The Make-Up Department holds a special place in the heart of an actor. Like the Costume Department, they work with you to create the character, but whereas with the costume designer much of the creative work is done before the production starts, the make-up designer will be with you in the morning before most of the crew are even awake, and you will spend many vulnerable hours in the shelter of their location van. That is not to say that the folk in Costume work any less hard, but actors depend on the make-up artist for more than just their skill with a powder brush. Apart from anything else, you simply spend so much time together that the hours must fulfill the basic criteria for a long-term friendship.
There are several different sorts of make-up that will usually be required for any character you play:
1. The basic, looking-presentable, natural make-up that your character will sport for most of the show. The standards for this may vary on either side of the Atlantic. In the US, full-slap is the very least you might expect, whereas in the UK, the natural look is taken a bit more literally (spend too much time on a long-running British show and you'll be lucky if you get your hair brushed). In any case, as you get older, achieving this look becomes both more challenging and less necessary. No one wants mom to look like she's tried too hard. Except during...
2. The glamourous make-up moment. This will be the evening party that your character will go to, either as a Cinderella suddenly transformed or as the sex-bomb who made a bit of an effort. The stage directions will read 'She looks amazing. All traces of her life as a welder are gone'. Here, the make-up artist will have a chance to get out that colour palette languishing in the bottom of the drawer. The make-up call will be even longer than usual and much discussion will have centered on the hairstyle in the preceding weeks.
3. The accident make-up. This will be for when your character gets hit by a bicycle/frying-pan/lamppost. Anything larger or more animated (car/dragon/ flying saucer) and you are probably getting into special effects territory (involving at least one different department). Cutting your finger opening the invitation to the ball, will mean a small amount of blood, perhaps a sliver of a silicone cut, maybe even some pretty little stitches specially prepared and stuck on, if you used a carving knife to open the envelope. Make-up artists always have a good amount of blood in their set bags, though there is often a minor argument between the Make-up and Costume Departments about just how washable the blood actually is.
4. Body make-up. Any nudity, tattoos, scars and birthmarks will require some body make-up. This is an intimate part of the job and, depending on the placement of the tattoo and the nature of the scene, often goes beyond the call of duty for the make-up artist. Some are more squeamish than others, though the conscientious make-up artist who applied full body paint to a young actor, with whom I was about to spend a day in bed, alerted me to his unusual rash by her assiduous attentions to his groin area. It took many hours for the results of the skin test I requested to be returned marked 'non-contagious'. Oh, how we actors laughed as we rolled about together later.
Most make-up artists also dress the hair of the actors, unless there are some particularly challenging wigs on a period film. In contemporary settings, it is common for producers to want their lead actors to sport a healthy head of glossy locks. Since these are often in short supply, the make-up department will use toupees, hairpieces, scalp paint, curling irons, straightening tongs, blow-driers and many cans of hairspray to reproduce the look. With long hair, this can take some time. If your hair resembles a sheep's bottom when you wake up in the morning, like say...mine, then your make-up call will be ungodly. That anyone in the make-up department continues to speak to you, let alone hold your hand while your weep globules of painstakingly applied mascara in their make-up chair at lunchtime, is a testament to their much-tried patience.
You certainly wouldn't want to get on the wrong side of a make-up artist, mostly because you won't look good for the rest of the film, but also because make-up artists are incredibly strong. Years of lugging three separate sacks full of make-up up the stairs of stately homes and down into the tunnels of abandoned lunatic asylums, just in case that third set of rollers/spare moustache/extra pointed-ears are needed, has given them the arms of Arnold Schwarzenegger in his Conan days. Yet, somehow they always remain elegant. Of course.