Élodie Yung in The Cleaning Lady
Margaret Qualley in Maid
Quinta Brunson in Abbott Elementary
Many series are taking a more realistic approach to makeup these days, leaning on "no-makeup" looks and everyday-makeup looks. Here, Gretchen Bright, Darci Jackson and April M. Chaney reveal the real-people looks they designed to help their stars get into character.
The Cleaning Lady
People outside the industry — and even within it — often wrongly assume that creating a no-makeup look for a character means less work.
Not so, says Gretchen Bright, the artist behind the no-makeup look seen on Élodie Yung in The Cleaning Lady. The Fox drama series stars Yung as Thony De La Rosa, a Cambodian doctor working as a cleaning lady in Las Vegas to fund her child's life-saving medical treatment.
"It's so funny," Bright says. "After months of doing the show, people would say, 'Well, you're not putting any makeup on Élodie, so getting her ready in the morning doesn't take too much time.' And I would be laughing. It is still full makeup."
To prepare Yung for the set, Bright started each day with a tinted moisturizer and lightly camouflaged any minor skin imperfections. "My favorite combo for her daily look was pencil with a yummy Dr. Hauschka lip balm. We didn't use any eyeliner or eyeshadow — just black mascara, and then took a little bit off the top after application so that it didn't look like she had makeup on."
The character played by Martha Millan, Fiona De La Rosa — also a cleaning lady — got a slightly stronger look than Thony. "Fiona does have eyeliner and more of a brow and more of a lip," Bright says.
Since today's digital cameras capture everything, Bright avoided a heavy application of foundation on her leading ladies. "Some makeup artists like to do a little more of a theatrical look," she allows. "Even for their natural look, they like using a full-coverage foundation. I am of the other school — I'd much rather put on less and add more [if needed], particularly if somebody has great skin."
How to make up a struggling single mom? Darci Jackson had a vision for Margaret Qualley, who plays Alex Langley, the central character in Netflix's Maid. The young mother of a toddler, Alex slips into poverty after fleeing her abusive boyfriend and taking a low-paying job cleaning houses.
"What I was thinking was definitely minimal makeup — the usual no-makeup look — but still making her look good," Jackson says.
But Qualley didn't want to hide any of her flaws, says Jackson, who took a while to get on board with that way of thinking. "It was a little bit of back and forth. She would have a big zit on her chin, and I would be like, 'I'm covering it for continuity,' and she's like, 'Nope. We're not doing that.'"
The actress "was very, very much into the no-makeup look," Jackson explains. "I ended up giving her a really good skincare regimen so that she had a glow about her skin. Then we played up the overgrown eyebrows. We overdrew them, brushed them up and fluffed everything out."
She also dried out Qualley's lips for scenes in which Alex was stressed and overextended. "That was a really important thing for us to do — to play that up when she was with Regina."
Regina, played by Anika Noni Rose, is a wealthy client of Alex's cleaning service. In keeping with her character, she is always beautifully made up.
Jackson says she now appreciates Qualley's dedication to authenticity. "Seeing it in hindsight, I'm like, 'Okay, that was such a good move.'"
April M. Chaney
To prepare for work on the ABC comedy Abbott Elementary, makeup artist April M. Chaney turned, naturally, to Google. The mockumentary is set in a Philadelphia elementary school, so "I Googled teachers being honored and saw lots of pictures of Philadelphia teachers," she reports.
Careful not to base her approach on teachers in her home city of Los Angeles — "because in L.A. we put on more makeup" — Chaney decided on simple, or everyday makeup.
Chaney, who is also an esthetician, used very light moisturizers and foundation on creator–showrunner Quinta Brunson, who plays second-grade teacher Janine Teagues; Brunson doesn't wear a lot of makeup in general, Chaney explains, and she has flawless skin. The strategy also made sense for Brunson's character, a young teacher who focuses on her students, not on her makeup.
Conversely, principal Ava Coleman — played by Janelle James — is self-involved and assertive. So Chaney opted for a bright lip. "I always want to keep her in that funny, bold 'I don't care what anybody says, this is who I am' look," Chaney says.
Veteran kindergarten teacher Barbara Howard, played by Sheryl Lee Ralph, has a refined aesthetic. "You won't see her blush not matching or corresponding with her outfit. Her total makeup look is just together."
And Melissa Schemmenti, a rough-around-the edges teacher played by Lisa Ann Walter, is lightly made up with a lip that's always a peach-coral tone.
At least half of the makeup brands Chaney used on Abbott Elementary — and any show she works on — are Black-owned, and she applies the products on actors of all races and skin tones. "Just because it says 'Black-owned' doesn't mean it's just for Black women."
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine issue #7, 2022, under the title, "Glam Without Glamour."