Imagine being in the makeup business for 18 years, working on such films as "The Passion of the Christ," "How The Grinch Stole Christmas," and "No Country For Old Men" -- and then getting hired onto arguably the most makeup-friendly TV show of all time, "American Horror Story."
That's what happened to Oscar-winning makeup artist Christien Tinsley, who, along with his team, is having the time of his life. Every facet of "AHS" is dependent on makeup, and as any fan can attest, it's true artistry in each episode.
Working on this show must be a makeup artist's dream.
It is, absolutely. I wish I could be more a part of it! There are some makeups that are so great, I wish I could be applying them every time -- but unfortunately I have to pass off a lot of them. Like Pepper, for example. I think it's one of the most brilliant makeups ever; I've been waiting years to do a "Pinhead" makeup, and unfortunately now that I have it, I have to walk away from it. But Ehren [Kruger], Mike [Mekash] and Chris [Nelson], who apply that makeup, do such a good job that I'm not sure I could do it any better.
Tell me more about Pepper and the whole makeup process.
She's a beautiful young woman, and we're fortunate to have her as part of the cast. Naomi [Grossman, who plays Pepper]'s features are perfect for what we wanted to do. Pinhead makeup has certain anatomical differences than, say, a "normal" person's makeup. There are certain limitations, but we wanted to try and get as many aspects of the face and head as we could. We were also able to talk her into shaving her head, which saved us a lot of prosthetic work every day. We needed to extend her brow out, as well as her nose; we also altered her mouth with the use of dentures, and then, of course, we topped it off with nice, large-sized ears.
Honestly, at first glance I thought it was real!
Well, thank you! I think there are a few things that a lot of people don't really notice. She has a hump on her back that we built, and her hands are actually silicone gloves. We wanted to give her more androgynous-looking hands, so there's hair punched in at the knuckles, hands, and on the top of the forearms. It's one of those great things -- when you're watching it next time, look for her hands. You'll see. [Laughs]
Now what about Bloody Face's mask? How much work went into that piece?
Bloody Face was one of my favorite characters entering into this project. Back in June, Ryan came to us with one of the first scripts being written, and Bloody Face was the focal point of the episode. He said to us, "This is my Leatherface. This is my hero serial killer. I want something original, new and different, but he wears a mask made out of human skin." I said to him, "Ryan, you have no idea how difficult this is going to be. Leatherface is such a prominent figure in this genre, in this world, that to do anything with skin is going to be impossible without people comparing the two." There have been hundreds of bad, mostly horrible renditions in the past.
So we went to the drawing board, and I think we did 65 different Photoshop renderings. Ultimately, what we came up with - and through a particularly perverse train of thought I was having -- was that Leatherface wears a mask of human flesh because he wants to. So what does Bloodyface, a sadistic killer of women, want by wearing his mask? I thought that he wants to be closer to them, and empower his sexuality with them (and keep in mind, this isn't scripted in any way, just my train of thought). He wants to feel their skin against his. So it came down to: why don't we reverse the mask, so that their skin is on the inside? That way, their lips are on his lips when he's wearing the mask. He's looking through their eyes as well. That was the idea.
Oh, so you reversed the mask! I didn't even notice that!
That's why the skin is sort of smooth and veiny, because it's the inside membrane of the skin. He sews the teeth in later as a trophy, but those are on the outside of the mask. That's also why there are tufts of hair coming out from underneath and through some of the stitched parts, because the hair is technically on the inside of the mask.
How many masks have you guys made for filming?
If you remember from the second episode, there were the three gentlemen wearing their masks. And this is another fun thing -- Bloodyface was such an iconic serial killer in the 1960s, that someone in present day has made Halloween masks of him. Those were actual latex masks we built to resemble the real Bloodyface masks, which, of course, we put more detail into. I think we ended up building two masks for the duration of the season.
Did you have a field day with Dr. Arden's mutants? They pretty much run the gamut in terms of extreme makeup.
We do. They're difficult because we have so many freedoms with them. Ultimately, the idea behind Dr. Arden's experiments is he's trying to make this invincible human being. He's infecting them with diseases, like syphilis, gonorrhea, other disgusting things. I wanted to make sure we were doing the makeup correctly, that we were giving the audience something that was truly horrific and not just goofy. There's a fine line between something that looks frightening and terrifying and something that looks stupid and laughable.
We call them the "Raspers" -- that's something that Ryan coined six months ago -- and they're both fun and difficult to do. The Raspers are definitely the hardest things we do, and they're also the most "up for interpretation."
Is there anything coming up in the remainder of the season that we can look forward to, makeup-wise?
Everything in every episode, thankfully for me and my company, is makeup-centric. We always have something revolving around makeup, all the time. I can't tell you exactly what's coming up, but expect makeup and changes in makeup all the way up until the last episode [episode 13] ... which, by the way, we don't even have a script for, so if I wanted to tell you, I couldn't!
Watch "American Horror Story" on Wednesdays at 10 p.m. EST on FX and FX Canada.