Years before I knew the name of my newest interview subject, Ve Neill, I was witness to her work on some of the most enjoyable movies of my youth. From Beetlejuice (which won her the first of three Best Makeup Oscars) to Mrs. Doubtfire (which won her a second Best Makeup Oscar) to the Batman sequels, Ve Neill helped create some of the most memorable images the screen has ever seen. I’d been wanting to interview her about her life and work for several years now, and earlier this month, it finally happened. Join me as we talk about Ve’s life and work from the 70s to today and into the future.
Say hello to Ve Neill!
Johnny: I have my questions ready to go.
Ve: I see that. You have a lot of questions, way more than anybody has ever asked me, and you have some really interesting questions as well that nobody’s ever asked me. I’m not sure that I will want to answer all of them, but I will do my best to give you what you need.
Johnny: Again, I thank you for taking the time to do this, and I’m ready to start, so here we go. For my first question, everybody in the entertainment industry has to start somewhere, and according to your IMDB page, your first credit as a makeup and hair designer was the 1977 softcore sex comedy Cinderella. Considering the movie’s content, were you nervous about working on the project, or were you ready to go?
Ve: Well, actually, this was not my first credited film. That’s just the way it came up on IMDB. IMDB is not the end-all, let me just tell you that. They make lots of mistakes. I did a lot of movies for Charlie Band. I don’t know where in order this was. This may have been the first one, quite possibly, but I did four or five other films for Charlie Band. He’s sort of Roger Corman’s counterpart. There was Charlie Band and there was Roger Corman. Roger Corman was much more prolific than Charlie, but anyway…
I was ready to go because I wanted to work in the movies, and I was willing to do what it took to get the job done. This was a very softcore film, number one, and like you said, it was a comedy. I had no problem doing it. If there was going to be anything that was off-color that I didn’t want to be involved in, I just didn’t enter the room, you know, but it was pretty much not like that at all. It was a pretty silly little film that he did. What I got to do was really fun because I actually made the girls up to look pretty much like the illustrated versions of themselves, which was really kind of silly and fun, too.
Johnny: Well, that movie is definitely an early example of your unique visual style.
Ve: A very nice way of putting it! (Laughing)
Johnny: Another early credit of yours’ as a makeup artist was The Private Files Of J. Edgar Hoover. A movie depicting a lot of historical figures, what were, respectively, the easiest and hardest parts of working on that movie?
Ve: I’ve got to tell you I almost don’t remember that film. I do remember Broderick Crawford because that was kind of a trip to work with him, but Larry Cohen did lots of interesting pictures back then. I don’t recall having to do too much to make them look like their respective counterparts, but I’m sure I did whatever it was I needed to to get them as close as possible without having to use prosthetics.
I think the coolest part of working on that picture was I got to work on the Old New York street on the MGM lot before they tore it down. I remember shooting on that set one day, and they were doing the King Kong film which Rick Baker wore the gorilla suit in. They had that giant Carlo Rambaldi gorilla on the lot that day, so at lunchtime I went over to to check it out, and I was watching them shoot King Kong. That was the most interesting part of doing that J. Edgar Hoover movie for me.
Johnny: Alright. To go my next question: You were a makeup artist, and had an uncredited role as an Enterprise Crew Member, on Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Was the movie as tough to work on as reports made it out to be?
Ve: I don’t remember it being tough to work on. I had an incredible time on that film. It was an extremely long job. I kind of remember it was nine months, off and on, because we had most of the stages on the lot at Paramount with our sets on them, and they had to shut down for a bit to tear down a set and rebuild the V’Ger set, which we shot at the very end of the film., but I had a blast working on that.
I got to work on it with Fred Phillips, my mentor, and it was really enjoyable because I got to design the hair work on all the Klingon makeups. I put all their heads together, painted them all, and then I laid all the hair on all the Klingons’ heads and dressed all the hairpieces, so that all the makeup artists had to do was put the heads on and take the hairpieces and blend them into the hair on the heads. I think there were 13 of them altogether, and I did a test makeup on every single one of the Klingons, so they had their makeup set ahead of time, and when the makeup artists came in, they didn’t have to do a lot of thinking about it. All they had to do was put it together.
Unfortunately, that’s not how it worked out (laughing), but I did have a good time working on that film. I also got to help Fred with Leonard because he would make up Leonard, and then I would watch Leonard on the set. It was a blast. I don’t remember it being difficult at all, and Robert Wise was an absolute dream to work with. As a young makeup artist working on my first film after I got in the union, working with a legend like that was a dream come true.
Johnny: Well, I’m glad you had a good experience on it.
Ve: I had a great experience.
Johnny: Going to my next question: One of your early collaborators was Lily Tomlin, with whom you worked not only on the movies 9 To 5 and The Incredible Shrinking Woman, but also several of her classic TV specials including Lily: Sold Out? and Lily For President. Both you and Lily are very creative minds, so what did she teach you that’s remained with you throughout your career?
Ve: Working with Lily was challenging because she was always questioning herself. “Did you like this take? Do you like that take? Do you think this is funnier? Should I do it again?”. It was like, “Oh my god!”. When I would go to sleep, I would hear these questions in my head over and over. Comedy is so difficult because you’re trying to make people laugh, and it doesn’t happen every time if the voice or the inflection isn’t correct, or if something goes off.
Jim Carrey is kind of the same way. He’ll do take after take after take until he’s happy. Now we have playback so, unfortunately, they get to sit back and stare at themselves and go crazy until they figure it out. I think working with comedians is probably one of the most difficult jobs that you’ll have in any field because they are so critical of themselves, so I guess that’s pretty much what I learned.
Johnny: Well, I must say that I’ve looked back at several of those Lily Tomlin specials on YouTube and, again, it’s amazing work you did.
Ve: She was definitely fun to work with because I loved doing all those characters for her. They were truly enchanting. The special we did in Las Vegas was such a trip. We were there for a week shooting Sold Out?, and I never left Caesar’s Palace for a week. They have everything in there within that city block, which was crazy, but we had a really good time, and I adored Lily.
I worked with her for six years, and did all of her specials and two movies with her. It was great. I run into her occasionally, and it’s always a pleasure. If I see a makeup artist who’s working with her, I say, “Give Lily my regards”. We have a really great relationship.
Johnny: That’s amazing. Speaking of comedians, you were a makeup artist for the concerts that were turned into the 1982 concert film Monty Python: Live At The Hollywood Bowl. As I’m sure you watched Monty Python’s Flying Circus in your late teens and twenties, what was it like to be working alongside them?
Ve: The live performance at the Hollywood Bowl with Monty Python’s Flying Circus was a whole different experience. They were so funny. I just remember sitting there and laughing hysterically. British humor is so different than American humor (laughing), and I remember that some of the grips and electricians were looking at me, and said, “You think this stuff is funny?”. I said, “Are you kidding me? They’re hysterical!”, but most of the guys just didn’t even get it.
Johnny: Well, I can definitely say that I enjoyed their humor as well. I know I keep on saying you did great work with them but, I mean, it’s true. You did. You’re one of the best talents in your field, and all the work you’ve done, and there’s still a lot of ground to cover in this interview, has been amazing.
Ve: Well, thank you.
Johnny: Oh, no problem. To go to my next question, you were a makeup artist for the first several seasons of The A-Team. Of all the makeup effects you created for the show, which would you say was the most adventurous?
Ve: There were so many of them that I don’t even remember half of them. I know one of the interesting ones was when we did Cowboy George. Boy George was our guest on the show that week, and that was a trip, let me tell you. That was so bizarre. I think the other one that was kind of fun was when we did the episode with the wrestlers, with Hulk Hogan and that whole scenario. That was a blast.
Working on The A-Team was really fun because George Peppard wouldn’t work past 5:00, so we never had night shooting. We were always outside, so we were never locked in a studio. That was totally cool because we were outside, never sitting on a dark stage. That was fun, and I worked with pretty much every stuntman in Hollywood during those years. We shot and blew up everybody so many times, but there was never any blood, and nobody died.
Johnny: Wonderful to hear. Another TV show you worked on was several seasons of Pee-wee’s Playhouse. You’re the second talent from that show that I’ve interviewed, the first being George McGrath.
Ve: Oh, yeah.
Johnny: What do you think has given Pee-wee’s Playhouse such staying power after all these years?
Ve: I just think Paul Reubens has such a unique character in Pee-wee, and I originally met Paul the night they previewed it at the Roxy Theatre. I was actually working on the film 9 To 5, and the camera operator, Chuck Minsky, was the producer of that show. He came to me one Friday and said, “Hey, Ve. Do you think you could help me do something tonight?”. I said, “What’s that?”. He said, “I’m producing this show at The Roxy. It’s kind of like an adult kids’ show, and these guys could really use your help with their makeup”.
When I got there, he said, “Just help everybody but the Pee-wee character. He’ll do his own makeup”. I looked around at all these crazy-looking people, and thought to myself, “Oy vey, they really do need help” (laughing). I helped whoever I could, and then I watched the show. I remember sitting there thinking, “This is the weirdest damn thing I’ve ever seen, and that Pee-wee guy drives me crazy. I can’t stand his voice” (laughing). Chuck asked me what I thought about the show, and I said, “How is anybody going to watch this? It’s so freaky. How is this going to fly anywhere, except for a live adult audience?”. Of course, at the time, I don’t think they ever thought of turning it into a childrens’ show, which eventually they did, obviously.
The first season they shot in New York, so I wasn’t involved with that, but all the subsequent seasons I was, except for maybe right at the end because I had to go off and do a movie. I still have so much fun working with Paul. He is just so kooky. I mean, everybody on that show was just fantastic, and I won an Emmy for one of the makeups I did, funnily enough, on George, whom you interviewed. He played a character called Zyzzybalubah, which was an alien.
Oh, my god, this is so funny. Paul Reubens just texted me (laughing). He must have been hearing me talk about him. Anyway, that was really fun. Working on Pee-wee’s Playhouse was just an absolute blast. It was terrific. Such great fun. To be in that environment was always so uplifting, all the bright colors and the crazy kids. It was really fun.
Johnny: It definitely is, and it still holds up to this day. Again, excellent work you did.
Ve: It absolutely does.
Johnny: Jumping back to the big screen, another movie that made excellent use of your makeup work is The Lost Boys, which, of course, was produced by Richard Donner, whom we just lost yesterday. What made that movie so special to work on?
Ve: It was the second movie I did with one of my favorite directors, Joel Schumacher. I’d always wanted to do a vampire movie, and make them very sexy, beautiful and scary. That’s one thing that Joel allowed me to do, which was fantastic. Greg Cannom designed those makeups. I talked to Greg about it. I said, “I want it to be really sexy, Greg. I want it to be streamlined and pretty, scary and beautiful”, and I think we achieved that when we did that film. That was probably one of the most fun movies I worked on in my career.
Johnny: Well, you definitely achieved what you were aiming for. People still talk about the makeup to this day. You’ll see memes comparing the Twilight vampires to the Lost Boys vampires, and The Lost Boys are said to be the better vampires, in part because of the looks that Cannom and yourself helped put together.
Ve: Well, I think that film led the way for all the vampires to come after. I think it really hits home as to what most women want to see in their vampires.
Johnny: Absolutely. We now come to Beetlejuice, one of the first movies I noticed your work in, although it would be a while until I knew your name. What effects were you most proud of having created for that movie?
Ve: Well, first of all, a lot of the effects were created by Bob Short. I think mostly my contribution to this was the conversation that I had with Tim Burton when I first started on the film. We were talking about the people in the afterlife, and originally we talked about doing them pastel, but when I started doing all the airbrushing and makeup tests, I realized that pastels were not going to make it in this world he created, especially with the lighting we were using in the afterlife.
We had to pump up all the colors visually because everything else was so colorful, and we decided at that point that we should take it from pastel to a little bit more vibrant so that everything read, especially in the low light. I think that really kind of set the tone for the whole film. Tim wanted it to be dark and quirky.
In Tim’s original designs of Beetlejuice, he looked like a derelict. When I started testing Michael’s makeup, we realized that we couldn’t make it look like that because it just didn’t fit the aesthetic of the film. After two unsuccessful attempts at using Tim’s drawings for inspiration, I asked him if I could just take Michael back to the trailer, do what I wanted to do, and see how he liked it. My thought was that he should look a bit more cartoony, and kind of silly, so that’s how we came up with the look for Beetlejuice. I want him to look like he crawled out from underneath a rock. I sent a driver off to the hobby store, and asked him to get me some crushed colored foam like they use on the flora and fauna around model railroads. The green crushed foam is how I got the mossy effect growing all over Beetlejuice’s face. I also put some moss bits in his hair. It’s a misnomer that he was white. He was actually a very pale yellow color, but it was so pale that it didn’t read very well. It turns out he was the only character who wasn’t pastel.
Johnny: Of course, you won your first Best Makeup Oscar for Beetlejuice, sharing it with the aforementioned Bob Short, and Steve LaPorte. Were you nervous that evening, and do you recall the emotions you felt when your name was announced as a winner?
Ve: Oh, my god. When we were in the whole mix of promoting the film, like you try to do, I was thinking, “Nobody’s going to vote for us. They don’t know who we are. We’ve never done anything before. It’s a crazy-looking movie”. We were up against Rick Baker for Coming To America. That had the most amazing makeups in it ever, and I know because I actually went and helped Rick a couple of days by putting hands on Eddie and Arsenio. I was there and I saw those makeups in person. They were all flawless and gorgeous. I thought, “Rick’s going to win it again, blah, blah, blah”, but I said, “We’ll write our speech, go in, and be ready just in case”.
I think one of the most fun things about being nominated for an Oscar is the luncheon. All of the different crafts are mixed together, and everybody is the same at this point. You could be sitting at the table with a director, an actor, a producer….You never know who you’ll be sitting with. You’re all nominees. They try to get you all hyped up to pick up your Oscar. “When they call your name, don’t just saunter up there. You’re happy. You want to get that award. You’re excited to be there”. Run up there if you want to.
When they called our names, I couldn’t believe it. I jolted out of my seat. I took off, and I just kept going, “Where are the boys? Why aren’t they behind me?”. We got up there, and I kept looking around the room because they said we were going to see a big screen that will start flashing numbers to let you know when you have to get off. I got up there, and I didn’t see a bloody thing. I was so, like, high from the effect of it all that everything looked white to me. I don’t remember seeing anything.
I rattled off my little piece of the speech, and so did the boys. They took us out of there, and they put us in an elevator to go to where we do our interviews. I turned to Steve and I said, “Steve, did you see the screen they were talking about?”. He goes, “No, I didn’t see anything”. I said, “All I saw was white light. I didn’t see a bloody thing” (laughing). I said, “This is the highest I’ve ever been in my entire life”. I was so elated, and it was amazing. It was the coolest thing ever.
Then I thought, “If I ever get up there again, I’m going to look for that screen they were talking about”. Of course, I did get up there again, and when I got up there again for Mrs. Doubtfire, I’m looking out and I thought, “How did I not see all of this stuff the last time? You can see right there in the front row”. It was a trip. It was pretty fantastic.
Johnny: Going into the 90s, a movie that made unique use of your makeup skills was 1990’s Flatliners. What went into the creative process for your work on that movie?
Ve: Well, that was another Joel Schumacher film. I don’t know that there was all that much creative anything going on in there. I just did my job to make the cast look their parts.
One of the things that was creative to do was all of Kiefer’s injuries. I worked with Greg Cannom, who also did the prosthetics for this film, and he made me this really cool little clever prosthetic that allowed me to sew up Kiefer’s face on camera. It was a hard disc that was embedded in the prosthetic, right into the foam latex piece, and this allowed the needle to pass through the foam without injuring Kiefer’s face. That scene was beautifully shot by Janusz Kaminski, as was the entire film.
Johnny: Alright. Another Tim Burton collaboration was 1990’s Edward Scissorhands. Did you help design the title character’s eponymous appendages, or was your work based more around the characters’ faces?
Ve: No. Stan Winston Studios designed the makeup initially with Tim, and they did the hands as well, so I had nothing to do with that. In fact, by the time I got involved with the film, Stan Winston Studios had already built heads with a makeup and wig already applied to emulate what the makeup would look like on him. What I did at that point was bring the makeup to life. I chose the colors for the foundation and the eyes, and Johnny and I did a little tweaking ourselves. I would change the shape of his eyes slightly, depending on what we were shooting that day and the mood he was in because of the film.
Whenever you paint a fixed look on somebody’s face, you kind of are limited to what he’s going to be able to express with his eyes. It was basically a kind of clown makeup. He always had that kind of concerned, sad look on his face. When we got into some different scenes, sometimes I would change the shape of the eyes slightly, just to make him look like he had a different look on his face (laughing).
Johnny: Well, as I keep on saying, it was good work you did. To go to my next question, you worked on three of the four original Batman films, Batman Returns, Batman Forever, and Batman And Robin. Of the three, which was your most favorite to work on, or is it difficult to choose?
Ve: I think it’s difficult to choose because they were all so completely different. I mean, the second one with Danny DeVito was really cool, and I’m still friends with Danny as well. I’ve done several films with him after that, but that was Tim Burton still, and that was probably the darkest of all of them because it was Tim.
The other two were Joel Schumacher, my other favorite director, and Joel had a much more fun kind of aesthetic to his films. They get very grandiose, and very colorful and big, so there was a lot of really fun stuff that I did when I worked with Joel. It’s kind of hard because they were all so completely different. My third one had Mr. Freeze, and Uma as Poison Ivy. Poison Ivy really got my creative juices flowing. Her character went through a wonderful development, and even a metamorphosis. I believe I did about eight different looks on the Poison Ivy character.
I recently did a recreation of the Poison Ivy makeup from the ball on my Instagram page, as well as Edward Scissorhands.
Johnny: Alright. To go to my next question, you took home your second Best Makeup Oscar for Mrs. Doubtfire. As you’ve mentioned what it was like working with comedians, was working with Robin Williams particularly difficult?
Ve: No! Robin was amazing. Robin was like nobody I’d ever worked with before. He didn’t tell jokes, per se. He was just amazing and funny, and he was always on, so what I did was (laughing) I took the doors off the cupboards behind him, I put a monitor up in the cupboard. I would have him watch movies as I was doing his makeup. What was so interesting about that was that I came to realize that he had seen so few classic films. I did that makeup something like 54 times, so he got to watch a lot of films.
My assistant who was helping me, Stephan Dupuis, brought in a laserdisc player with laserdiscs. We just started playing Robin films, and he would just sit there quietly watching films as we did his makeup. The first time we did his makeup and hair, it took four hours. I said, “This is never going to fly. This is taking way too long. We’ve got to get him out in two hours, or we’re never going to be able to film anything”. We eventually got the makeup down to two hours, which was really great. He’d be in and out of the trailer, just for the length of a movie. It was great vision (laughing).
Johnny: Interesting, and I really did enjoy the movie. I can recall watching it in middle school during a fun day, even though that’s not really the kind of movie you’re supposed to show middle schoolers (Ve laughs), but I liked it, and again, you did great work in it.
You would win the Best Makeup Oscar again the following year for Ed Wood. You did a magnificent job in capturing the aesthetic of Wood’s work in a more refined manner, so did you like Ed Wood’s movies?
Ve: Well, they were dreadful (laughing), but they were fun to watch. I mean, that’s the kind of thing that when you feel like being really silly, you put on one of those kooky shows and you watch it.
I did watch them all before we did the film because I really wanted to follow this aesthetic, which was really difficult. When we had to do the Tor Johnson makeup, I said, “This has got to be really bad. We’ve got to make a scar that we can see all the way around, so when we put it on, it looks just like some rubber thing stuck on”. It’s really hard to do bad makeups (laughing) because you want to make them as good as they can be, but it didn’t work that in the films that he did.
It was kind of funny, having to do these really horrible makeups on these guys. It was really a trip, but it was a blast working on the film and, of course, Johnny was so into it. I did all three womens’ makeup on that film, so it was a lot of work for me, as well as Martin’s makeup (laughing), so I was busy.
Johnny: Well, it was definitely amazing work you did. The ceremonies where you won those two Oscars were actually the first two Academy Awards ceremonies I can recall watching. I’ve made a tradition of watching the show ever since.
Ve: It’s, most of the time, pretty enjoyable. It’s gotten weird lately, but I think it’s going to zip along a lot more quickly now that we don’t have an emcee. It doesn’t really seem to need one when you have all those celebrities giving all those awards away. They’re sort of their own individual emcees before each award.
Johnny: Personally, I wasn’t really that big on Jimmy Kimmel as an Oscar host, mainly because I deal with an autism spectrum disorder, and one of the aspects of that is not being able to understand things like irony and teasing and sarcasm and all that. When it comes to Jimmy Kimmel and his feud with Matt Damon, I don’t find it funny because, to me, there’s no wink to the audience that it’s all a joke. It’s all played with a very poker face, and to this day, I still can’t tell if they genuinely hate each other or not.
Ve: (Laughing) That’s funny.
Johnny: The fact that he hasn’t hosted since 2018? I really don’t mind that. I can personally do without him hosting, but I’d like to see Steve Martin come back someday.
Of course, this interview isn’t about Oscar ceremonies directly. It’s about you, and we go to my next question: Speaking of movies about unique creative talents, you worked on the makeup for the Andy Kaufman biopic Man On The Moon. Had you worked with Kaufman himself early in your career, and if so, how did that influence your work on the film?
Ve: I did not work with Andy Kaufman. Working with Jim Carrey on that film was definitely a trip, and very challenging, let me tell you. Jim had his own makeup artist at that point, Sheryl Ptak. She did his Andy Kaufman makeup, and she and I did the prosthetic makeup job when he did his alter-ego, Tony Clifton. Brian Penikas built the Tony Clifton makeup for the film at his lab. Sheryl would cater to Jim’s every whim, and he would nitpick everything to the point where he almost looked like a mannequin when his makeup was finished.
When doing the Tony Clifton makeup, I wouldn’t allow Jim to nitpick anything. I remember, one day, he started nitpicking me about something around his eyes, and I just said, “You’re never going to see that”. Sheryl got all freaked out and said, “Oh my god, he’s going to be so mad”. I just put my foot down and said, “No, Tony”, as Jim was always in character, “wear sunglasses. You’re never going to see your eyes”. (Laughing) That’s how the conversation went. “Now go to set!”. Sheryl said, “I can’t believe you told him that”. She would never say anything to him like that, but I had to put my foot down.
He was just off the charts. He was crazy on that film, and he did the craziest shit on that movie as Andy Kaufman AND as Tony Clifton. I mean, he would do weird stuff. He ran his Cadillac into the side of a building once, and he wanted to sleep in one of those old silver trailers. At one point, he put limburger cheese in Danny DeVito’s trailer, and Danny couldn’t find it. He couldn’t even stay in his trailer because it smelled so bad (laughing), which was kind of funny. We were working on the Universal lot, where we were recreating Taxi, and he put limburger cheese in his pocket, and when all the bigwigs from Universal came down to check out the set, he would go shake their hands, and he’d have limburger cheese all over his hands, so he would leave all these bigwigs (laughing) with the smell of limburger cheese on their hands.
He did do very funny stuff, but then there was a time he showed up to work at the famous restaurant Chasen’s. We were shooting there, and the building had been painted all white. Well, he came to work with the Hell’s Angels one day in a sidecar, and the Hell’s Angels stayed and partied in the parking lot. At lunchtime, they went and sprayed the entire side of this building with Eat At Joe’s, or Women Eat Free, or something crazy and, of course, the production company had to repaint the entire building. He did some pretty off-the-wall shit (laughing), but he thought it was funny.
Johnny: Well, I’ll go to a picture that I hope was easier to work on. Ushering out the 90s, you worked on the makeup for Galaxy Quest. 20 years after Star Trek: The Motion Picture, how did you apply the lessons of that film to your work on what many feel is an honorary part of the Star Trek franchise?
Ve: I absolutely loved working on Galaxy Quest. I remember, when I read the script, I laughed so hard I couldn’t wait to work on this movie. Of course, getting to work with Alan Rickman was just so fabulous because he was the coolest guy ever. Funnily enough, I got to work with him again briefly on Sweeney Todd.
To get back to Galaxy Quest, it was a total blast to do that movie. Again, it was done with Stan Winston, so I not only did Alan Rickman’s makeup, but I also did the makeup on Sarris, the lead lizard alien guy. That was really cool, too, because there was a lot of new technology that Stan Winston’s guys had built for the head where the actor could actually operate parts of that makeup with his tongue. The lips could be moved with the tongue. There were some pretty ingenious things going on, and a lot of it was operated by cables and remote controls from the outside, which I got to do. I did the wings, which were cable-operated. If you were standing off stage looking at the filming, you would see people laying beneath him with cables and wires to make the Sarris character operational. That was really cool.
Johnny: Definitely. It was very funny, and had some pretty emotional scenes as well, particularly the one where Quellek passes away…
Ve: I agree.
Johnny: Yeah, that was very powerful, and then Alexander Dane, Alan Rickman’s character, says his catchphrase with genuine passion before storming off to attack Sarris’ goons. That’s definitely a powerful scene.
Ve: Yep. I agree.
Johnny: Going into the 00s, you were a key makeup artist on the Steven Spielberg film A.I: Artificial Intelligence. A very unique film in the Spielberg canon, what drew you to work on that movie?
Ve: Well, I had done a film previously with him years before that was called Amistad, and I really liked working with Steven Spielberg. I was called by Stan Winston to come work on the film A.I with Steven Spielberg, and I had six months R&D on that film. I’d say we did about four or five tests on Jude Law with everything from gelatin pieces, small pieces on his nose, cheeks and chin, to full-on silicone pieces covering his entire face. Finally, I had a meeting with Steven and Stan, and I said, “Look, you guys. This man is handsome. He’s pretty much damn perfect just on his own. Why don’t we just put a small chin piece on him to square off his jaw, just to make him look synthetic?”. I said, “I think with an engineered paint job, we’re going to make him look very synthetic and artificial”.
They said, “Okay”, and I said, “That way, you don’t lose your actor, either. He has full movement, and it’s going to be a much better, cleaner look”. Stan had his guys sculpt a very small chin piece, one that wrapped around his entire chin, and what it did was just gave his chin an edge to it, so it looked like it was chiseled. I did the test makeup on him, and this was after many tests of different layering with all kinds of makeup, because he was covered in quite a bit of actual makeup. I used layering of sealers and shiny airbrush paints, and different foundations to give him that really plastic look. I also made stencils to airbrush in his headline. This technique was then used on all the other robots that were created for the film. There was also bluescreen elements integrated into the prosthetics to remove parts of the robots’ anatomy. This was a new technology developed by Stan Winston.
Johnny: To go to my next question, you were the makeup department head on Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl, a role you would also assume on the film’s first two sequels. Of the first three Pirates Of The Caribbean movies, which provided you with the most challenges as the makeup department head?
Ve: I would say, probably, the second film because we got to do so many types of makeups, including all of the cannibals for that film. There was so much going on, working in the jungles and trying to keep all that mud makeup on, and the prosthetics…Oh, my god. I had a huge crew of makeup artists, and it was a lot to keep together, but that was definitely the most challenging film.
Johnny: Alright. We’ll jump ahead into the New 10s. You worked on the Hunger Games films, so had you read the books before signing on, and if so, how did they influence your work on the films?
Ve: I had not read the books before signing on because they pretty much had just come out almost. I did read the books before I read the script, and then I realized I can’t do that because I couldn’t remember what was in the book and what was in the script, so I had to stop reading the books because they moved things around a little bit, or there were things that weren’t in the script, but were in the book and vice versa, or they would combine things. Reading the books gave me a very enriched feel for the film and how it looked. The looks were derived from conversations with the director and costume designer on the first film.
Gary Ross was a lot more conservative with some of the looks, especially with the Capitol, and he really didn’t want Effie to be pretty. He wanted her to look kind of awful. He wanted her to be literally cruddy-looking, like she never changed her makeup, like she had too much makeup on that was always leftover and kind of nasty. I said, “Okay”, so I put on lots of foundation and powder to make her makeup look really thick and cakey. For her first look, I added red eyelashes. When we got outside, it was so bloody hot that everything melted together and made her skin look like porcelain, so there went that idea. She wound up looking just bizarre as opposed to ugly.
Cut to the next film, and Francis Lawrence was amazing. He let me do whatever I wanted with all the Capitol people. I got to go crazy with Effie’s looks because now we had a new costume designer and she was making Effie look absolutely fabulous. The second film, Catching Fire, was actually my favorite one of the Hunger Games films to work on because we got to be so creative. We actually got to do one of the very extremely augmented characters from the Capitol, and her name was Tigress. The four Hunger Games films were kind of like a makeup artist’s dream because we did everything from severe injury, disease and death makeups. We also did high-fashion and avant-garde makeup for all the Capitol people. As a makeup artist, that’s pretty much everything you learn throughout your entire career. The only thing missing was old age.
Johnny: Well, you did everything, and you did it splendidly.
Ve: Well, thank you.
Johnny: Oh, no problem. You worked with Paul Reubens again on 2016’s Pee-wee’s Big Holiday. As Reubens’ approach to the character had changed since the 80s, how had you work on the character changed as well?
Ve: Well, we didn’t really think the character changed. We were just going to adapt Paul’s age to the character and, of course, there was a lot of trickery involved in that as well because I put this contraption on him to lift his face a little bit, which we had to remove with CGI. There was a lot of youthinization and trickery involved in that film because Paul, as you know, was much older, and we still wanted him to resemble the young Pee-wee as best we could. Actually, for all intents and purposes, he still looks fantastic. In the medium shots, we didn’t even use the lift apparatus on him.
Johnny: Alright. To go to my next question, you were the makeup department head for the 2018 version of A Star Is Born. What do you think made that movie stand out from the previous versions of the story?
Ve: Well, each version of the film was updated for the era it was made, and I think they did an amazing job. Bradley Cooper…Oh, what a dream he was to work with. He did an amazing job bringing this film to life, and he worked on it very hard. Not only did he direct the film, but he also learned how to play the guitar and sing as well. He was stellar. He was just so great to work with. Wonderful…
Lady Gaga was the same. You know, she was just on top of everything, and so professional. I had actually worked with her previously as well. I did her Paparazzi video many years before, and it was so cute because when she saw me, she went, “Oh, Ve, you did my first video with me, and you’re doing my first movie! I’m so excited!”. She was great, too. She’s a professional, and such a lovely woman. I can’t say enough great things about the both of them, and together they had such great chemistry. I cry every time I watch the film.
Johnny: Alright, To go to my next question: Although we’re gradually making our way back to normalcy, coronavirus has made an indelible impact on all our lives, so how has it impacted the work you do?
Ve: It hasn’t impacted my work at all because…Let’s just say I retired from doing movies where I have to get up at 3:00 in the morning to go to work. I did that for over 40 years and I said, “You know what? I’m just going to do stuff I want to do now”. I’m doing smaller projects. I just did a Halloween video for MAC Cosmetics. I recreated the Vampira makeup from Ed Wood for their Halloween video.
I’m also doing a project right now with David Arquette. He bought the rights to Bozo The Clown. I’m going to be doing a documentary with him, redesigning a whole family of Bozos. Paul is also getting ready to do a whole documentary on his life, his times with Pee-wee, and all the different characters he’s done throughout his career. I’m doing smaller projects that are closer to home, and that I don’t have to leave for months on end. The most exciting project I’m embarking on is opening up my own makeup school this year. It’s called Legends Makeup Academy.
Johnny: Alright. Well, it’s always good to be doing what you love. To go to my final question: If an autograph convention like California’s The Hollywood Show or New Jersey’s Chiller Theatre invited you as a guest to come sign autographs and meet fans, would you consider the offer?
Ve: Oh, absolutely. I do them all the time. I went to Crypticon recently, and met some really fun people. I got to hang out with The Nun, played by Bonnie Aarons, and she is so wacky (laughing). It was funny because I happened to sit between her and Dee Wallace on the plane there. Dee is just so lovely. I also got to meet the legendary drummer Vinny Appice from Black Sabbath. All in all, I got to hang with three really cool people, not to mention all the other fantastic fans that I got to meet.
Johnny: Well, in that case, I actually do have one more questions relating to conventions. I’ve asked this of many of the convention attendees I’ve interviewed over the years. What’s been the most amazing piece of memorabilia someone has brought for you to sign?
Ve: Oooh. Gosh, I don’t know. I’m sure someone’s brought something really cool, but I’ve signed so many different things. I know that some people have given me cool gifts when I’ve been there. I got this really amazing jointed doll that this woman made that was amazing. At another convention, somebody brought me a doll of myself in a blister pack with Face Off on it, which was really cool, and I have it up on my shelf.
I’ve gotten really cool gifts, but as far as signing interesting things, I don’t know. Posters, bits and pieces, movie props people bring, but I think one of the coolest things is when they bring me stuff that they’ve done. It’s so cool that they’ve gone out of their way to do that. There’s really cool artwork. I think it’s just fun to see what people like to do with their spare time. I get a lot of Beetlejuice memorabilia, too. I got a painted-and-carved-wood placard of Beetlejuice at this latest conversation, for example.
Johnny: Indeed, and that does it for my questions. I again thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to speak to me. It really means a lot. I go back a long way with your work. Movies like Beetlejuice and Mrs. Doubtfire were favorites of mine growing up. Thinking back on the work you did in the 80s, as I developed a fascination with the pop culture of the 80s in the late 90s as a way of escaping the trauma I was going though, I would come to know a lot of your work in the decade that helped get me through some dark times and get me to the light.
Really, the 90s and 00s were kind of a wash for me, and I wouldn’t really know happiness until the New 10s, but if I ever needed a lift, I would always pull out something from the 80s, and the work you did in the decade, whether on Beetlejuice, The Lost Boys, or what have you, was amazing work, and I just wanted to thank you for having helped me out.
Ve: Oh, you’re so sweet, Johnny. Thank you very much. I really appreciate that.
Johnny: No problem. Like I said, it means a lot to do this interview. Thank you very much, and I also thank you for the compliments on my lines of questioning. It always cheers me up whenever a talent compliments me on the questions I come up with, and I thank you.
Ve: You did an amazing job on your questions. They’re unique and very clever, and I really appreciate that.
Johnny: No proble. I’ll be in touch, and I hope that you have a wonderful afternoon.
Ve: You, too, dear. Bye bye.
Coming soon to the Flashback Interview are conversations with famed comedy writer Bruce Vilanch and model/actress/writer Charlotte Kemp, Playboy’s Miss December 1982, the month and year I was born.