La La Land, ta love story between a jazz musician and an aspiring actress following their dreams in the city of stars. The musical explores the importance of everyday life in the pursuit of a once-in-a lifetime love or the spotlight. La La Land grabbed the spotlight, with seven Golden Globe nominations, including best picture, best director and best lead actor and actress nods for stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone.
On Makeup Magazine’s Editor at Large Shannon Levy, had the pleasure of sitting down with La La Land makeup department head Torsten Witte for the Fall 2016 print issue. Check out the full interview below. We wish La La Land Nominees the best of luck for the upcoming award season.
How did you get your start in the makeup industry?
I started my career as a hair and makeup artist in Germany working in print and commercials. When I was 21, I moved to Paris, where I got my start in fashion. I just knew that I was going to be a makeup artist. I’m very fortunate to do what I believe I am supposed to be doing and that I love what I do.
How did you come to work on La La Land?
One of my industry friends introduced me to Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. From that introduction I met Damien Chazelle, the director of La La Land. After reading the script and talking to Damien about the characters in the movie, it was very clear to me that I wanted to design the makeup for the movie. My team and I designed everyone’s looks in collaboration with the costume and hair department. As a personal makeup artist to Ms. Stone and Mr. Gosling, I was able to create both of their looks as well. This was a team effort and I took everyone’s input, including the actors.
How did you choose your makeup department?
I always pick my team depending on the project and talent that is involved. I believe that I am only as good as my team is, and that my team is only as good as how well they match the project they are working on. This includes how well their personalities mesh with the actor assigned to them. When you are working on a film as a makeup artist, you work very closely with the actors and can be with them anywhere from 50 to 70 hours per week. It’s extremely important to pair the right actor with the right makeup artist for certain projects. When artists are delegated successfully to the right actors, it makes a world of difference, in both the process and the end result. Just as my personality and my aesthetic as a makeup artist is a match with both Emma and Ryan as their personal makeup artist, it is my responsibility to create this synergy with every actor I work with on all projects.
Tell me about Emma Stone’s makeup in La La Land.
Ms. Stone’s character is an aspiring actress in Hollywood working as a barista on the Paramount lot. I didn’t want to make a loud statement with the makeup. Sometimes less is more. It was also important to me to be cohesive with the other departments and to stay as current as possible – even though wardrobe and cinematically speaking, the film has a strong retro feel. We decided to stay current with her makeup despite the retro feel of the movie. We really just wanted to bring out Emma’s features and make her look timeless. The overall look was really a collaborative effort. I know the other departments and Damien well and have their best interest in mind. I also work with Emma on a personal level, so I wanted to make sure she was happy. In terms of the process, how I decided on the overall look for Emma’s makeup — we did the wardrobe specs first and the different hairstyles. That is when I decided that I wanted to play with her features — her beautiful skin and beautiful eyes. I decided to go with a strong brow, a clean eye and play with different matte lip stains. I think a strong lip tone reads really well with solid colorful dresses.
What products did you use to create her look?
A strong brow was created with Anastasia Brow Definer and Eye Brow Gel. It’s fairly easy to make Emma’s perfect skin even more flawless with Tom Ford’s Traceless Perfecting Foundation and Nars Radiant Concealer. For lips and blush, we played around with a Burberry Lip and Cheek Bloom in all different shades depending on her costume. Emma’s skin tone and eye color allows for many different shades. A light eye and matte lip stain with flawless radiant skin and a strong brow describes her character’s look in one sentence.
What makeup tricks did you use to groom Ryan Gosling?
Mr. Gosling is very fortunate to have great skin. His grooming was more to keep him in character — sweat, exhaustion, etc.
Your work across all mediums, from celebrity personal appearances and press tours to film and music video to editorial. Is there one you prefer?
For my everyday line of work, I really enjoy the flexibility that each project brings me. Going from designing makeup for a movie or going on a promotion tour with an actor/actress and designing different red carpet looks everyday. Commercials or print ad campaigns give me a fresh start every day. I love not to fall into just one category and this way I can keep my future projects different and new.
How do you adapt your makeup style between film and red carpet?
Character makeup and red carpet looks require a completely different palette of products. While a red carpet look reflects the actual actor in real life, a television interview and flash photography that has a bright light, affects how they will be perceived. I have to take all of this into account and apply their makeup according to the occasion. Helping your actor/actress who is performing and is in character on a film requires different products and support. For example La La Land shot for two months straight, shooting 12 to 14 hours every day. In contrast, when you are getting talent ready for an event, they spend around one to two hours on the red carpet. In films, you have to take into consideration continuity, which could be both for effects and makeup in general, to keep them in character for whatever the film plot/timeline is. For the red carpet, the most important factor is that your clients look the best they possibly can and to highlight their natural features. They are totally unique processes and I love them both. I’m a very fortunate artist to be able to get so much joy from all of the different areas of my work.
Words Shannon Levy
Photos Dale Robinette/Lionsgate