MATRIX: What brought you to working on THE MATRIX sequels?
STEVEN: I’ve been in the make up business for about 20 years now, doing primarily feature films, going back to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Willow, Tucker, The Principal, Die Hard 2 and 3, Terminator 2 – I’ve been around for a while. The Head Make Up Artist on this show is Peter Robb-King, and he and I worked together on The Rock with Sean Connery, a lovely Michael Bay film. Peter called me and asked if I could come and help him out. Oddly enough, I happen to live three miles away from this set, so I don’t have to drive too far to go to work, especially early in the morning… I think 5 o’clock was our earliest call to start doing 900 people.
MATRIX: Who are the 900 people that were made up this morning?
STEVEN: Our Zion background folk. From the original story, these are the people who survived the machine wars and live deep in the ground. We’re making them look on the primitive or tribal side because they’re trying to be as anti machine as they can be, so we’re making them shiny and glowing. They live in a lava cave deep below the ground, everyone is natural, so we’re giving a look of nice glistening sweat, there’s no make up make up. There are no beauty salons in Zion, everyone is naturally gorgeous, and those who aren’t naturally gorgeous we help look a little bit more naturally gorgeous. What I love about Zion is it’s not Logan’s Run, the future shows it’s not white people who die at 30. Zion has a wonderful ethnic diversity, what the world will probably be in 100 or 200 years, a nice mixture of skin tones and ethnicities, no one really has a specific country of origin. It’s wonderful to be able to portray that for the future.
MATRIX: How challenging has it been working with 900 extras?
STEVEN: This is the Make Up Artist’s nightmare, dream and fun. Whenever you’re working on a film that has hundreds of background people it’s like a small army operation; it has to be totally organized. We have to have people come through saying who gets what: you have plugs, you have gold, you don’t have gold, you have tattoos, you don’t have tattoos, you have to take care of those tattoos.
What’s fun for us is that 20, 30, 40 Make Up Artists get together who haven’t seen each other for a year or two, so it’s like an old family reunion. The minute we stop doing make up, we’re all clustered together sharing experiences: “What materials are you using today? You’re using an air brush, and you’re using this in it!” Today we had a chance to use a new adhesive we had lost for a while, it’s a prosthetic adhesive for gluing little bits and pieces onto people. A lot of the folks here have not had a chance to work with this glue and now they’ve had a running acid test, so there’s a new product out for them.
That’s how we learn and evolve as Make Up Artists, we get together and we share new technologies – somebody working on another film found something that worked really well, and now they’re sharing it. That just betters the process for everybody, and also the fact that we get to catch up on who had kids, who got divorced, who’s got the new car, who’s got the new toys and who doesn’t have their new toys anymore because they got divorced.
MATRIX: Have you been on the production for long?
STEVEN: I started on the first of May . They actually started shooting principal photography on the 26th of March, but I was on another show and didn’t become available until the latter part of April. I was running a television show called The Huntress on USA network, which unfortunately has been canceled, but that’s another story. Once I finished that season I just jumped on this show and started working. I started off with Zion: I had a bit of a paid vacation as a make up artist in that I sat and took a Polaroid of each and every one of the background people of Zion, all 1035. I talked to each one of them individually during the two and a half weeks it took us to go through costume fittings, make up discussions and hair discussions, and I didn’t have to lift a brush.
Then we started with the Smiths and the Burly Brawl, which is a wonderful little scene with 12 really great stunt men who had a damn good time; they got to fight every day. They rolled around, got hooked up to wires and flew around the room.
MATRIX: Was it a challenge to make the actors look like Hugo Weaving, the Agent Smith?
STEVEN: Luckily for us we actually did a bit of a coup in the Hair and Make Up Departments, we sort of triumphed over CG, which is not an easy thing to do these days. In that scene they have to recreate, seemingly, thousands and thousands of Hugos, and he has a very specific look. He has a receding hairline, a very English looking mouth, he’s got a bit of a pout to his face and certain coloration to his skin. So we took 12 stunt men of variant heights, variant skin tones, variant hairlines, shaved their heads back and had wigs made up.
We had 12 wigs done to match Hugo’s head and hair perfectly, so we had to shave these poor guys back to behind their ears. Some of them we were able to cut in a little hairline at the front, but most of them were long at the back and nothing on the top. We did a make up to match Hugo’s skin tones, we applied the wig, and got rid of the little black fuzz – when someone shaves their head you have that nice little gray hairline left over – we had to blend all that in so it looked like a real hairline and real skin.
I can tell you this much, the boys had a lot of fun on Friday nights when they went out to different night time activities together. I think they may have started a trend, when I start seeing heads shaved back that far out in the clubs, we’ll know they had an impact. With 12 of them they had to go out together because they felt like freaks individually, but together they were a force, damn it! They had a good time too, but I think every one of them, when we finished the brawl, shaved their heads, they were not about to walk around for the rest of their life with their heads half shaved. Of course, I think they’re going to be stuck with military films for the next 6 months until it grows back.
A couple of guys who doubled on THE MATRIX usually double other actors, and I know one in particular was a little unhappy when we shaved his head for the first time, because that sort of diced him for doubling that one actor for a couple of months. But he decided that working on THE MATRIX was a little bit more important to him, and I believe he’ll be going to Australia for another 10 months, so it was a good investment for him.
The Burly Brawl was fun, it was long, it took two and a half weeks to shoot this one fight sequence, day after day. The other big challenge with the Burly Brawl was covering the bruises, the cuts and the odd blood that would occur. Even though these guys had been choreographing this fight and they knew it in their heads – for months they had been rehearsing and training – every now and then, in the fit of passion, somebody forgot to move their chin to the right or took a knee to the left. It was just a little bump here and a little cut there, so as much as the medics were there for them, the make up trailer sort of turned into the patch ‘em up room. When they were done at the end of the day we’d pull out the Arnica gel, we’d pull out the salves and we’d pull out the Aloe Vera gel, and try to ease their bruised and bumped up bodies. They appreciated that as well. I think every one of them is now going to carry a bottle of Arnica gel in their stunt bag for the rest of their life. That and Advil.
MATRIX: Will you be going to Australia?
STEVEN: No. Most of the crew here, especially for Zion, were either hired locally or came up from Los Angeles, they have a full crew they’ll be hiring in Australia. The Heads of Departments, Peter Robb-King, his assistant Maggie Fung, Judy Cory the Head Hair Dresser, and her daughter Karyn [Huston, Key Hair] will be going, and they’ll pick up a qualified crew in Australia. It would not surprise me if they hire a lot of the same people they had the first time around.
MATRIX: How did you get into make up work?
STEVEN: I actually started off as an actor years ago as a kid. I was a stage actor up until college – one of those little kids in Oliver, if you will – and went to college as a triple major: theatre, music and pre-med. About half way through college I started losing my hair and got cast in older roles, and I began doing a lot of character make up on myself… then I started getting better reviews about how I looked than how I acted, so I took the hint and changed jobs. So about midway through college I switched majors to make up and I haven’t stopped working ever since.
I got out of college and apprenticed at the San Francisco Opera for a year where I learned how to make wigs and dress hair and do more makeup. I started off with stage because that was familiar to me, I did make up for opera companies around the country, then I switched over to doing film because the money is much better. Live theatre is wonderful to work in, but it doesn’t pay. I was lucky enough to hook up with several senior Make Up Artists who I assisted on a movie here, a television series there, and trained and learned more and more. Now it’s been twenty years doing make up.
MATRIX: What are some of the films you’ve worked on recently?
STEVEN: Most recently I did two television series; my last six years have actually been in television. I did Nash Bridges for six seasons, then last year I got Nashed out, so I took another television series with a lovely actress by the name of Annette O’Toole, who I met on Nash Bridges (she played the first ex wife). I did her make up and ran the show, The Huntress. Before that I worked up at Industrial Light and Magic for four or five years doing a combination of full films for them as well as pick up shots. So I’ve got little bits and pieces of things like Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Godfather III and Ghostbusters II and Star Wars; I was involved in doing the scenes they put into the old Star Wars. There are so many it is hard to keep track. I guess the first film I did was Burgler with Whoopi Goldberg in 1985, and I’ve been doing one or two every year ever since.
MATRIX: Thanks Steven.
Interview by REDPILL