What kind of research did you do to prepare for this early 1900s medical drama? My research for the general look of the period was mostly based on studying and reproducing portraits by American realist painters like Thomas Eakins, famous for all his amazing paintings of the medical theaters, and wonderful portraits by Sargent and Sorolla. I hosted a painting workshop led by my mentor, Cassandra Saulter, a former scenic artist turned makeup artist, and long-time painter and sculptor. My core team and I worked for two weeks on replicating their artwork to understand more of light and contrast, as well as the texture and colors of the faces of the turn of the 20th century, to translate it with painting rather than applying makeup. We had a lot of fun. I also spent a long time researching how and who used makeup since it wasn’t really commercially available back then. The easiest part of the research but crucial to a show about medicine, was researching illnesses, various conditions and their corresponding symptoms and what they do to the body. Because those haven’t really changed, the internet, medical books and our medical consultant on set were our main guides.
Did you learn anything interesting about the makeup for that period?
Women made their own makeup with tinctures, pigments, waxes, coal and ashes. Wearing makeup was looked down upon; it was reserved for stage actors and prostitutes. But women of all classes knew how to sneak some on without looking vulgar or cheap. It was the art of secret makeup.
What kind of products did you use to make the females look like they weren’t wearing much makeup?
All ladies underwent eyebrow filling. Often we had to paint back a natural shape hair by hair to compensate the over tweezed or arched eyebrows we see today. On eyes, we used a lot of taupe colors, a touch of Benefit BADgal Liner Waterproof inside the lash line and Illustrator on the lashes to avoid the mascara look. Omega Juicer gave us a juicer to make our own concoctions. We juiced beets and strawberries to make our own little tinctures for lips and cheeks. Benefit Benetint was almost identical in color, so for touchups on set we used that to make things easier. On our upper and middle class characters, we made the skin moist and even textured. Koh Gen Do, Laura Mercier and YSL BB creams were our favorites, with a hint of MAC Blot Powder to seal. On the lower and working class characters, we left the skin completely bare and shiny and concentrated on the eyebrows. To be sure they looked un-tweezed and natural, we painted in hair by hair with Illustrator and Bluebird palettes and sometimes by gluing in Angora hair.
Most of the men wear some sort of facial hair. Where did you draw inspiration from for this?
I did a lot of research on doctors and hospital staff, as well as the portraits of the turn of the century we studied in the portrait workshop I mentioned earlier. The Eakins Medical Theater paintings were the biggest inspiration for the facial hair in the medical world. There were so many different facial hair styles. Practically 75 percent of doctors had some form of facial hair according to the research. We had fun playing around with that and almost everyone got to have some sort of facial hair on the show. Besides all the facial hair, we kept the men shiny, often even adding more shine and sweat.
What are some of the challenges of working on a show as medically-intensive and period-specific as The Knick?
The challenge of a period piece is that it becomes a lot more time-consuming to get everyone ready, background included. A medical show has its own challenges in prep and specialized non-prosthetic effects painting, as well as SFX makeups. But the biggest challenge on top of that was the unique pace of the show. We were shooting 10 pages in eight hours! Steven Soderbergh works in lightning speed with a master’s precision, and expects everyone to do the same. He doesn’t wait because at the end of the day, he edits for a few hours. When we watched dailies the next day, the scenes were already cut together. Another big challenge was that we shot every season cross-boarded, meaning we didn’t shoot each episode separately, but we jumped around between all 10 episodes of a season. The continuity was extensive, like a 10-hour movie, with lots of blood and action, back and forth. There was no room for mistakes.
How big was your makeup department?
We had a core of five to seven artists: myself, Clive Owen’s personal artist LuAnn Claps, my co-key, Stephanie Pasicov, co-key Sunday Englis, makeup artists Cassandra Saulter and Tania Ribalow, and Rachel Geary, who was our on set ventilator. There was also a separate special effect department which was led by Justin Raleigh. Often we would have eight to 15 makeup artists work on the show because we had between 50 and 150 background actors most days.
You worked with Steven Soderbergh on the film, Side Effects. How did you come to work with him on The Knick?
Steven always works with the same core team. His way of working is different from most movie makers and his crew knows what he expects and needs. I got a shot with him on Side Effects when they took over a lot of the crew of the Coen Brothers movie, Inside Llewin Davis, that I was working on. Ever since, I have been working with Steven and “the boys” (his producing/AD team) whenever he is doing things in New York. I feel very lucky.
Words Shannon Levy
Photos Courtesty AMC