan that we would pull back and create this really subtle look, and allow the actors to go the rest of the way with it, and create something that was really beautiful and believable.
I think that was what we wanted to create for the whole look of the show. Even though it’s a period show, it’s not some sort of heightened version of the ’80’s; it’s not an MTV version, it’s not a beauty ad. These are real, working class people, and it has to feel real.
That’s something we’ve really tried to do in all the periods that we’ve approached. It’s hard. We found a lot of research to support what we wanted to do, and extras casting works really hard to help us get the right kind of people in that we can create those looks on, both hair and makeup.
Dan and the producers are really invested in allowing us time to test things and explore ideas until we’re all really happy with the way it looks. It’s so rare that you get that in Hollywood these days; its always Rush, rush, rush. It’s so nice to be part of a project where we need to react very quickly, but we are given permission to explore.
Can you speak to the specific experience of heading up the makeup department on a network show?
I feel like the difference in television is sometimes I feel like, Oh my God, I’m prepping a movie every week. It’s good to have strong relationships with other departments because we have to prepare something very quickly.
For our show, the complication is we move around in time in these peoples’ lives. We have different characters playing the same people. There has to be a continuity between all of them. In a film, you have a set schedule, a set thing that you know as you begin the project. We’re getting that every eight days. It’s a much faster reaction time that we have to have.
What was the concept with the visual arc we see for Mandy Moore’s Rebecca?
I wanted to have this very subtle journey that she goes on. When we first meet her, she’s a young woman, she’s creative, she’s an artist, so we used lots of color, we made sure her skin was always glowing and beautiful, and just really luscious and yummy.
I wanted to change that look when she first had the babies. She’s very natural and still glowing; I still wanted to have a great look of youth about her. She’s a young mother, but she’s got triplets—she’s not doing her makeup and hair every day. It has to be very subtle. It helps that I’m a mom, too, so I’ve been through that emotional journey where your kids get a little bit older and then all of a sudden you’re like, I kind of want to get new clothes to wear, and feel pretty again.
We pick up when the kids are eight and nine, and I gave her a little bit of soft color, coming back into the palette of her makeup, in keeping with the ’80’s. She’s got pinks and purples, and she’s dressed in a lot of those tones, too, to transform her into a slightly more mature look that she’s doing with her makeup.
We used eyelashes to change the shape of her eyes in different periods to make her eyes look more open. She’s got an amazing woman who does eyelash extensions for her. We do those, and then we supplement so that we can really change the shape of her eye for the different time periods, which helps age her.
When we start moving into the ’90’s, now she’s got teenagers. To help age her, we’ve gone with that ’90’s look, which is very matte makeup, and we’ve taken that matte look into her skin tone, too, to help age her a little bit. We started using more browns, and the colors that were more popular then. She’s starting to get back into performing, so we have that look.
Then as we move forward and we see her in present day, I wanted to create a very natural looking makeup like a mature woman would have, but she looks polished. She’s taking care of herself. I wanted to have a certain grace, and beauty, and almost sexiness about her at that age, too, in a way that was workable for her as an actress, to not be so covered with pieces that we couldn’t see her under there.
In aging your actors, how long have they typically been in the makeup chair?
For Mandy and for Jon Huertas, we’re looking at about three and a half hours now for makeup and hair. And they help!
What have your actors brought to the table in your department?
We hand them a blow dryer and pretty much make them part of the team. That’s one of the things I love about this project—they love to have that dialogue with us, and they’re very trusting.
One of the things that has been a real journey has been with Milo [Ventimiglia]. When we did the pilot, he had this beautiful beard, and we really didn’t know the parameters—how far we were going to be jumping around—until we got picked up for the season.
Milo and I talked a lot about what he wanted to keep of his own facial hair, just to feel comfortable, but also to feel like he had a part of Jack, too. We came up with three distinct looks for him at different times in his life. That also helps us visually as we jump around, that we know where Jack is by how he looks.
We do very subtle aging makeup on him as we go with ager and paint and powder—little techniques, very subtle, but I really wanted to make this journey with his facial hair.
Milo and I had a big working out of what that would be, when we would do it, and just little bits and pieces like, Do we add just a half inch on the end of his sideburns for this time period? Or, how skinny is his goatee? How short is it? How does it make him look?
For older William on the pilot, [Ron Cephas Jones] came and he had this beautiful little chin beard. He’s like, “This is all I grow.” I was like, “Well, I love it, but it doesn’t feel right for this character,” and then pulled out my hair box.
We started rummaging around and we ended up using some big muttonchops. I cut them down, blended them in, made him a mustache and this beard that works, that would also help age him, because he plays older than he really is in our show.
Also, he’s sick, so we wanted to add gray and color and textures to help with that and make his face look more drawn. Then all of a sudden we’re like, Okay, we’re going to see him in his 20’s. [laughs] We’re casting another actor, so then we make it all for him. How do we tie them together visually? It’s not only sometimes collaborating with one actor, but also their younger self.
What have been the major challenges you’ve faced with the series so far?
One of the biggest challenges was deciding on the old age makeup for Mandy and Miguel, how that would look and move. Our camera department loves to do a lot of forehead-to-chin close-ups, which is very tight on HD, so we wanted to make sure that we were working with pieces that would hold up to that kind of scrutiny.
We started at a company that makes some very heavy-duty prosthetics, and we decided that wasn’t going to work. I met Stevie Bettles, who has a company called Out of Kit, about a year before we started shooting. He’d done some old age makeup on a commercial, using some pieces that he makes, and when we were going through the exploration of how this would look, we came up with these small pieces that allow as much of the actor’s face in there, really only adding dimension where we needed. They go on almost like a sticker, and the edges blend off seamlessly into the skin.
Then, we knew we were going to be able to get really close, and they’re really supple, so they move with the actor’s face and have full range of expression. We decided that that’s the way we needed to go, and fortunately for us, we were able to explore how many we used, how much ager we were using, and how that changed the texture.