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Makeup Artist

"Each era had it's own look... Sometimes you'll find people wearing the makeup of the '60's or '70's because they felt that was when they looked their best."

The Makeup Artist

Interview  |  Bio

In the olden days, makeup artists were primarily responsible for making ordinary mortal look like demigods. Nowadays they may be called upon to create looks ranging from the glamorous to the horrific. Strictly speaking, makeup artists apply foundation and shading only from the top of the performer's head down to the chest, and to the hands and arms up to the elbow; any area normally visible when the performer is fully dressed. Applications to any other swatch of skin are considered body makeup and are handed off to a specialist. Makeup artists practice a kind of sleight of hand: they have done their job well when their handiwork, as lighted and photographed, is all but invisible. The makeup artist has to consider the needs of the story in every scene: the age and race of the character, as well as standard continuity issues. (If a character gets into a fight in Scene 6, what should the bruises look like in Scene 12?) But they also have to work closely with the director of photography, because makeup that is chillingly effective in a dimly lighted scene or in a long shot may look garishly fake in bright sunlight or in close up.


Working With the Director

"Because we were shooting with a digital camera and because Quilly and Elizabeth are older, conservative, religious women of Harlem who do domestic work, Debbie felt we should keep the makeup low key. But in the story, Elizabeth starts having this relationship with a younger man and getting more perky and taking more chances -- wearing brighter red lipstick. When Debbie got a look at the camera test, she decided to do the '30s thing with Quilly, which meant more makeup. We didn't want them dull looking. They're very strong women, very opinionated women."

Capturing the Period

"The Roaring '20s women were liberated a little bit. They wore more lipcoloring, eyelashes. They had more freedom, so they had heavy makeup. In the '40s it was war time and they got a little more conservative -- still feeling their freedom, still red lips, but not so much smutty eye makeup. A cleaner look. Reds, oranges, less sootiness under the eye. Just a small line. And liner on the top and a clean brow."

"Makeup design is something to be taken seriously, because if you don't have the period thing right, not only my colleagues can tell, but the public is getting more sophisticated and they can tell. People are more interested in it than they used to be. When people look at the credits, they really notice the makeup, the hair, the wardrobe."

"Authenticity is important. I was one of the makeup artists on The Cotton Club. In some of the scenes, everyone looked the same. But every woman didn't wear black eyes at that time, nor did every black man comb his hair that same way. In The Old Settler, we tried to put different looks into that period to show you everyone wasn't wearing dark red lipstick. They also had dark orange, dark pinks, almost violets."

Designing the Makeup

"Whether it's for Caucasian skin or for the skin of people of color, makeup is like Crayola crayons. They are different colors but all the same base. When I do anyone's makeup, I take three bases, because you have three different tones in your face. The essential tools of my trade are my makeup kit -- cleansers and powders, foundations, mascaras, lipstick, moisturizers, everything. Even the men have certain things now. I'm also a skincare specialist now, so that helps me when I'm working in this business."

"You know what they say, 'What is within shines without.' What I like to do is minimize the bad things, play down the things actresses feel are unattractive and accent the positive. I've always been a correction makeup artist. I try to emphasize the good points."


"When I first make up a person and they're really uptight, I don't make them up as well. As you get to know them, they start to relax and the makeup begins to look better. One of the actresses, Elliot Joyce, who played the waitress, brought something in and we collaborated. I showed her something else that I thought might work better. When she felt comfortable she was not uptight about me. So it made her glow."


Romania Ford's career includes work on blockbuster films and acclaimed television series. Over the course of two decades she has used her makeup magic to help hundreds of award-winning artists and celebrities put their best face forward.

Ms. Ford's feature film credits include her work as key designer for the film Tootsie, with Dustin Hoffman, for which she received a BAFTA Award from the British Academy of Film & Television. She has worked with preeminent directors including Robert Redford, in Quiz Show; Spike Lee, in Malcolm X; and Woody Allen in Radio Days and Zelig. Ms. Ford's other credits include Die Hard III, Philadelphia, Working Girls, Cotton Club, and Wolf.

On television Ms. Ford's expertise has been showcased on series shows such as Saturday Night Live, The Cosby Show, All My Children and Sesame Street. Her credits of special event projects including Robert De Niro's Tribeca - The Box, Lena Horne Honored at the Kennedy Center, The Daytime Emmys and Nightly News with David Brinkley, Jessica Savage and Tom Brokaw.

A brief list of the talent with whom Ms. Ford has worked includes Robin Williams, Henry Kissinger, Michael Jordan, Anthony Quinn, Jimmy Stewart, Emma Thompson, Miles Davis, Lauren Holly, Bill Cosby, Lawrence Fishburne and Bill Murray. Her endeavors on the PBS Hollywood Presents television production of The Old Settler continue a longtime working relationship with Debbie Allen and Phylicia Rashad.

Romania Ford
Romania Ford

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