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September 12, 2019

Behind LA’s Finest

Makeup artist loves to transform people into characters

Dinah Eng

When it comes to developing characters on television, Tym Buacharern says makeup artists are essential to ensuring that actors project the kind of looks that make their roles believable.

Buacharern, a two-time Emmy winner in the Outstanding Makeup category for his work on FX's The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story and Feud: Bette and Joan, is known for his artistry on shows like NBC's Hairspray Live, The CW's One Tree Hill, and Showtime's House of Lies, as well as films including Black Panther and The Hunger Games franchise.

The veteran makeup artist loves to paint faces, blending colors to match the skin tones and textures of actors from all races and ethnicities. After 26 years in the business, he has developed a reputation for his clean makeup beauty technique, emphasizing natural skin tones.

His latest gig is heading the makeup department of Charter's Spectrum Originals first program, L.A.'s Finest, a spin-off of the Bad Boys franchise that stars Gabrielle Union and Jessica Alba as two L.A. detectives who solve crimes, kick ass, and become best friends.

TelevisionAcademy.com recently spoke with Buacharern about his career, his artistic philosophy, and what makes someone beautiful.

How did you get into the makeup world?

I used to be a dancer. Back in the day, I was on The Tonight Show, and was one of Jay Leno's Dancing Itos. But you can't dance forever. When I hurt my lower back, I went to Learning Tree University and took a course on makeup. I flew back to Thailand, where I'm from, to do some work, and the makeup artist on the film got sick, so I filled in.

I then decided to become an extra on sets, and would walk up to the makeup trailers and say, "If you need anyone to clean your brushes or anything, let me know." I got my first makeup job on an ultra-low budget movie, then started branching out.

What is it about makeup that calls to you?

I love to transform people, especially doing character work and period pieces. Makeup may seem minor, but it can help an actor find the character. As with anyone, your demeanor changes when you put makeup on and feel amazing. Makeup completes the visual look of a character. You can't place a character on television without the makeup, hair and costume.

With period pieces, I love to modernize the look just enough so that people who may have lived in that time period will say, "I remember that."

There are challenges, even in scenes where there's supposedly "no makeup" on characters, because makeup actually is applied. One of the hardest things to do is to apply makeup and make sure the camera reads it as bare skin.

So how do you decide on a character's makeup?

First, we break down the character. Is the character a drug addict, a housewife with four children, or a party kid? In the subtleties of the makeup, when the camera is on an actor, we want the visual to be right. The skin shows everything. A good painter can paint anyone to make sure the script comes alive.

With The Assassination of Gianni Versace and Feud: Bette and Joan, for example, we had photos of the real life people to reference to when making up the actors playing them. We strived for the look to be a character, and not a caricature of the person they were portraying.

How did you get the gig on LA's Finest?

Gabriella Union (who plays Syd Burnett on the show) was one of my private clients in the early 2000s, and the shooting schedule worked perfectly for me. It's a procedural show, but keeps us on our toes. We want to keep things realistic, and since Gabriella's character is a cop, she doesn't go into a lot of makeup.

She wanted a clean, fresh look to keep her skin dewy. It's that sun-kissed, glowing, L.A. look. But when the character goes undercover, we make a big, drastic change with color and adding lashes.

I worked as co-makeup department head with Aurora Bergere. It was one of the best sets I've ever worked on because everyone felt like family.

What kind of issues do you encounter on your various sets?

A lot of my actors have a rigorous skin care routine. Every once in a while, someone comes in with a break out or herpes. Usually, only the actor can see it. But sometimes, you can see the pimple, and you have to figure out how to conceal it or shadow it so it doesn't look like Mt. Fuji on camera. We have to learn whose skin is dry or oily, and how to comfort it.

Film and TV is all about realism, unless it's a show like Star Trek. The audience has to believe what they see. If you prep skin properly, you don't have to jump in and fuss every five seconds. I'll jump in every two to three takes. I tone and moisturize the actors, prime the skin, and cover what's needed.

You've become the personal makeup artist for Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira, Shahadi Wright Joseph and other dark-skinned actors on various occasions. Has working with dark-skinned actors become a specialty?

In between shows, I have clients who I work with for red carpet events or photo shoots. As a professional makeup artist, you should be able to work on the lightest to the deepest shades of skin tones. I know how to paint. On dark skin tones, you highlight, and the neutral shadows will pop out.

A lot of people forget how to do color theory, and rely too much on cosmetic product lines to make corrections. An exact match is never going to happen.

When I first started in makeup school in the early '90s, I asked, "Are we going to be learning about darker skin tones?" They said, "We're just going to touch base on it because most of the people you'll be working on are white." Today, that's changed.

So the industry has become more diverse? Have makeup artists in the field become more diverse, as well?

The industry is definitely more diverse. It's a matter of whether the people hiring are looking for that diversity. I'm Thai from Thailand. On L.A.'s Finest, we had the diversity team on. I've never been on a set with five Thai people at once, along with many other diverse Asian craftsmen and women. The producers looked for diversity, and gave people who are qualified a shot.

Makeup artists are definitely more diverse than when I started, as well. I've met so many artists of color throughout my travels, from beginners to pros. People who want to do makeup as a career just have to do it.

What's the secret to your success?

It's about being nice to people. When I hire the key artist or makeup crew, it's the same thing. We spend so much time on the set, we want to make sure people are nice. I don't get too serious about things. It's makeup. It comes off. I like the trailer to be nice and relaxed, with soothing music and no stress.

I also never stop learning. After L.A.'s Finest, I went back to makeup school to work in prosthetic work. I had an amazing time. The biggest lessons were to look outside the box and never forget the basics. We're always so eager to get things done, so we start to rush things on set. We have to remember that the basics are the foundation for everything.

What is beauty to you?

My definition of beauty is happiness. When people's smiles match their eyes, you see happiness. That's natural beauty. In this age of Instagram and social media, society is always defining how we should look and feel. But you don't have to be a size zero to be beautiful.

People are posting pictures on Instagram that are way over-touched. People are so obsessed with social media. I'm turning 50 next year, and I can remember when my skin had more elasticity. There's stuff I could do about it, but I'm not willing to do it. It should be okay to look how we look, and be who we are.

You look at people, and can tell if someone got work done. They're not hiding anything. I have a belly now, and I'm okay with it. I want to slim down for health, not for vanity. As long as I love myself, that's what matters.

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