Mildred Pierce: The Beauty Behind HBO’s Thirties Period Piece
Fact: HBO rarely missteps. Even in those instances when critics are divided or few people tune in (were we the only ones watching Tell Me You Love Me?), we still find a lot to enjoy. Mildred Pierce, the channel’s latest lavishly imagined miniseries, is no exception. Yes, the acting (Kate Winslet, Melissa Leo, et al.), and directing (Todd Haynes) is top-notch, but we have, admittedly, also found ourselves particularly smitten with the thirties-era hair and makeup—that, and Guy Pearce’s smarmy appeal as the lothario Monty. The beauty only gets better on this Sunday’s back-to-back episodes (set your TiVos for April 10 at 9 p.m.) when Evan Rachel Wood makes her debut as the grown-up Veda, her strawberry locks in old-school rolled curls (this was obviously filmed before she recently went bombshell blonde, complexion a powdery porcelain, eyebrows thin, and lips painted a matte red. We caught up with the show’s key makeup artist, Patricia Regan, whose recent work includes Shutter Island and Sherlock Holmes, for a tutorial on post-Depression-era beauty.
First off, congratulations, the show looks amazing! How did you land the gig working on the makeup?
I was actually recommended by Linda Melazzo, Kate Winslet’s personal makeup artist. I’ve worked on several period pictures in the past, so I could bring the needed knowledge and level of experience. During my interview with Todd Haynes it became evident that we had similar visions on how the makeup could support the telling of the story and its characters.
And what did those visions entail?
The story starts in 1931 post-Depression Glendale, California, and ends in the more glamorous times of 1940. To start with, we chose more natural looks that reflect the raw expression of tougher times: hints of lipstick in shades of light rose to raspberry tones, eyebrows accented here and there, but far away from the styles seen in Paris fashion. As the story evolves we introduce more color like lipstick shades in Chinese red and orange tones; rouge in raspberry shades and warm yellow reds; more defined, thinned, and elongated eyebrows; and matte, powdered foundation—after all, Max Factor invented pancake makeup in 1937!
…Thus heralding the dawn of the camera-ready makeup mask. What additional research did you do to develop the looks for the characters?
We—myself, the hair designers, and the fabulous Ann Roth, our costume designer—spent endless hours combing through photographs, books, catalogs, newspapers, and magazines from that era. Anything we could find to give us insight into the time and place in which our story was set. Veda’s looks go from that of a 12-year-old girl coming of age to a very glamorous Hollywood style, all the way to fantastic theatrical stage makeup.
Was the actual makeup different back then—the color palette and texture—then it is now?
Makeup color palettes and textures were all very different in the 1930′s. Same goes for textiles; they had fabrics of different textures and colors than what is available now. I spent a lot of time studying vintage shades for foundation, powder, lips, and rouge, and whatever I couldn’t find I went to have custom blended at Three Custom Color Specialists. They have been a trusty resource for me and always manage to give me just what I’m looking for.
What were the specific products in your kit that you relied on the most?
For foundation, La Mer Treatment fluid in Ivory, Shiseido Dual Balancing Foundation, and Chantecaille Future Skin. My favorite powder is Chantecaille’s Compact Makeup in Petal. I also relied on YSL Touche Éclat as a concealer and I really love Three Custom Color’s Crème to Powder blushes in beige, pink, orange, and the custom-blended shades such as a special red. For eyes, mascara was Lancôme Définicils and Shu Uemura’s Basic Black (also their lash curler), eyeliner was MAC’s Fluidline in Blacktrack and Lancôme’s Artliner, and shadow was colors like MAC vanilla and wheat and Chantecaille’s bourbon rose. On the lips I used lip liners by Three Custom (in coral and warm red) and Julie Hewett (in Sin Noir, Belle Noir, and Femme Noir), and custom-blended shades (by Three Custom Color) of lipstick in orange and Chinese red.
What about eyebrows and nails? Anything style-wise specific to that era that you had to re-create?
Eyebrows were thinned, extended, and very defined. Fingernails were painted—I used a lot of Revlon Red, leaving the half moon along the nail bed natural!
Can you tell us what’s next for you—any other period pictures on the horizon?
Actually, yes. I just wrapped the Pan Am pilot for ABC starring Christina Ricci, Margot Robbie, Kelli Garner, Karine Vanasse, Jonah Lotan, and Michael Mosley. The story is set in 1963 and it’s about, yes, you guessed it, Pan Am airlines. And I’m also currently in pre-production for HBO’s new series by Lena Dunham called Girls, but that’s back to today: New York City 2011.