Like anyone who grows up to write about pop culture, when I need to cycle through some emotions I go to the movies. I planned to cry at “Furious 7,” the latest installment of the “Fast & Furious” series. Unfortunately for my psyche but fortunately for you, I got too distracted by the cast’s flawless skin.
Curious about the cast’s flawless skin, I tracked down James MacKinnon, the head of the franchise’s makeup department since “Fast Five” and asked him how to get my skin as tan and smooth as this intrepid yet loyal family of toughs. He gave me answers aside from “be a makeup artist” or “be a movie star”, for which I’m very grateful:
YouBeauty: How do you design a makeup strategy for a movie where so much of the ethos is toughness? What was your strategy?
James MacKinnon: As a makeup artist, like a director, my goal is to take you to guys on a ride with the makeup like the director is taking you on a ride with his directing. Each department makes their own movie with what they have. Character-wise, we break down a script and figure out what characters there are, what they’re going to look like, how they’re going to progress, because most movies go through a few days. You don’t want a movie with one look and one hairstyle. You want to show that time has passed. We get to break down these actors.
In [“Furious 7”] we have most of the girls in a clean makeup/no-makeup look. In the “Fast” movies most everybody is pretty natural, we don’t get to do too much. With this movie when they’re all walking down the stairs in Abu Dhabi, Michelle’s in her red dress. I don’t think she’s ever worn a dress in the series. We got to do some fun red lips on her. We got to do an orange, coraly lip on Nathalie Emmanuel. We got to bump it up a little bit instead of the no makeup look that everybody normally has.
Is everything we see makeup? Everyone’s skin was so perfect I assumed some of it was special effects.
It’s all makeup. It should be the opposite with the HD — it should show more imperfections. Unfortunately, [HD is] not made for an aging woman, or for anyone really; it’s made for NASCAR and Animal Planet. We have to compensate because it’ll show every pore. And if you put too much makeup on, you’ll end up seeing the makeup. There’s a fine line.
How do you adjust makeup and skin regimens for HD? We’re not going in front of TV cameras, but is there any advice you could give to people who want that smoothness?
It’s all in the application. Most people use the sponge that comes with the compact. After three or four uses, that thing has so much bacteria you wouldn’t want to look at it under a microscope. People should try to use fresh products, fresh brushes, fresh sponges, and the application is going to go on more smoothly. We don’t use sponges anymore, we use beauty blenders. The products don’t soak into them, it stays on top.
You could also use a brush to apply your foundation so you get the product put on smooth. Also: Pat, don’t rub. When you rub, you’re smearing it around and lifting 90% of it up and moving it in different directions. If you pat your foundation on, the product sticks in one spot. Spend a few bucks on your brushes. It’ll save you in the end to have the right tools in front of you.
So you do Dwayne’s (The Rock) makeup personally. Can you walk me through your process for his look?
I’ve done Dwayne for the last five movies. Obviously he is a handsome man and doesn’t need much, so he’s a simple makeup. He uses La Mer [skin cream] and loves that product. We’re just evening out his skin tone and getting rid of splotchyness or a few blemishes.
You don’t want to put too much on with men. You want a little bit of their natural skin tone to come through, but give them the evenness that comes through on camera. You can’t have an afterglow on camera without anything on. With Dwayne, not being shiny is the main goal. On “Fast 5,” he would dump a bottle of water over his head before he shot every scene. If you watch Fast 5, there’s always water dripping down through his goatee while he’s being filmed. He likes a little realism, he likes a little sweat. He’s a big, strong guy – we go through a lot of baby oil with Dwayne every show because he likes glossy, glowy arms. I think that’s left over from his wrestling days.
Do you have anything to do with your actors’ skincare regimens?
I would say a few actresses have a set regimen. We probably convince them otherwise that some of their stuff is not the best for their skin type. Dwayne is a big fan of La Mer. He goes through that stuff like water. Jan Marini is probably my other favorite line. It all depends on the person’s skin. Not every brand works for everyone – Jan Marini is great if you have acne-prone skin, La Mer is great stuff. Neutrogena is always great, too.
Do you have any other favorite products you used on set?
I use a lot of the Armani line. The Maestro [foundation] line is crazy, crazy great stuff. All the new products, colors, it’s one of my favorites. We were in Abu Dhabi so we had to darken everybody’s foundation because its 130 degrees there. Everybody would come back from the weekend with a little tan or burn so we had to compensate. I like a self-tanner for boys called Summer Tan; it has a not quite a green undertone to it, but not orange. It’s got a natural look. You also can’t beat your basic Sally Hansen [tanning] sprays.
There’s also a lot of combat and action in the movie. How do you do the makeup for those scenes?
The first scene of the movie was a scene in which Luke Evans was going to be burned and in the hospital. We spent weeks and weeks going back and forth about how gross to make the burn makeup look. It was a five hour makeup job. His whole body was burned – it was gross, but not too gross. In the final shot, you just saw his face. All this money spent, all the actor’s time in the makeup chair, and in the end no one sees it.
That sounds so frustrating.
At least we got to do it! A writer writes “the burned guy on the bed” in the script, and I now have to figure out what that is. How realistic should it be? That’s the fun of my department. I get to make a cool makeup look.
Paul [Walker] always liked realism. If he got punched, he wanted to see a scar. He’s not, like, “I got punched 15 times in the face, I don’t get cuts, I don’t get scratches.” He wanted to do it right. They wanted to do a shot where he was shifting the gear incorrectly. He asked to take two seconds and do it properly, so the audience sees it done right.
Do you have any favorite stories from set?
There’s one scene in the movie where they drop Kurt Russell off on a desert road. There’s a wide shot of Paul and he’s wearing my pants. We had a dusk shot and we all went to location and we got there and everybody’s like “Where are the clothes? Where are the actor’s clothes?” And everybody’s, like, “They’re on set.” Unfortunately, all the actor’s clothes went to the second location, a 45-minute helicopter ride away. So a helicopter is flying the clothes back and we had 10 minutes to make the shot. So I take my pants off, Paul wears my pants, I’m standing in the middle of the desert with a sarong around my waist to cover up my underwear so he can shoot it. So that’s what happens in the movies: you do anything to make it happen.
Will there be a “Fast 8”?
Why not continue the franchise that everybody loves?
This interview has been condensed and edited.