We caught up with Emmy-nominated makeup artist Tarra Day (Breaking Bad, Temple Grandin, Into the West) to talk about her work on the Netflix series Godless created by Scott Frank and starring Jeff Daniels. Tarra dishes on the Wild West, the “no makeup” look and the famed LA makeup store where she got her start.
How did you come to work on Godless?
I had a couple offers at the time when I got a call from the line producer Mike Malone. Geordie Sheffer (Godless department head hairdresser) and I were working together and he asked if we could meet. We were working all night with no sleep and we went to meet him the next day. I said to Geordie, “If he orders a beer, we’re doing the show.” And he ordered a beer! He talked to us about the series, and the minute I hear Western, I’m in! To our delight, it was an incredible Western and incredible script. This was a must-do. So we gave up everything else and said, “This is what we’re doing.”
How did you approach the no makeup design for this series set in 1880?
With Westerns, it’s about attention to detail…things you might not notice as far as makeup goes. I’ve been fortunate to have done quite a few Westerns. It’s a genre I’ve really immersed myself in and love doing, so I’ve had a lot of history with it. Our goal is to keep the audience in that time, so the important part of the makeup is to make sure nothing takes you out of it. It’s creating a palette that is natural, organic, and authentic to the time period, and then going in with the details. We created pigment to match every dirt of every town in Godless. It was a lot of texture and layering.
What did you use for the dirt?
We used a product called Dirt Works. We would mix the colors to match the dirt. I actually threw in some Ben Nye Banana because we needed to have some yellow. I have an entire bin of dirt labeled for every town from Alice’s Ranch to La Belle to Creed.
What was the prep like on Godless?
We got the Griffin Gang six weeks before shooting because they had to go to Cowboy Camp. It was really important to executive producer Scott Frank that we be involved from the beginning. He made sure we had access to actors prior because we needed to take time to create the characters. We did dental casts on them and created vacuum forms that we hand-painted. And we did this all in-house. We would keep testing until we got to the point where we really liked their look. We actually shot one of our actors and decided he needed more. So Geordie and I reshaped his facial hair, darkened his hair, gave him some glasses and rolling papers, and all of a sudden he became this different person.
If I could work with Scott Frank for the rest of my life, I would be happy. He’s just an exceptional human. His writing is incredible. I have to give him so much respect for allowing us our process and trusting us to bring it to life. He didn’t know us. He’d never worked with us. Pretty much after the first couple of meetings, he realized we did grasp what he wanted so he would just let Geordie and I go. He is a big advocate of prep; prep is allowing us to go through the testing cycle and creation cycle so once you get to shooting you’ve really wrapped your head around all of it. You’re prepared so you can come to the table being 100% ready. That’s rare.
What was important in terms of achieving the look for the females on this series?Doing a Western also comes down to skincare especially because you’re in the elements. I would send Michelle Dockery (Alice) to get a facial every four weeks. For all the girls in La Belle, skincare was our primary foundation for everything, and then to make sure we mixed colors that suited each individual. Blending and application to make sure you didn’t see any line between skin and skin tone. A lot of moisturizing tints instead of heavy foundation…I’m a big advocate of less is more. Most of the shows I end up doing are not a lot of heavy makeup looks. The light-handedness is really important. And making sure to use eyelash tint instead of mascara.
Key products you couldn’t have worked without?
Skin Illustrator palettes—we couldn’t survive without those and Dirt Works pigments. We had to have Rhonda Allison sunscreen on-hand constantly. We couldn’t live without Roxanne Rizzo Bronze Glow. We started everyone with that sunkissed look, especially the riders. That was their base and then we would texturize on top of that. Doing a Western is all about texture—layering and texture really help sell that look. And the dirty nails. All those little details where you put dirt under the fingernails and dirt when you’re texturizing and stippling the face.
Where do you like to shop for makeup and supplies?
My core peeps are in LA—Nigels and Frends. Nigel and I started together at Cinema Secrets, which was my first job in Los Angeles. Thanks to Maurice Stein who took me under his wing. His family was my family. I worked there for two to three years while I was getting my start. I had never planned on being a makeup artist, but by happenstance I decided I should look into this. I met Harry Blake who was Johnny Carson’s makeup artist for years. Harry told me about Maurice. I was living in Carlsbad, California at the time and drove up to meet Maurice. He said, “I have a line called Woochie and it’s almost Halloween. Do you want to work for me?” I packed up my bags and moved to LA. I just plugged away and the doors kept opening, and I kept stepping through them.
Where did you look to for reference when designing the makeup for this series?I have a home in Santa Fe. I’m based out of L.A. but I’m from New Mexico and in Santa Fe quite a bit. So even as I was growing up there were a lot of books from that time period. I’ve probably got 50-60 reference books. I’m a little old school, I like a paper feel but there’s so much information on the internet, so we would also pull pictures.
How large was your makeup team on Godless?
We had about 15 artists on a daily basis—30 between makeup and hair. There were four trailers for makeup and hair and an entire background city. The cast was about 400 people including doubles, stunt doubles. Some days 50-55 people come through the main trailer.
How closely do you work with the hair and wardrobe department?
It’s a collaborative effort. We worked very closely with Betsy Heimann, our costume designer. Between her, Geordie and I, and executive producer Scott Frank, it was like we couldn’t do one thing without the other. If you don’t have the correct costume or hair or makeup, something can stand out and take you out of the moment. Betsy, Geordie and I went on to another project together which was really great.
How did you ensure continuity when you’re shooting 6 episodes in one day?
That is the challenge. It’s actually given me an education on how to do that. Cross-boarding is not episodic shooting where you have the luxury of continuity being per episode. Basically, we were shooting a six-hour movie. The continuity book was our bible. You have to really wrap your head around the breakdowns of each character. For example, when Jeff Daniels is with Jack O’Connell’s character when he’s a boy, we had to take the grey out of Jeff’s beard and smooth his skin a bit, and let go of texture so he could look younger. Then we’d shoot him in the years forward and take it all out, and give him texture, and then go back to when he was younger again. It keeps you on your toes.
Anything you’d like to add about your experience on Godless?
I’m grateful this came into my lap. I feel very fortunate that I’ve had a lot of great shows and I feel lucky that I have been able to be a part of Godless. I like being a part of telling a story and I couldn’t be more proud of it. It took a lot of people to make this happen. I couldn’t be more grateful for Geordie and Betsy Heinman, and our whole team we put together. You don’t do this by yourself, that’s for sure. I couldn’t have done it without my people. I’m going to treasure it for a long, long time.
Words: Shannon Levy
Photos courtesy of: Impact24 PR