Press-conference - The little things : Virtual Press Conference with Makeup Artist Donald Mowat

By Mulder, Zoom Event, 16 february 2021

The little things is a psychological thriller. Oscar-winning actors Denzel Washington, Rami Malek and Jared Leto are reunited on screen in The Little Things: A tormented deputy sheriff, an ambitious detective and a serial killer. An investigation that unearths the demons of the past and turns into an obsession... Denzel Washington (Training day, Glory), Rami Malek (Bohemian rhapsody) and Jared Leto (Dallas buyers club) share the poster for the thriller, directed by John Lee Hancock (The blind side, in Mary's shadow - the promise of Walt Disney, the founder), who also wrote the original script.

While Deputy Sheriff Joe "Deke" Deacon (Denzel Washington) is sent to Los Angeles on a simple mission, he finds himself involved in the hunt for a serial killer who terrorizes the city. Impressed by Deke's hunch, Sergeant Jim Baxter (Rami Malek) of the L.A. Sheriff's Department, who is in charge of the investigation, asks for his help - unofficially. Yet, unbeknownst to Baxter, his investigation reveals long buried aspects of Deke's past that could threaten more than the investigation.

The cast also includes Natalie Morales (battle of the sexes), Terry Kinney (22 miles, Billions), Chris Bauer (Sully, The deuce), Joris Jarsky (Bad blood), Isabel Arraiza (pearson) and Michael Hyatt (crazy ex-girlfriend). "A Matter of Details is produced by Oscar and Emmy Award winning Mark Johnson (Breaking bad, Rain man) and Hancock. Mike Drake and Kevin McCormick are executive producers. Hancock's loyal collaborators include Oscar-nominated cinematographer John Schwartzman (Thoroughbred, The Legend of Seabiscuit, The Founder, In Mary's Shadow - Walt Disney's Promise), Oscar-nominated chief designer Michael Corenblith (Apollo 13, The Founder, The Blind Side), chief editor Robert Frazen (The Founder), and chief costume designer Daniel Orlandi (The Founder, The Blind Side). The music is by Thomas Newman (1917, Spy Bridge, In Mary's Shadow - Walt Disney's Promise). Warner Bros. Pictures presents "A Matter of Details", produced by Gran Via and distributed worldwide by Warner Bros. Pictures.

Q : Do you want work hand in hand with actors to kind of get the overall picture of the character ?

Donald Mowat : Hi Tony, you know we do but I always feel like i come from a place where I don't think you can have costume hair and makeup all working at one time. Sometimes you have to step away a little bit and i mean Daniel Orlandy and I worked really well together but i knew it was sort of not it was a costume he was wearing a uniform i think the struggle for me sometimes on movies is everybody want to have their work showcased and it's just too many elements and this really odd thing with makeup hair costume where it can be, i guess sort of overkill and i was already up against that with Jared wanting to experiment with some. I’m never going to say over the top it's his choice and we build the character together it's his character but i work really you know we worked well hair makeup costume we're a very collaborative team on this film and it was a smaller film for most of us like with very little time and i felt like i had the most to do in two weeks in terms of manufacturing and sculpting and other things to get something made.

Q : I have enjoyed a lot of your work because when I’m looking over all the films you've done a lot of your work actually seems invisible very naturalistic style and I’m wondering what you use as inspirational forces for you know like a film like this or is this obviously coming from Jared Leto you think he's making some big choices with the characters design but then you're having to kind of pull that back into a more naturalistic ?

Donald Mowat : you know i don't know it just feels to me that simple is really difficult to do, it's difficult in clothes for sure in costumes but it's really difficult in makeup and hair because first i mean and it's not i mean people do you know Bridgeton is these amazing but you know what you're getting and they do incredible work and building you know huge wigs and makeup but anything that i think the audience knows are these very highly stylized which take great talent and skill but i think sometimes when you do something that's based in reality if they don't see it they somehow think it's not a makeup achievement or a hair you know with Jared i was really careful because i love him so much and worked well with him but we had the experience on Blade Runner 2049 with the contact lenses which seriously i thought would send me into the hospital of trying to get the right color and
three percent more yellow. I'm the same as he is i can't say he's an eccentric because then i would be locked up because i'm the guy that stays up at night you know on First man saying does beard stubble grow in space the same way as on our planet and that's part of why i do what i do but i take that as a compliment working the way it's more based in reality which i think is hard to do and it's a huge challenge.

Q : Hi Donald, good evening , 'm a big fan of yours i love Sicario i love First man, i believe this film will win the Oscars for here and made her makeup and hair and makeup because this will be the third win for Jared Leto you know my question is how was the first day of shoot when you were when you were channeling the character Albert Sparma into Jared Leto how was the first shoot letting you breathing life into it ?

Donald Mowat : you know the first day was very hard because the way it was scheduled from his prep time as he came into the film. We were shooting the very first day was just to warm him up he was where I’d given him the teeth a few days earlier we were working with the contact lenses so there were adjustments for Jared. I had a little bit of a meltdown because we long story short we sculpted six different noses for him of different shapes and sizes and it was really hard to get to the commitment point of saying which one are we using so i actually changed. There's the very first time you see him in the film is a different nose than what he wore and i kind of melted down thinking are we making is this going to kill me will people notice and luckily we knew we had a wide shot and a reveal so I’m going to say the first day was a little bit fraught for me Jared was a champion he was so helped help me and my team make it work and he was just it was fantastic so I felt that i saw Sparma i think the day before um i kind of knew this would this was what this character is because he didn't look like a guy i've seen in North Hollywood working in some of those repair stores and i felt it would be ok.

Q : hello Donald what can you tell us about your collaboration on this movie with John Lee Hancock ?

Donald Mowat : hello he was fantastic. He's one wonderful writer I’ve seen his work before he was kind enough to ask me to be on the film and he trusted that i knew what i was doing and i really love that occasionally just every once in a while you work on something where people let you do what you know how to do and he trusted me to work with Jared and come up with some ideas and he really, he didn't i hate to say interfere but he didn't interfere he came in he saw what the final i showed him a few images of what we were working on a couple of the noses, the teeth and he loved it and i thought he was wonderful to work with him.

Q : hello Donald hello there's lots of dead bodies here. How did you even prepare for a work like this ? What kind of research process Did you do or what experiences have you in designing all this makeup for the bodies ?

Donald Mowat : you know, i worked on sicario we had a number of bodies that i had to sort of remake up and do hair on them and put tattoos and things it's a bit macabre and grizzly but i kind of enjoy it and they don't talk back to you and nobody checks in the mirror but it was a sensitive subject matter we were extremely aware of that and i have to say the ladies we had five who were the victims were lovely and we called them all in advance I’ve done a lot of research through pathology and I’ve worked on lots of films where we have you know bodies what was hard on this one was the forensic you know people are so are so interested in the first 48 and all those television shows so they really know what these things look like so recreating murders and things is difficult for some people we did it the ladies we worked with were fantastic my team were like spot on and we actually could have a few laughs and i would say the hardest thing we're taking an actual dummy an animatronics dummy for the one character Tiffany that we had to have a dummy recreated in her resembling her accurately and that was anatomically correct so we had to fix match all the wounds from a puppet essentially and the same thing with the removing the shrapnel from Mary Roberts over here on the shoulder. We had to recreate that on the girl as well as an insert prop. It's kind of fascinating and i worked really closely with the technicians and autopsy technician that was there and our police advisor.

Q : hello, well congrats on your work. It's a very interesting movie so could you please tell a little bit more details about creating on Jared's look and what was the most challenging about creating this image and look ?

Donald Mowat : you know i think when i first so what happened was once we knew it was Jared he was signed on we had very limited time i had a basically a two week it was literally 14 or 15 days and i knew Jared from another film and that he is. His process is intense and it's kind of wonderful but it's a little bit nerve-wracking because you are looking at the clock and the minute i went up to meet him I met at his home we had a nice talk and he showed me what he was thinking of we were very much on the same page I didn't know if i could do it all in two weeks. You know it's not so easy you have to get a nose sculpted you need a life cast i found a long story short he had a life cast and scans for Morbius which had just finished filming in the UK. I had to track down all those people get their permission send it to my sculptor this all happened in two weeks it was a very intense prep the acne the teeth i had to get a dental impression so you start calling everyone we're a small community but i think we ended up from LA to the UK to Sweden back here and then the noses were done and i could test one on Jared in under a week.

Q : it's nice to be able to speak with you we talked a lot about Jared Leto i guess it's like maybe i should ask it's like whether what were some of the maybe this other challenges you had on this films like with either Denzel Washington's look or some of the other characters that we may not know it's like what did what your impact was just like right away ?

Donald Mowat : so you know we had a great well i had a great team i mean Denzel's had the same makeup man legendary Carl Fullerton. I believe that may have been his last or second to last film before he retired so Carl looked after everything to do with Denzel and i looked after rami as well so really and getting the girls and all the victims work it was it was a pretty tall order with a short prep period here in LA of a smaller movie for a lot of us Romney was fantastic it was a turn for him he wanted this very clean-cut look and it wasn't complicated it certainly was you know for us by the numbers but he's lovely to work with and i think the short time we were filming it was a departure for him Denzel i mean what can you say it's just legendary easy to watch him work. I'd say apart from Romney really the work was with the girls and the recreations because there's always someone who says no it doesn't look like that and there were questions from people you know about blood and i think various points of story and i forgot that in crime type thrillers the makeup department really has to be very involved in terms of are they dead looking enough is this an accurate decomposition and there's always an expert who will question so you have to be very on point and prepared for all of that.

Q : my question is more general. I know Denzel has his personal and you know there was a lot of work involved with the prosthetics can you speak more generally though elaborating on your earlier comment about the simplicity of the contemporary and how challenging it is right and talk a little bit about what makes making something in the recent past in the 90s in terms of grooming and makeup a little bit challenging so that the audience knows it in the past but you know that it's slightly different like what are some of the distinguishing differences ?

Donald Mowat : that's really interesting well i think in a more recent period I think the hair tells the story a little bit more about certainly when you're doing 80s and 90s i mean makeup is more subtle i think my only issue with the very recent past and it's hard to think that the 90s are period right but when you do look back and you sort of see slightly longer hair a bit more makeup on the women but i feel like we really stayed neutral because i think you can get caught out very easily if you're on a film where you've got all these cops you know we just followed very strict rules like cops with no tattoos that's been a huge recent change so for me as far as being a makeup artist and running a department my team were always looking at something you never would have seen in certain periods like tattoos on the men visible and on the women and gel nails things like that that to me stand out like a sore thumb but i don't know if we really would say there's a period makeup or hair look on the film i think it's more neutral and it doesn't take you out of the film where suddenly you know like the 70s everyone does it with sideburns but you know not everyone had that i guess that's what i'm getting at.

Q : my question is just generally what was the most exciting part for you doing your job on this film ?

Donald Mowat : you know i think when we finally when we finally turned over on Jared and i saw him the walk how much work he had done on his physical. You know it's also an interesting thing to point out you know for a guy for an actor who wasn't able to cut his hair or shave his beard off which is what most people would sort of say why don't you change them that way. I think it was a kind of a remarkable transformation of a guy who looks this way from 30 seconds from Mars and recent films that we were able to transform him with you know from here to here and i was kind of.. i was really pleased i was really happy and when i saw him walk that first time you see him and it just everything the way he spoke I was really delighted and we had a great moment and you know he would say to me you know i don't think the nose is big enough and i would just say you're going to send me right over an edge here that you know you want a Schnauze and I gave it to you so the very first day he did say to me do you think it's too big maybe after all that and i thought I will kill you right now but it was a wonderful experience to see him and then that first scene in the interrogation room with Romney and Jared and Denzel was just these three people and kind of legends right in a room working together was it was you know it was fantastic.

Q : so my question for you is more or less kind of about your career i know you've got 30 plus years in this industry but with each film do you feel like you learned something different about yourself and with the film like this one did you feel like it stretched you as an artist ?

Donald Mowat : you know i guess you never think you'll be doing it for 30 years one you think that you're going to get fired or you'll give up or something will happen you become you have moments i think every 10 years but i feel like every film you do learn something whether it's you know I’ll never do that again i will never like there's certain things you know if you only have for instance well now with covid for instance i would never take on a makeup that would take over a certain amount of time because the pressure for us now i can't even explain is in the protocols but you do learn and i think with those bodies i felt like there was a way we had to be, i think we've always been very sensitive to the actors needs particularly our female cast in a situation like that so i added an extra body makeup artist who was you know obviously you know always female. I think we've taken new steps to ensure the comfort and real safety and having presence of our department is mandatory on set now so when clothes are off or there's a very delicate or sensitive scene. We are literally standing right behind camera it'll be usually myself plus one or two other people.

Q : hi, obviously you've added a lot of style to the movies that you've worked on but part of that i feel like is also substance that you've added there's a lot of substance. I’m wondering as an artist at what point does style become part of a film substance and how challenging is it to balance the two ?

Donald Mowat : it's really interesting. Well, you know when you do learn something on every film as we were just talking about what i learned over the years is i never thought of myself as a fat like work being based in fashion but actually it does sometimes I’ll think about it and kind of you know there's certain things you have to take back like you know tom ford's nocturnal animals we stylize things like these bodies that you see that are highly visual stylized fashion so i think there are elements of that that I’ve brought into different films certainly in sicario i did that with Emily Blunt because there's we've all seen that where people try so hard that the FBI girl is you know she's like this tough woman and i think I’ve i like to help the actor maybe do it with a sense of realism that can also be stylish and some. I think just a different point of view of how we see these characters and i think with Jared what was important. I know to him because he really went it was big the first couple of things, he was looking like some of the pictures looked like you know uh serial killers you've seen on the news over the years and everyone would know what you're trying to recreate and it's not subtle and he had enough trust in me to say well what do you think and i said let's take it back take it back and find a place and i think that's the sort of style and substance maybe that come together for me. I hate it when someone sits looking at the makeup because i feel like i failed my director and the cast if they're going wow that is that nose is amazing. You just want it to disappear and also if you look too creepy that was the thing then obviously you know I’ve always loved films since i was a kid where sometimes the person who looks the bad guy is not the bad guy. I think that was very important in this.

Q : You're originally from Montreal. My question to you is being so successful and so busy and working as a team how important it is to keep physically and mentally in shape ?

Donald Mowat : well I mean this is the million dollar question most of us didn't and it was a huge problem. I’ve only just realized you know we love what we do and it's a privilege to be able to spend your life working at something you love I mean you all love what you do and I love what I do but I think that there was the when they talk about life work balance I have no idea what that is i mean it was a very difficult acceptance for me to say I’m getting a little bit older not as in shape the business is very bad on bodies it's very bad the 14, 15, 16 hours that turn around but we love it and i think it's punishment but we love what we do and i think when i work and i mentor some students here in la and I’ve done in the UK and a little bit in Canada I do stress to them as much as possible to really reconsider like try to get in shape try to stay in shape because it's well it's impossible to get in Shape if you've never been in shape and if you worked on film sets all your life you make a choice of do I get four hours sleep or do i go to a gym and I think not so much an excuse but I think it is a very hard lifestyle and I’ve lasted this long but boy there's a lot of people who don't and I never you know for a minute forget many people I’ve come up with in the business did not last this long because it kills your body and the stress is tough and that's not changed unfortunately with covid so I mean I would hate to you know put a cloud on this but you know then you come back to Little things and we had a good work schedule and we had a very well one of my favorite producers because you're well treated and you get crude properly so I can't say enough about certain productions do try to help you do your job the best possible way.

Q : i got to ask you about Dune how do you approach makeup wise doing this so it stands out and is original and doesn't get compared to the miniseries or David lynch's version ?

Donald Mowat : right well you know i think that we just that was i think the brilliance of Denis Villeneuve who I’ve worked with many times and i think i know enough now how to work with him that we could do something different and surprising and switch it up a little bit so I think there'll be a lot of excitement when that comes because he's done things that other people maybe wouldn't have the courage. I shouldn't say that but it's he is someone that will change a character's gender or you know it could be a character well Emily Blunt was written as a man and he changed it to a woman so and made it a fantastic character. So i think you'll see a lot of that in doom and we're very excited about it

Q : i like the Bene Gesserit look by the way really cool ..

Donald Mowat : our version.. I was very stressed about it because but we did something different with another group so i think there's some looks that end up in different places and of course the Dune world there's so many aficionados that I was like overwhelmed that can tell you like no but that character's this and that and they would have this and you suddenly feel like you have to read all the books to know what they're talking about all right.

Q : You have this long career i was curious like about what may have been some of the technical advancements that has occurred it's like during your career as well as what are some of the additional skills that you had to pick up along the way either prosthetics things along those lines. It's like working with CGI it's like or how it works on CGI could you explain a little bit it's like maybe that challenge of always having to be on the edge ?

Donald Mowat : well i think technically so when I started really as a kid I was very young i mean i was initially doing more prosthetic work when i started you know i came up in Canada through you know CBC and the national film board but my first or second film was The fly. I was the assistant so it was a prosthetic makeup and then I moved out of that after realizing people really treat it very differently as though it's not makeup it's prosthetics and to me it's not makeup is makeup and then actors would be nervous around you were thinking you can't make them up or put lipstick on because you do prosthetics so I really took myself out of that intentionally and also realizing you have to make a living and you're not going to make a real living only doing a specific makeup the rest of your life. You know when we went from tv movies were 35 well they were 16 millimeters then 35. So, I really enjoyed a career in feature films and television films never worked that much in videotape and then of course the red camera came and freaked everybody out and make up and I just went along and said don't react do not react to the hype and of course. I’m not a techno guy it's a miracle I can do zoom because when they tell me things, I’m like I don't know what you're talking about. I think with the cg aspect digital aspect I learned a lot from David Fincher on The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo because I was kind of a movie makeup snob going digital and so when we did The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo it was digital and it was beautiful and i realized how after working on that film and then having the great good fortune to work with Roger Deakins and his team and James became such good friends that I’ve learned everything I know about the Alexa camera and how great it is and how it can you see the work right away so you make those makeup adjustments when i started you would wait for a week sometimes for dailies to find out if the skin tones were too light or too dark or if they knew how to light somebody much darker next to somebody lighter I mean it was so many technical things that we waited on and now you pretty much see what you're getting and I kind of love it visual effects I have a love-hate relationship with as many makeup artists do because on blade runner they made me crazy I really struggled because their manpower is so huge next to ours and they need lots of details from us like recreations of makeups or starting a makeup and then they finish it but we our staff and numbers and budgets haven't changed to reflect that so we'd be doing blade runner and at the end of the day they'd want to scan all our actors in the makeup or the joy pink so it was i love working with them but i think the industry hasn't kept up with our side of it necessarily to keep up with the staffing demands and what they need because basically they get things in pieces and they're not in it for in the morning so we tend to get very grumpy around some of that.

Q : in the last act, you have a psychologically beaten and scarred Rami Malek and again your work is so subtle there the makeup in Ramy Malek helps landing the point of his trauma what kind of work did you do with him in order to achieve this

Donald Mowat : i think really just by the end of the film i mean he's exhausted i think he's a tightly wound character he's very preppy he's not something you see typically in the police he had a very preppy look I think it was tight tightly wound super clean shaved i think by the end you could see there was something coming through really dark under his eyes red I remember shooting that and i had we went back and forth so I had to do it right there in the desert and we had Jared working and a double so at that point it was it was really great because i like to see that the change of the temperature of the character's skin and that you know that Jared is very oily and shiny intentionally from here and that I sort of did the same thing on ram it made a uh something about the temperature of their skin being the same at that point which is a strange thing to say but there was something in it for me that it made them more similar if that makes sense but there's something there.

Q : so, I’m just going to go ahead and apologize for completely derailing this, Donald, but I do have I don't get to talk to people like you very often and so war paint beard and brow gel. I’m one that you mentioned before the 70s is represented by sideburns. I think the band the pandemic will be rented are represented by bad beards and I think that is this something that i could use to get this nonsense underfoot roll because I’m about a day away from shaving it and i saw this when i was researching I thought maybe there's some there's a little bit of all right with the beard.

Donald Mowat : well you know, i think it's a thing don't they say it's a state of mind men with facial hair it's a certain it's really interesting because when you design a character that wears a beard on a film it's very interesting because often we don't do it directors don't like it because you miss some of the emotion and the performance to me is always in the center of the face but I think you can make your beard like Oscar Isaac beard in you know and Dune is a really. It's an impressive. It's a beard it's one to be proud of I think you should use the all the beard treatments I think to shape it a little and you could trim it just saying i think you need to trim this i think it makes. No you need to trim it a little well.

Q : I think you mentioned it hides the emotion but it also hides some of the chins from the quarantine that I’ve gained

Donald Mowat : that's why people just you know. It's like the upper lip i know people say that but then sometimes you could look at it this way is if you feel you have a weak chin which I don't think you do but you could say that then you know the guy's got a beard because he's hiding a chin so is, he hiding something. I think facial hair looks great. I mean I think it looks great just use but you have to use those oils and the shampoos and treat it as its own entity no it looks good on you thank you our other guys got a beard Tracey's got it looks good .

Q : You have worked several times with great actors as Daniel Craig, Jake Gyllenhaal, Jared Leto Mark Wahlberg, Ryan Gosling . do you have an anecdote to tell us about that ?

Donald Mowat : well eventually i have to break up with all of them because what happens is. You see when you work with the ladies which I you know Emily Blunt and different women they're not that they're fickle but I think they rely less on the makeup whereas the actors rely much more on the makeup because they don't know they really have to get someone that can handle making them look good or bad or a beard or blood i love all those guys i've been staying friends you know Jake Gyllenhaal is for me is just such a marvelous actor and become a good friend. Daniel I like them all I think I stick more to one or two of them because they the projects they do interest me more maybe and jake i think takes on very interesting projects and he's immensely talented and he's been a very good friend to me Daniel, I was very sad to not do the last Bond but i couldn't refuse Dune. I just couldn't and Daniel such a great man that he understood when I explained it to him but you know I’m very lucky to work with some really excellent people and they're great guys all of them.

Donald Mowat is one of the industry’s most sought-after makeup artists. As makeup department head/designer on such films as Blade Runner 2049, Stronger, Sicario, Nightcrawler, Prisoners, The Fighter and 8 Mile and as personal makeup artist for Daniel Craig on Spectre and Skyfall, Donald’s skill and professionalism have kept him in constant demand for the last thirty years. Accomplished in every genre of film and television – straight and corrective beauty, character makeup, period drama, out of kit special effects/casualty – his awards include a Primetime Emmy, a Saturn award, two Hollywood Makeup Artists Guild awards and two Gemini awards. Donald has two British Academy film awards nominations for Nocturnal Animals and Blade Runner 2049. Recent releases include Damien Chazelle’s First Man starring Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy and the Netflix original Velvet Buzzsaw, written and directed by Dan Gilroy and starring Jake Gyllenhaal. Upcoming releases include Denis Villeneuve’s highly anticipated adaptation of the Frank Herbert classic science fiction novel, Dune, for which Donald was Makeup Department Head/Makeup Hair and Prosthetics Designer, and John Lee Hancock’s The Little Things, staring Jared Leto and Denzel Washington, which has been in theatres from 29th January.

Synopsis :
Deke, deputy sheriff of Kern County, recently victim of a burn-out, must team up with LASD detective Baxter to find a serial killer. Deke is as intuitive as he is rebellious to authority, the opposite of Baxter. At the same time as the investigation, the deputy sheriff sees a dark secret of his past resurface...

The Little Things
Directed by John Lee Hancock
Produced by Mark Johnson, John Lee Hancock
Written by John Lee Hancock
Starring Denzel Washington, Rami Malek, Jared Leto
Music by Thomas Newman
Cinematography: John Schwartzman
Edited by Robert Frazen
Production company : Gran Via Productions
Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures
Release date: January 29, 2021 (United States)
Running time: 127 minutes

We would like to thanks Emily Lu for invite us to this virtual press conference and Donald Mowat for answered to our questions.