Myke Spezzano was the Head of Makeup on the film 'Help for the Holidays' starring Summer Glau (Firefly, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles) and Eva LaRue (CSI:Miami). Myke has been a makeup artist for over 20 years and he was pivotal in bringing the vision of what Summer’s character had to look like to the screen. One technical detail of this portrayal was that Summer had to sport a pair of pointy ears (think Legolas of Lord of the Rings or Mr. Spock of Star Trek). Judging by the still photographs, Myke’s photos from his blog, and from the video clips that we have posted on this site, it appears he did a great job. And as always, Summer looks radiant and we are sure that Myke worked his magic there too.
For anyone that is interested in reading really interesting reviews of various celebrities, such as Nancy Sinatra and others, we highly recommend you check out Myke’s blog. He offers thorough research and fair treatment of the people he writes about.
Myke, first off, thank you for agreeing to this interview. We are fans of Summer Glau but we are also very interested in all aspects of the work that she does. Makeup is a very big part of getting her ready to get into character. If you have had a chance to see her other work, such as Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, you will see that the extensive use of makeup was critical in making the audience believe that she was a cyborg, made up of living tissue over a metal endoskeleton.
Looking at your blog, we were impressed with the research that you have done into the celebrities that interest you. Full disclosure: we think Nancy Sinatra is an overlooked talent too. Given the restrictions of the times, and the expectations that the public must have put upon her, it is a wonder that she was able to resist the pressure and focus on her art as she did. Your kind treatment of her is both fair and admirable.
What also impressed us about your blog is that you clearly share a quality with Bob Saenz, the writer for 'Help for the Holidays' whom we also interviewed, of being passionate about what you do. And with that passion, you have achieved a mastery of your craft as well as an ongoing interest in improving what you do. You are also very willing to share your knowledge and skill. Reading your blog was not only interesting for the various artists that you described but also for the tips, techniques, and product reviews of the various products and tools that you use.
So, with your kind indulgence, on to the questions:
Myke, on your blog, you talk a lot about your art and celebrities, but you also talk about the craft including products and tools. You seem to have a good balance between your artistic side and the very workmanlike approach that you take. You even go so far as to describe your interest in your early years (amazing memory for detail by the way) including your workshop in your parent’s garage where you tried a lot of different things. Would it be fair to say that you grew into your profession from very early on? What motivated you from so early on?
Myke Spezzano: As a kid I was the only boy to 4 sisters growing up and I can remember always being to myself so maybe that’s where my love of art stemmed from. I was always doing some form of art. When I was in junior high, I used to love drawing floor plans, my dream house that I’d have when I grew up or stores I’d want to own. So for a while I was pretty keen on becoming an architect and well, yea, that didn’t happen. I really enjoyed sketching and later painting was a big thing for me. I even dabble with sculpting for a bit. I hung around my older sister’s Patrica and Susan a lot when I was little, Patty was a dancer and an artist and still does amazing work and Susie well she’s where my love for movies & all things tinsletown came from. It’s a crazy thing, now that i am a makeup artist, the desire to paint is gone, unless its a face.
A lot of Summer’s work has been in the science fiction genre. This film is a departure for her although we believe she is an excellent actress who can tackle anything. Like you, from an early age, Summer had a fascination with performance and creativity to the extent that her parents recognized it and did a lot to encourage it (home schooled, enrolled in ballet, and very supportive). But her desire to create and to perform seems to know no boundaries. Would it be fair to say that you see your art and craft as being without limits, that you would work in any type of film or genre?
Myke Spezzano: As a makeup artist you take jobs that are offered to you or let’s say, that come your way. I have worked in many genres and I know my strengths and my weaknesses. I won’t take a job that I don’t feel I can do with the best of what I know..I am not technically trained, per say. I’m pretty much self taught, and from my experience there are way too many artists that sell themselves really good and then can’t meet the tasks at hand. I just would never want to put someone or myself in that position. So yes, I guess there are limits to one’s craft, but there’s always room for learning..
We understand that you recently worked on another Christmas movie for the Hallmark Channel, ‘Matchmaker Santa.’ How was it working with the Hallmark channel and their production team?
Myke Spezzano: I love the Hallmark Family, but I technically don’t work for them. I work for a production team that makes films for the hallmark channel. And working with them is like being with your family on an extended vacation, it really is, I love my producer, Lincoln Laggeson. He’s become a close friend and a great boss, I am grateful to have worked with him and the Hallmark Family since 2003 , so there’s a long history between me and both teams!
We don’t mean to distinguish Hallmark as anything other than a film company that is interested in doing good work but clearly, they have a particular focus. Was this, in any way, a challenge for you to be creative or was it all just business as usual? What were they like to work with?
Myke Spezzano: As I mentioned earlier, they're a great team to work with. Different productions and scripts have their challenges, they all do and there are times when you have to set your creativity aside and be business as usual to just get the task done.
In the makeup treatment of Summer, did you have a brief to work from or was it purely left up to you? And as an artist, do you get to look at the script early on so that you can learn what you need about the characters and the settings?
Myke Spezzano: When I get my script I sit down a read it really good, then go back over it and take what ever notes I think are important. Then I usually sit with the producers, director and 1st Ad and talk it through. Based on budget, time, location, sometimes things just aren’t going to work so you make adjustments and so on. On bigger films you are allowed camera test and makeup test sessions to get all the kinks out so that you’re all on the right track when you start filing. With “Help For The Holidays”, I had the ear choice and just hoped they fit. The rest of Summer’s makeup looks, I have to say, where made while she sat in my chair.
Reading your blog, we can’t help but think that you are very thorough in your research and you bring a lot to your work. There is probably a lot more going on than what we the regular viewers would pick up on. Would you care to share with us any of your thinking on what you wanted to achieve or what inspired you in working on Summer’s makeup and the prosthetics?
Myke Spezzano: For Summer’s makeup I just thought, 'fairy dust!', I know that she played an elf not a fairy but i just wanted her to glow. I guess in the back of my mind I was thinking, 'Doll', i wanted her to be doll like. I’m not sure why, but that’s what I was thinking. She’s so elfin in real life so I just played up on that. As for the ear prosthetics, oh man, I tried several types of ears, the first pair where longer, much bigger ears and they where just not pretty, effective, but so not pretty. Then a smaller pair that where more like ear tips, they where much to thick and made the upper ear bulbous. I wanted them to just melt into her natural ear shape. If you notices the male elves, they have different shaped ears....
And although you were Summer’s personal makeup artist, of course, we don’t want to restrict this to Summer’s character. Any comments on the makeup of the rest of the cast? Did the production company ask for something specific for one character in particular (apart from the elf ears)?
Myke Spezzano: No, I was free to just do my thing. I took actors ideas and mixed with my own to create their looks.
Those ears were excellent by the way. You would not believe how much discussion that sparked amongst the Summer Glau fandom. Did you get them right the first time or was it a learning, trial-by-error process? Some fans thought that the ears lacked detail compared to the elf ears in Lord of the Rings for example. Maybe they didn’t get that Help for the Holidays is a Christmas movie, not a horror/fantasy film. Just as an aside, have you ever worked on any trolls? You don’t have to answer that.
Myke Spezzano: Thank you so much for saying that, I do appreciate it. Let’s just say what ever ears were to be used had to be pretty ears and not a girl with troll ears, that’s just not a pretty look unless you're a girl troll. Some days I disliked doing those ears with a passion, it was time consuming and there were days that production didn’t care how long I needed to apply and paint them and still get her beauty makeup completed. I had never done ears before so 3 days before we started filming me and my hairdresser, Ali Reyes, just played, and learned how to do it, so yes, very trial and error I would say. But now I know how to do them and towards the end of the shoot it took me 20 minutes to apply.
And it’s all for the better because my next film has more elves in it ! oi!
You said in your blog that you used a honey-hued luminizer on Summer Glau to give her a “fairy-like look.” Did Summer’s makeup change at all between the two settings (in the workshop at the North Pole and with the family in California)? We ask this because many fans have said they did not recognise Summer when she was not in her elf costume; kudos to the hair and makeup department.
Myke Spezzano: Yes. Summer basically had two makeup changes. If you notice when she is in the “real world” and she’s called back to the north pole, she is automatically changed into her elf gear. I used this amazing compact color called Mary Lou Manizier by The Balm Cosmetics, It was perfect! In fact the cinematographer would say, “ Myke she looks a little shinny", in his thick argentinian accent, we would have to remind him by saying "Maximo, she’s an elf" and he would say, “oh yeah, right”. Made me laugh every time.
Purely technical but what is Summer’s skin like to work on? Other makeup artists, such as Robert Hall in TSCC, have described her skin as being like a porcelain doll, very smooth and with fine, close pores. She also has very small features which could make prosthetics a challenge perhaps. Does her skin type and her face shape have any particular requirements or present you with any challenges?
Myke Spezzano: Summer has beautiful, smooth and even toned skin. She took a lot in the makeup beating department that’s for sure. There where many days that the elf ears had to be on then off then back on again in the same day, she was a trouper. And YES! Summer has small features and small ears that where close to her head so it took a little time to get the ear technique figured out!
We understand that you have to be on set during filming as well as be ready in the early morning to get the actors ready for filming. This must lead to some very long days. Do you have to spend a lot of time in the background watching the filming? Do you have to re-apply or touch up the makeup for the actors between takes or before each scene? Is that you working on Summer’s makeup at 0:59 of the behind the scenes video?
Myke Spezzano: Yes, that is me.... and yes once the initial morning is done, when all actors have come through makeup & hair, I head to set and stand by, usually behind the monitor so I can check what she looks like and to maintain the integrity of the look. we call is , “LAST LOOKS”, its when me & hair are allowed to step in and give a last looks before they roll. Hence, the name of my blog.
While you were on set, watching the takes, did you form any impression about Summer’s work or her chemistry with the other actors? How would you describe her approach and preparation?
Myke Spezzano: She was amazing with the child co-stars and her leading man, John Brotherton. They had mad chemistry, at least to my eyes. You can always tell when someone is deep into it, when I am doing makeup, sometimes it’s music blaring, coffee sipping and mouths chatting, then there are times of stillness and quiet....when you know that she was totally in prep mode.
Following on from that question about Summer’s professionalism, did you form any personal impression about Summer?
Myke Spezzano: I adored her. We hit it off right from the get go, we had some communication prior to the film starting, while she was filming Alphas in Canada. So the second she walked in the makeup trailer are connection was made. She knew I had her back and would protect her. Summer is a sweet, thoughtful person, She was so thoughtful with the entire cast. She’s the real deal. I tend to get little crushes on my leads, it makes me do good by them and i think they appreciate it.
We don’t mean to pry into what went on when the two of you were working together (YES WE DO! Liar, liar, pants on fire!) but are there any anecdotes or observations you would like to share? Why we ask is that we know from past research that Summer has quite a sense of humour and she can be a bit mischievous and from your blog, you clearly have a good sense of humour.
Myke Spezzano: She is pretty funny and i would do my impersonation of CHER as if she was Rizzo in Grease or we talked in accents. We had some fun and she is liked by everyone. You really can’t say anything bad about her and you wouldn’t want to.... it was a hard show for us, the hours & the schedule alone, you get really close really fast on these types of productions and many thing get shared. Other than that I have to respect that time together.
Eva LaRue was on CSI:Miami and played a challenging role with some tough, demanding scenes with her fellow actors. She was intense. How would you describe the scenes with Summer and Eva? From the summary we read, it appears that Summer’s character has quite an uphill battle in trying to adjust to the new setting and to the demands of the family.
Myke Spezzano: Well, you know I just concern myself with the beauty elements of it all really. They had some great scenes together. Eva’s character had its challenges. She plays a working mom, who just doesn’t have the Christmas spirit. She and her husband run a Christmas store so for them the Christmas cheers is a paycheck, and her lack of spirit affects her kids in a sad way. Then Christine shows up and starts to undermine her rules. So those scenes to me where acted with so much more meaning than what I think was intended in the script. They are both such great talents and I am looking forward to seeing their work.
Eva and I have been acquaintances on and off for about 20 years so it was so amazing to work with her again and finally be able to call her friend. I would work with her on anything!
Myke, your study of classic film stars and other artists leads us to ask how much their work informs your choices. Your interest in their work is surely just for more than the makeup but have you learned anything in particular about your craft and your art from the work of other makeup artists or from the performances of these actors that you admire so much?
Myke Spezzano: Great questions! All my work steams from my love of classic films and the leading ladies of that time and up to the 80’s. They are all my reference guides, my muses. I used imagery from films a lot, for example, on my last film I wanted the actress, Emily Rose to look strong, stern, yet still sexy, so i would refer to that as, “let’s go Hitchcock blonde”, it’s homage to the blondes from films like Vertigo!
Myke, what upcoming projects can we look forward to for you? Do you have any dream projects that you would like to work on?
Myke Spezzano: Well, I have a film PLAYING FATHER, coming soon Directed by Eriq La Salle starring Eddie Cibrian. And getting ready to do yet another movie for Hallmark that has yes, more elves. Dream projects? I am working on writing one right now. We will see!
Myke: thank you so much for taking the time and for your effort in answering these questions. We wish you every success and sincerely hope that we see more of your work. And we look forward to reading more of your blog. To the readers, we highly recommend Myke’s blog
called 'Last look with Myke the makeup guy' for his wit, insights, and breadth of knowledge that he so willingly shares.
'Help for the Holidays' premieres on Hallmark on Sunday, December 9 at 8/7c.
Christmas movies usually carry with them joy, happyness, romance and Christmas spirit. 'Help for the Holidays' has them all and has magic on top of that
A big thank you to our gifted member Alex for writing the questions and the introduction.