Syfy’s Face Off had a host of talented entertainers appear on the reality competition show to give contestants their two cents on their makeup work – including The Walking Dead producer Gail Anne Hurd, visual effects artist Tom Savini and Lord of the Rings actor Sean Astin. Now another industry great is a regular presence on the show, veteran makeup artist Michael Westmore.
Westmore was a guest judge on Face Off in past seasons, but this year he is the contestants’ mentor, giving them pointers on their in-progress makeups every episode.
Part of a family of celebrated Hollywood makeup artists, Westmore’s credits include Blade Runner, Raging Bull, and multiple Star Trek films and TV shows, starting with the series that gave new life to the franchise, Star Trek: The Next Generation.
For Westmore, one appeal of being a mentor on Face Off is working with his actress daughter, McKenzie, who hosts the show. Read on for EW’s chat with Michael Westmore, who discusses his experience on Face Off, teases his critique on the alien werewolf makeups in tonight’s episode and recalls some highlights of his career.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY:What has it been like watching McKenzie host Face Off?
MICHAEL WESTMORE: I’m thrilled to see it because it’s such a natural fit for her, having been literally raised in my labs and mixing plaster herself. There were a couple alien creatures in Star Trek that I was sculpting and she’d come in, and she’d put a little clay or something somewhere, and I’d leave it there, so the characters, to this day when those shows air, her little handiwork is still visible. So when Face Off came along, I thought there was nobody that knows as much about the business as she does. She can talk to you about sculpting, mold-making, painting because she’s seen it all done. Papa’s proud.
Why were you interested in broadening your involvement with Face Off?
Not only was it fun to be able to do it, but I do it with McKenzie, and she said she’s really comfortable walking around with Dad because we actually joke and banter. It could be a whole show on the two of us because it takes about anywhere from an hour, depending on how many we have to talk to, to two hours to get to [all of the contestants]. We talk with each one of them in-depth about their project of what they have in mind, why the thought of that, how it’s going to work, how are they doing with their time, how are they going to color it, and then if I see somebody that’s going to run into a problem, I will give them some advice of what’s going to happen.
But they don’t always take your advice – like Alam last week, who then got eliminated.
Exactly. When I said don’t get bogged down with too much color, then she goes “Oh, I’m not going to listen to him. I’m going to put a lot of color into it.” And bingo – she’s gone.
You’ve given advice to so many aspiring makeup artists over the years. Whose advice did you most value when you got your start?
John Chambers [the celebrated makeup artist whom John Goodman played in Argo] was my mentor. I studied with him for three years solid at Universal, and then he left to do Planet of the Apes, and I actually took his job when he left. They moved me up into the lab technician job, and he and I stayed friends our whole life. In fact, we did all the special effects on Blade Runner together. Once and a while John and I would get together on some little teeny projects, but ever since those initial three years, we’ve really bonded. He was like a big brother to me and told me everything he knew.
Before you started working on Star Trek, were you a Trekkie?
Marion and I, we’ve been married going on 48 years this year. When Star Trek came on the air, and she was pregnant with Michael, my oldest son, and it was Thursday nights, and it had reached that period in pregnancy where you just don’t want to move. So we stayed home and that was one of those shows that you tune in just because you like it, and yes, we did. We watched all the episodes starting back in ’66.
What do you think of the J.J. Abrams reboot?
They’re doing a good job. It’s popular. It’s making money. In the 18 years that I was on it, we always kind of stayed to a directive of Gene Roddenberry. And it seems like they’re taking steps away from it, almost like they want to create a new wheel. And Star Trek has so many dedicated fans and so much background to it, it’s difficult to throw something at it to try to change something classic. But [Abrams] has his Vulcans, and eventually he’ll probably come up and have Klingons one of these days. But I enjoyed the movie. It had a lot of action to it. And they did really nice casting too where you believed these people. And he’s got a lot more technology to work with now too. And, I must say, a lot more money. It makes a big difference. You can afford to have not one laser shot but 20 laser shots. There’s a lot more movement, a lot more action going on in his films just because of having larger budges to work with.
Your makeup work is so varied, ranging from sci-fi aliens to fight makeup in both Raging Bull and Rocky.
And I [did makeup for] Elizabeth Taylor for several years. And Farrah Fawcett. I went through an apprenticeship where you were trained to do absolutely everything. And without those apprenticeships, makeup artists coming up today have to kind of specialize because there’s no time to learn everything. But in learning beauty makeup, I literally sat in a room where my uncle made up Sandra Dee every day and watched him do her makeup. And then I would go and get secretaries around the lot at Universal on their lunch hours, and I would practice beauty makeups on them. So I was trained to do it all. I can take an alien and make an alien pretty.
Between all those kinds of makeup, do you find there’s much crossover of specific skills you need for each, or do you approach each one very differently?
No, what it comes down to is the artistry of the profession, whether it is an alien that has to be green and blue or a beauty makeup with the eye shadow and the lipstick. It’s brushes and it’s paint, and it’s just a matter of focusing your mind on what you’re doing. It’s all an art, and a really good makeup artist can do any of it.
And that’s what Face Off contestants are being asked to do. The ones who go far on the show are talented in several areas of makeup.
We had one contestant whose forte was more beauty makeup than laboratory makeup, and they’ll find that along the way with Face Off that some of them are a little stronger in the beauty makeup, but we don’t do too much of it. So they don’t get to really shine as much in that. Then there’s other people that just love to do the alien and blood and guts and their beauty makeup is weak.
What can this season’s contestants improve on the most?
Making the mold seemed to be a big problem with a lot of them. They just hadn’t had a lot of mold training. And time management. Time management I stress over and over and over again because they do so much beautiful work up to the point of having to paint, and then they’ve left themselves 20 minutes to do a final paint job that they should have an hour to do. And the judges know right away when they come in, and the audience can too when [there is a close-up shot] on a face. It’s all glued down fine, it looks fine and the coloring is terrible. [Judge] Ve [Neill] jumps on that right away whenever she sees it. They just have to learn to budget their time. But it gets away from them.
This group especially seems really ambitious, but that backfires when they run out of time.
And it’s amazing. They’ll spend too much time on sculpting that they will do not only a big head that’s beautiful, but then they start to make body parts.
Like all the pieces of the ant’s body last week that Anthony sculpted but took criticism for.
Yeah. And it’s interesting because with the ant – and it was beautiful – the head on the ant was absolutely gorgeous. His big problem was he got lost in time management. Luckily enough, Anthony’s a very talented artist and he was able to survive because a lot of it still looked good. I actually loved the look of it because I saw it close up, and he did a really, really good job, except an ant has such a strange body that he didn’t have any time to really do much to the body.
What have you been most impressed by with this season’s contestants?
Their sculpting. Several of them are just able to take that clay and magically work it. Just be able to get in with these tools and sculpt out the shapes and smooth it out. It’s gorgeous. I’m very impressed with the sculpting on half a dozen of them.
What can you tease for us about your critique of makeups in tonight’s episode, when the challenge is to create a werewolf from another planet?
Some of the faces get too far away from a wolf look. It’s almost difficult because right away when you say “werewolf look,” you want to take and do a werewolf, and so many of them have been done successfully in movies that people have a tendency to copy that look. Everyone has will believe [that traditional look] and accept it because it’s been accepted down the road so many times that it’s a real challenge for them to do a variation on the theme and still have the judges and the audience love what they’ve done.
Are you a member of the Academy?
Yes, as far as makeup goes, I’m one of the oldest ones that go back to being a member of the Academy before we had a category.
And you had another change recently when the makeup category began including hairstylists as well. What did you think about that change?
The two of them really go together. This year with Hitchcock, his hair had to be trimmed and cut, and the hair pieces had to be added to it. So without that, the makeup’s not complete. When you bring in a very talented hairdresser to work their magic, it’s all part of the entire ensemble. It seems very strange over the years when they were only calling it a makeup award, and the individual that was being nominated for the character had a beautiful wig and beautiful hairpieces.
The makeup category was interesting this year because all three were really good. If somebody had said which one do you think is going to win I couldn’t tell you because when it finally got down to the 6,000 members voting for these categories, you don’t know who’s going to win You can’t say that any one of them was not deserving to be in there. Was it the makeup of Hitchcock, that a beautiful, flawless, silicon makeup that Howard Berger did? Or the quantity that you found The Hobbit, with a zillion trolls running around? Or Les Mis? And there was so much in Les Mis – the contact lenses, the special teeth that they made, the people in the street made up with all the dirt. There weren’t any really prosthetics and stuff a lot of noses or foreheads or something like that. It was a reality that you really believed.
Can you tell us which one you voted for?
No, I’m not supposed to tell. But mine didn’t win. So that narrows it down for you! My wife on her non-counting ballot, she did vote for Les Mis. Each one really had something so unique to be able to vote for.
Want to read more about Face Off and the Westmores? Read EW’s Q&A with McKenzie Westmore to learn how got the gig at her father’s recommendation and what Halloweens were like growing up in the Westmore family.
Tonight’s episode of Face Off, “Howl at the Moon,” airs at 9 p.m. on Syfy.
Follow Emily on Twitter: @EmilyNRome