Interview with Kalaadevi & Nick London, 12 Years a Slave Makeup Team
What does it take to create characters for the Academy Award Best Picture Winner – 12 Years a Slave? MAKE UP FOR EVER’s Pro Team sat down with Kalaadevi, Makeup Department Head and Nick London, Kaladadevi’s right hand person and Key Makeup Artist to get their insight on how they brought this movie to life through makeup.
MAKE UP FOR EVER Pro: How did you become involved with this project?
Kalaadevi: I received a call on a Wednesday from the producers of 12 Years a Slave asking if I was available to join the crew and design the makeup for the feature film. I checked my availability, read the script and said yes immediately. By Friday, I was on a plane to begin filming on Monday.
MAKE UP FOR EVER Pro: That sounds both exciting and intense. Is it typical for projects to come to artists on such a short notice? How did you have time to prep and come up with the makeup design?
Kalaadevi: In this industry, amazing opportunities will sometimes come to you unexpectedly and you learn to embrace it. As soon as I said yes, I brought Nick London on board as my Key. It all happened so quickly but knowing that I would have a great team helped a lot. I needed someone who could read my mind and knew how I worked. After I said yes, I spent days (and nights) researching 'daguerotypes' from 1800's where slaves are photographed often times nude where you got to see the skin’s texture, eyes, expression and tone. I also used Eastman Johnson paintings for inspirations.
MAKE UP FOR EVER Pro: There isn’t a lot of obvious makeup in this film, but we know that sometimes realistic makeup is the most difficult to achieve. Can you please tell us more about your design for the main characters?
Kalaadevi: You are right. For Solomon’s character, it was very simple yet complex. How do you age someone over 12 years in the movie in a believable way? Solomon aged over 12 years in the movie and goes from middle class to slave. Emotional aging is very different than adding a few wrinkles on the forehead. You must take the luster out of the skin. By going from warm to cool tones you show how his life was taken from him and how the effect sleep and depression had on him.
Nick London: For Patsy, there’s a scene where she had 3 scratches and a scar and they happened at different times. The right length and the right placement was important. The realism of Kalaadevi’s creation was the best part about the scars, they catch the light.
MAKE UP FOR EVER Pro: Tell us about what it’s like to work with the director? What was it like collaborating with Steve McQueen?
Kalaadevi: Steve McQueen shoots quick and does long takes. Under the oppressive heat, actors would sweat everything off. It’s a collaborative process to ensure everyone is ready on set.
MAKE UP FOR EVER Pro: Do you have any suggestions for young artists starting out in this industry? How did you get started?
Nick London: As a young artist I’d recommend to taking any job to get your experience. Go to the set and work for those who have more experience and who you could learn from.
Kalaadevi: I started as an artist – painting, sculpture, and color. I studied art history, painting and print making. I love to go to museums to look at oil paintings and get inspiration.
For this team, their success has come from being precise and dependable. It’s not “fluff and puff”. It’s an art that needs to be taken seriously.
MAKE UP FOR EVER Pro: What is the biggest challenge working in HD and how did you overcome the challenge?
The biggest challenge is the light and my favorite product is HD Primer (in clear and blue).