The whole premise of the AMC TV show Dietland (which premiered June 4) is about pushing back on the status quo. It’s about “decorating yourself, however you see fit,” as one of the characters puts it—also a great motto for any make-up crew. And since the show tackles a multitude of issues, the make-up demands were in fact, quite varied.
Make-up department head Krystal Phillips and prosthetic supervisor Jeremy Selenfriend took the time to discuss with us the components that went into the make-up for the swath of characters in Dietland. The challenges were many and the time restraints were great but the team pulled it off wonderfully.
Prepping for the Job
Phillips was initially drawn to the project because it was a “female driven story” where “fashion world meets vigilantle underground organization.” When Phillips heard this storyline … she was in. “It was that along with a powerhouse team of producers lead by the amazing Marti Noxon,” Phillips adds. “What else needs to be said?”
Phillips then got on the phone to longtime pal Selenfriend about the potential for a big new project coming down the pipeline that would be full of prosthetic challenges. “Krystal and I have done several projects together and we work very well with one another,” explains Selenfriend.
By October the project had cemented more firmly into reality and the two started the creative process together. “Krystal advised me to read the book by Sarai Walker,” says Selenfriend, “and as an avid audiobook fan I worked through it in a matter of days and was pretty enthralled by what I had read. Given the culture of the world in late 2017 and the rising #metoo movement I was amazed by how timely and topical Dietland was and what an amazing project it would be to be a part of. I love my job and every project is great but only a few of them are timed just right to actually be a part of important conversations in the world. This one is timed perfectly. The insane prosthetics I got to provide were just the icing on the cake.”
Phillips read the book the minute she heard about the job. She says she was anxious to get an idea of where Dietland came from. She says she was also fortunate to have dialogue right away with Noxon and the producers, saying: “That got me started with the information I needed to put looks together,
conceiving of the characters.”
Selenfriend says reading the book was a critical step in preparing for the job, as was understanding how Noxon wanted to translate that vision to the screen. Past that, Selenfriend says, “It was just a matter of working in tandem with Krystal and production to develop the aesthetic they were looking for. The show had a lot of trauma and fantasy elements to portray so we wanted to get what the creators were going for just right—a unique blend of fantastical and reality based.”
Once on set, the challenges started to make themselves known. The tight deadlines and constant weather-related schedule shifts (a particularly snowy winter for the East Coast—all the way through spring, if you recall) and the difficult characters.
But the creative team met the challenges head on and came up with some inventive ideas. “While there was a ton of great work I am proud to have created,” explains Selenfriend, “the character of Sana and her burned visage has to be the highlight for me.”
Portrayed by actor Ami Sheth, Sana has a partially scarred face from acid burns sustained in her youth. “Ami is gorgeous,” explains Selenfriend, “so Krystal and I worked hard to come up with a design that utilized her beauty to highlight the disfigurements while still letting Ami’s own face shine through. I feel like we achieved that.”
The initial reference for Sana came from real women with similar stories. The make-up team went back and forth on what would and wouldn’t be too horrific. Ultimately, the decision was made to accentuate the scars but not to beautify them because the nature of the subject matter called for that—and that was the one way they could really drive the character home.
“This show was all about making people uncomfortable and bending some of the norms we are used to seeing on TV,” says Selenfriend. “Generally, a character with this kind of look is not a sympathetic one, it was nice to turn that trope on its heels. When a cast member who had worked with Ami many times finally saw her in the make-up chair at the end of the season and was surprised to learn that she wasn’t actually burned but was wearing prosthetics, I knew we had done our job right.”
Selenfriend got a real break with the Sana make-up. Being that the character had one brief scene in episode two but otherwise wouldn’t be seen again until episode five, gave him the luxury of time to rework the prosthetics. Selenfriend explains: “I was able to extend the appliance much further into Ami’s hairline to accommodate her wig, one of many gorgeous wigs designed by Sarah Hindsgaul [head of hair department] which recedes well past her natural hairline where her scalp is burnt and was able to pull the appliance away from her mouth to a point that would spare us from having to chase edges every take. Having the time to re-sculpt and make those subtle changes was amazing for me. I had never had the time to do anything like that before and it really helped everyone involved. Ami wound up going into that make-up nearly 20 times so it being able to adjust the prosthetics with the luxury of real time to do so was amazing for me.”
Phillips says some of her favorite characters to create were some of Plum’s (the main character) fashion show looks, explaining that up until that point in the show she was having to really play down Joy’s natural beauty, saying: “It was really great to doll her up … We went really outrageous and it was magnificent!”
The show tows a tricky line: serious, funny, sincere and silly, so the make-up team had to create everything from severe trauma to fantasy characters to season-long character make-ups—which all had to work in each unique scenario while still working as a cohesive unit. “It was a challenge to get that balance just right but I feel like we did it,” says Selenfriend. “Krystal and I discussed every single ‘specialty’ make-up that the writers threw our way. She handled a good many of them herself from prosthetics my shop provided. While time was frequently against us I don’t feel there were any prosthetic obstacles that we weren’t able to successfully leap together.”
Both Selenfriend and Phillips praise the collaboration of the creative departments for the success of the show. When working on the anthropomorphic Tiger character, all the departments came together: Talent, prosthetic, hair, make-up, wardrobe, scenic, props, etcetera and created a truly unique and funny scene.
“So many moments on the page sounded like an impossibility but we managed to pull them off over and over,” says Selenfriend, “I really hope that comes across when the show airs. This was a mad dash, fast paced, constant adrenaline series, that tackles some truly difficult subject matter. I really hope it resonates with audiences and we come back for more!”
Watch the Dietland trailer now: