In the upcoming Issue 125, you’ll find out how Zoe Hay, make-up department head for the NBC hit drama This Is Us, creates various looks for actors Mandy Moore and Milo Ventimiglia as their characters move through different time periods of their lives.
In this bonus article, Hay reveals other challenges she and her team faced to keep four decades’ worth of character looks in harmony.
A big part of the department is dealing with all the facial hair that the characters have, and those who have seen the show know we’re talking about a lot. Not only does the character of Jack have a big beard in one timeline and different shapes of mustaches in others, but the character of William also has a beard.
“I actually make all the facial hair for the show myself, which is really nice because we have a lot of control over it and how it works, and physically how it fits together,” Hay says. “That makes things really easy for us.”
While Ventimiglia’s Jack has a full beard in the pilot episode, his facial hair undergoes a lot of transition through the years, including a mustache in the ’80s, a goatee in the ’90s and the full beard pops up every now and again, as well.
Beginning with the second episode of the show, Hay had numerous back-and-forth meetings with show creator Dan Fogelman about Ventimiglia’s look, as he needed to be convinced that Hay could create a beard that audiences couldn’t tell was fake.
“We decided that Milo would keep his mustache—we see it in 1989, the only period with his real facial hair,” she says. “The beard we made for him. We shoot on an HD camera so I created something very comfortable for him to wear. It’s split in three pieces at the goatee area, and the rest is hand-laid over to the top edge to blend.”
To complete the 1989 look, when the character is 43, Hay uses 12 small prosthetics and the stretch-and-stipple technique—where the skin is stretched, the make-up goes on and dries. When the skin goes back to its normal position, it wrinkles a bit.
As Ventimiglia’s character moves into the 1990s, Hay really wanted to make a statement of the time, and goatees were so popular back then.
“This enabled him to have some hair on his chin that we could add some gray to and help with the aging,” she said. “It’s hand-laid inside and just under the lip, and we add some gray to his real mustache and small sideburns to add a different look. We also add microextensions with gray into his hair to complete the whole process.”
Ron Cephas Jones who plays William is not as old as his character appears, having just turned 60 recently, and Hay uses facial hair and some coloring in his hair to make him seem older.
“He has an existing chin beard on the ball of his chin but everything else—the sideburns and mustache—I created to help age and shape his face,” she says.
When the younger William appears (circa 1980), actor Jermel Nakia is close in body type to Jones, but Hay needed to do some subtle shading on his face to narrow his nose and shape his eyes and pencil his eyebrows in so he matched his older counterpart more closely.
“Jermel’s face is much shorter in the lower portion of his face than Ron’s, so what we decided to do is keep the beard, trimming and shaping it like Ron, but cheating it down onto his face a little bit lower to help create the length in his face,” she says. “Sometimes some of these things may seem small and maybe no one would notice, but those tiny details add up to the bigger picture in making the transition more seamless.”
Working with the kids who play the younger versions of the Big Three is also one of Hay’s favorite parts about the job. However, it does present some challenges.
For example, Mackenzie Hancsicsak, who plays the 9-year-old version of Kate, is very tan; since the show started shooting in the summer, it was easy to tell she spent a lot of time by the pool.
“Chrissy Metz is very fair, so we needed to make Mackenzie look more pale without her looking sickly,” she says. “Plus, we needed to do it quickly because we don’t get too much time with the kids.”
To solve the problem, Hay went with Era Face Spray On Foundation applied to her with a brush, and then added rosy cheeks to bring some youthfulness and glow back to the skin and to create the blush look of Metz’s natural coloring.
For the boys, the younger versions of Kevin both need to have a mole created to match that of actor Justin Hartley, and the younger versions of Kate and Kevin all have different colored eyes than their adult counterparts, so contacts are needed for each one of them.
“They are all really wonderful and understand the process, plus they always bring us cookies,” Hay says. “Everyone here is one big, happy family and we have a great time together.”