Natalie MacGowan-Spencer (right, in poncho) works with costume designer Tina Kalivas to prepare Coral Messam for a scene.
Chiwetel Ejiofor as Faraday in The Man Who Fell to Earth, episode "Hallo Spaceboy."
Nearly every experience of her life informed her work as a designer on Showtime's The Man Who Fell to Earth. So says Natalie MacGowan-Spencer, whose responsibilities on the ten-episode series spanned hair, makeup, prosthetics and creature design.
"When you absorb every experience growing up, it pours out of your system at some point," she says.
Born in London to a Jamaican artist father and a Scottish mother, she was exposed to creativity and celebrities from an early age. In the '70s, her mother ran a vintage clothing store frequented by rock stars like Mick Jagger. Years later, MacGowan-Spencer's first professional job — working with Spike Jonze and the Beastie Boys on the video for "Sabotage" — taught her how to create beautiful hair and makeup looks on a tight deadline and tight budget.
Her experiences as image designer for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and heading makeup departments on series like Insecure, Lethal Weapon and grown-ish made her a valuable utility player on The Man Who Fell to Earth. The series, now airing, expands on Nicolas Roeg's 1976 movie, which starred David Bowie and was based on Walter Tevis's book. In Showtime's retelling, Chiwetel Ejiofor stars as the alien Faraday seeking help for his planet, alongside Naomie Harris as scientist Justin Falls.
"It's really nice when you have all these hats, creatively," MacGowan-Spencer says of her cross-departmental gig. "I was able to design the hair to match the makeup, which matches the prosthetics I created."
She wanted the aliens to have a Bedouin feel, so she researched the people and environments of North Africa. She also drew inspiration from the period her family lived in Tehran when she was a child.
"I've worked on some cool projects, but this is really one of my favorites," she enthuses. "Top of the list. It's raw, it's passionate and it's beautiful and scary all at the same time."
It also changed the direction of her life.
"I came back to London to retire," explains the designer, who had been working in the U.S. Retirement plans were canceled once she saw the scope and challenges of The Man Who Fell to Earth. "I was like, 'I'm going to do it, but I'm going to do it my way. I want to do a little bit of everything.'"
In London, MacGowan-Spencer is still working on projects that speak to her. "It's been very inspiring coming home to Europe, and I'm really excited about the next chapter of my life."
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine issue #4, 2022, under the title, "Beyond Borders."