Written by Andrew Korpan
Linda Dowds won her first Oscar this past Sunday for her work on The Eyes of Tammy Faye. She’s won three quarters of her Emmy nominations for her work on Grey Gardens, The Kennedys and True Detective. Her film work includes 16 collaborations with actress Jessica Chastain, most recently in The Eyes of Tammy Faye which was up for Best Makeup and Hairstyling and Best Actress (for Jessica Chastain). Congratulations to both Linda and Jessica for their Oscar wins!
I'm sure you've been asked about this, but do you have any thoughts on some of the categories not being televised [at the Oscars]?
Yes. I know. It's a very contentious issue. I'm going to be super honest with you. I have been working like crazy hours and I'm with Jessica [Chastain] on something else. So I’m aware of a lot of what's been happening, but not totally aware of [it], and my understanding is that they are attempting to bring a little more life back into the Oscars and viewership.
You know, this is my first time here, I am super excited. I don't know all the ins and outs of the process for everyone — I'm not even sure exactly how everything will work on Sunday — and what I do know is that for the moment I'm going to go and enjoy. We still get our time on the red carpet, we still get to — if we're fortunate enough to win — go up and make a speech and it all will still be televised, just not live. And so, I'm going to trust the process and just accept all the goodness of the day and and focus on.
You're nominated for The Eyes of Tammy Faye, which you had a very unique challenge of having to replicate somebody like Tammy Faye, who's so well-known and I saw that you also worked on Andrew Garfield who plays Jim Bakker. So what was that process like? They’re just such polarizing figures and somebody that a lot of people know and you guys nailed it and I'm just so impressed by it.
Thank you. Well, a couple of things, one is originally, with Andrew, right up until the first week when we did our testing, Stephanie Ingram was going to do his hair and his wigs and she also does Jessica’s [Chastain] along with myself. And then as we started, what we realized was, Andrew [Garfield] got a lot of prosthetics early on in his younger years — more so than Jessica — and most of his face was covered. I would just have had a bit of his forehead to do and not much else. And so we found it was a better way for prosthetics to sort of take over that. So we did the design work, I got all his facial hair, his sideburns, did all the reference to all of the research, all of those things. Jessica ended up with something like 13 wigs and it was just physically impossible with the amount of hours to dress and maintain because we had so many changes, so Bryson Conley came in and took over Andrew's hair. That left us to focus on Jessica and the rest of our team focused on the rest of the cast.
The process with Jessica needed to be super collaborative because we have a beauty element, we have the prosthetic element, and we have, of course, the period element of everything and the fact that she's a real life person. On every show, you have a lot of collaboration, you can't do it without that, but on this film, it was particularly important and the materials that they use for prosthetics are not the same as you would use for beauty and vice versa.
There were challenges on both sides and we just really worked hard to meet in the middle. And Mitchell Travers, who did costumes, was great because Tammy was very “matchy-matchy.” So we coordinated everything within the framework of the day with those costumes. So we had multiple changes on maybe on eyeshadow, colors, and nails and lips and wigs. I'd say that having to all get along super well and support each other in the best possible was a key component.
Speaking of the research process, did you have to watch a lot of footage of the Bakker family?
Definitely. It’s so interesting because I remember them; I remember seeing them on TV. Not only did I do a lot of research through things like going on eBay and getting old magazines and things, you know, People magazine covers and articles and all of that, but I watched a lot of the Christian Broadcasting Network. I watched a lot of the PTL Club episodes; her [Tammy Faye’s] Nightline interview; her Larry King interviews and I would put all these things on boards and had binders full of images.
And it was so funny because I remember — and I think a lot of people did this — lumping them [the Bakkers] together at the time and they became sort of one entity and I have to say that I didn't have a particularly positive view of either of them. And what I discovered in the research was how wrong I was about her [Tammy Faye]. I really grew to love her. And we all said that we all felt like we got to experience a different side and see her in a different light. And that really helped to sculpt the way we worked and thought about Tammy Faye. So we were always striving to do the best, most authentic, real-but-honest representation and to also show people what an incredible woman she actually was.
And it's a very profound performance from Jessica, and she's someone that you've worked with on numerous films, right?
Plenty of films.
Can you tell me about how you guys first met?
I'm originally from Toronto, Canada, and there was a movie coming, uh, And I have worked with one of the producers multiple times, J. Miles Dale. And so when it came time for the director, who was looking for a makeup artist, Miles had brought me in and introduced me to Andy and Barbara Muschietti.
And because it was a small-budget film, and Jessica had five films that were about to come out when she came to Mama, but up until that point, she wasn't as known an entity as we obviously know her now. And so there was an opportunity for someone local to do the film, and I was fortunate enough to be that person.
That's where it began and I think we're on our 16th project together. The lovely thing about the work with her is that every character is so different, so I get to explore all different characters — some real, some not — and each one is unique. Some are super glam, like on Molly's Game, and then we go to things like Woman Walks Ahead where there's no makeup, and then we do a transformation like Tammy Faye’s. So it's a very creative and lovely collaboration. It's really special.
Earlier you mentioned you're working on your next project with her, are you able to say anything about that?
We are doing another Tammy [laughs]. We’re doing the George and Tammy miniseries. Michael Shannon is playing George Jones, Jess is Tammy Wynette and they are doing it all — it's amazing. It also spans over three decades, so it's another period piece. It's an incredible project and we're getting close to the end.
The final thing I wanted to ask you is for some sort of tidbits or secret about getting into the makeup/film industry.
The lovely thing about this whole process is that they just set me up on Instagram — I'm generally not great with social media or doing any of those things, so a lot of it is new to me and I've had a lot of people reach out on there.
There are new or they're studying and they have questions and everything, and I absolutely love it. So the first thing I would say to you is you want to share my contact information with your friend, they are so welcome to reach out to me. The only thing I would ask is that they'd give me roughly a couple of weeks to get this under my belt, this show [George and Tammy], and then this weekend [the Oscars ceremony], obviously.
But I think the thing that I would say is I kind of fell into this. I trained with really good people. I did a really cheap and cheerful course to start discovered that I liked it. I then started training with a woman who ran the department for the Canadian Opera Company — I got great training there. Then I studied with some people who were in television, doing makeup, and they gave me a great training. Then I started working with them on stuff. And then my ultimate goal was character work and film work. And I did the same process and I think there's so many routes you can go.
There are so many different arenas. Maybe you want to do fashion, maybe you want to do film. And for me, my favorite passion is doing all of the character work. I love all the elements of that. And I think I would say that you don't have to do hugely expensive courses and I think you find the work that you love. And that means trying a little bit of everything and just know that it's what you really want to do. I've been doing this since 1987 and I never imagined in a million years I'd be standing here talking to people like you and being nominated for awards and the work we did being so celebrated.
Well, thank you so much. It's a great honor to speak with you and again, congratulations on Sunday and I'm very excited to see you guys win!
Thank you, from your mouth to God's ears. Thank you