When he got word in early February that Melissa McCarthy would be lampooning Sean Spicer on the next episode of NBC’s Saturday Night Live, Louie Zakarian began strategizing: “What do I need? What can I do?”
In other words, what could he — as the show’s front-line makeup designer — extract from his bag of tricks to transform the bubbly, five-foot-two-inch female actor-comedian into the stern-faced, five-foot-nine male White House press secretary?
He pulled up photos of their faces and compared them. By the time McCarthy showed, he’d devised a list. She also tossed in a ploy.
“I usually err on the side of, ‘Sure, we can try it,’” says Zakarian, who has helmed SNL’s makeup department for 20 of the 22 years he’s worked on the show, winning five Emmy Awards.
This season — thanks to the changeover in Washington — has proven especially toothsome. President Trump’s tweets (“not funny, cast is terrible, always a complete hit job”) have only amplified the glee in Alec Baldwin’s POTUS parodies.
“We’ve been having so much fun,” says Zakarian, who devised some minimal, but bang-up touches to SNL player Kate McKinnon’s takedown of Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
“With Kate, you can’t cover her face too much, because she’s in so many [sketches],” says Zakarian, who may have only minutes to peel off a glued-on prosthetic and restore an actor’s complexion and perhaps a new disguise. “The thing that struck me about Sessions was those big ears.”
To concoct Spicer, Zakarian settled on barely-there eyebrows, a bald cap to simulate his receding hairline and some eye bags (those were McCarthy’s idea). “Because Spicer’s got this funkiness going on underneath his eyes.”
As he affixed elements, he watched McCarthy “morphing into this character,” he says, and aping the angry, perturbed faces that Spicer has become known for. Polishing off with some ruddiness, frown lines and the wig, he says, “We pulled away the cape, and she just embodied that character.”
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 5, 2017