Oftentimes, we forget that the magic behind a successful television show is due to the creative team behind it – including the individuals that do the hair and makeup.They bring life to characters (literally) with their immense talent and dedication. I had the distinct pleasure of speaking with award-winning makeup designer, Tarra Day, who was an absolute delight to speak with. She has a resume full of so many amazing accomplishments including working on the final season of Breaking Bad. She has worked with some of the biggest names in the business and her stories of each experience are such a thrill to hear about.
She most recently worked on the Netflix series, Godless, starring Downton Abbey’s Michelle Dockery, and created “no-makeup” looks for the badass females on the show, along with rugged, rough looks for all the characters. She is an Emmy contender for her work on the series, and coming up, she will be working on another Netflix series, Messiah. Her fabulous work can also be seen on the upcoming period movie, The Green Book starring Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen.
Check out our conversation below as she talks to me about how she got into the industry and what her journey has been like thus far!
How did you get into makeup design and was it something you always wanted to do? It wasn’t something I always wanted to do. I was into stand-up comedy and acting in my early 20’s. I moved to California with mom near San Diego. We had moved there together, and she became ill and I was going to up to LA to get a manager. There was a moment where I was commuting to LA and sitting in my manager’s classroom where I was thinking how I was another blond hair/blue eyed girl that wanted to act and I’m not sure this is what I want to do. I just thought about it and had a conversation about getting into makeup.
I woke up one morning and remembered this conversation and decided to go with it. I had a friend who had retired and was introduced to someone who gave me a job in cinema secrets in a salon who catered to hair and makeup people and actors. I started working for him and taking classes. I didn’t have any money and decided to go for it. I started meeting people and learning everything I could learn and Maurice was so generous and kind and helped me. I worked at the store until I started getting gigs, slowly and surely building my resume and here I am!
You’ve done and been recognized for your work in Breaking Bad, which you joined in its final season. What was it like joining the team in the last season and bringing your expertise to developed characters/story? They had a whole hair and makeup team for four years. When I came in, I think there was a shift in the direction they wanted to go. I’m a perfectionist and when I came on and speaking to Vince Gilligan, who is a stickler for continuity and detail. And so when I joined the team, it really meshed in a way that might not have before.
When Bryan Cranston would have to have a broken nose or black eye, we would take pictures of the continuity and put them up on the trailer. We would have a breakdown of the script and every single day that the black eye would work until it would heal. We would have script day one, bruise day two. He tested everything and nothing went on camera until it was approved by Vince.
I had done things like that before, but now when I do things I test everything and I want to see what it looks like and improve it until it gets to be the best I can get it. You have to let your intuitive self take charge, and I really like that. Vince helped me a lot with that. I work with Jeff Daniels frequently and he also taught me to stick to what I feel instead of what I’m thinking all the time. It really gave me a great tool for my creative process.
I’ve read a little bit about the upcoming Netflix series Messiah, which you worked on, along with upcoming movie The Green Book, which are both time-period specific pieces. What was the creative process like for both and what was that experience like for you and how is it different/similar to other projects you’ve worked on? Research, research, research! It’s really kind of trying to be very conscious of being authentic and really organic to the period. Working on Green Book was an exceptional rare experience. Working with Viggo Mortensen, and we have a really good relationship, and the hairdresser and I have been working together for 20 years and we both came on board because of Viggo.
Doing Green Book for the director, who has primarily done comedy, we created a tight knit bond. And it was working with each other every day and going through the process and doing research and pulling up hairstyle and makeup and being period correct. It’s the prep and research that helps you be dead-on. When something doesn’t fit, it takes the audience out of the movie so it’s important to collaborate and work together.
You are an Emmy contender for the work you did on Netflix’s Godless (and I’m totally jealous considering Michelle Dockery is my favorite actress in the world!). The series has very strong female characters who are living in the Wild West. How did you create the look for the women of the show? I did Michelle’s makeup every day, she was my actress. She is just a beautiful human, inside and out. She was amazing and she is a trooper. She just came in prepared every single day, and I have to say the entire cast was like that. We had a lot of women, and all of them were supportive and respectful of each other. It was like a gigantic family and everyone took care of each other. She was inclusive of everyone, along with Jeff Daniels and many of the others. Going into work was a good day, every day. Every person had their own personality and we tried to facilitate that into their looks and costumes and hair and makeup and scars. We wanted them all to be different and have their own thing so they didn’t get lost in the crowd.
What I really love about Godless is that many of the female characters exude a flawless “no makeup” look. Now, I’m not sure if that’s totally natural or if some work has to be put in to create a no makeup look. Can you tell me about how that process works? You have to be really cognizant of skin and skincare. The climate is really dry, so sunscreen and prepping the skin. I like to see skin coming through the makeup–like freckles. You need to just accentuate their features, like if someone has really strong eyes you want to focus on that. I like to use natural, organic products so I try very hard to keep clean makeup in the trailer. Like with Michelle and creating dirt on her so we use pigment. You have to have a light hand and have to have a really good eye to make sure you’re not overdoing it. I believe less is more!
If you could pick a show/movie from the past or present to work on, which would it be and why? I think the original Blade Runner, just because at the time it came out, it was so revolutionary. Ridley Scott is so amazing. He is such a brilliant director and the makeup and looks and costume design, and everything about Blade Runner is phenomenal to me.
What are your favorite types of genres to work in? Is there one you would like to but haven’t had the opportunity? I like something that is going to challenge me. I don’t like to stay in my comfort zone because I feel like I’m not learning anything. So I like to do something that is going to challenge my skills and creativity. I don’t want to stay complacent.
Future projects to look out for? We just started prepping Messiah and we start shooting June 1st, it’s going to be a 6-month deal. It will have its challenges for sure and I’m looking forward to. We’re just meeting cast, and creating looks and getting started. I’m really proud of Green Book and I think it will come out in November. I look forward to seeing that! It will be my next one to promote.
Keep up to date with Tarra Day’s upcoming projects on her Twitter.