“‘Fargo’ is shot in the coldest, bleakest weather possible,” makeup department head Gail Kennedy says, perhaps a bit too cheerfully.

Kennedy is a native of Calgary, the shooting location for both seasons of FX’s episodic spinoff from Joel and Ethan Coen’s 1996 cult classic film. That might be what allows her to keep smiling while she helps the actors, most from south of the border, try to control their chattering teeth.

“We all do our best to keep people warm,” says Kennedy, whose work on “Fargo” is up for an Emmy for outstanding makeup for a miniseries or movie. (She won for 2007’s “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.”)

Kennedy says the makeup crew is careful not to apply anything that might freeze on the skin. “We use triple the moisturizer, and we’re fast with our resets so the actors can finish their scenes and get into the warmth. Adhesives don’t react the same way in dry cold, either. That was particularly challenging with all of the facial hairpieces in season two.”

If the temperature dips too low, Kennedy and her team have to keep the actors’ makeup bags under their parkas so nothing freezes. “We look like down-feather beach balls,” she admits.

“Adhesives don’t react the same way in dry cold. That was particularly challenging with all of the facial hairpieces in season two.”
Gail Kennedy

In season one of the show, Kennedy helped create the look of the meek, downtrodden lead character, Lester Nygaard, played by Martin Freeman. He transforms into a more confident man halfway through the series, but not before his nose is broken and he suffers a wounded hand that becomes infected — physical impairments handled by Kennedy’s special-effects makeup team.

The second season of the Golden Globe- and Emmy-winning anthology series aired in 2015; production on season three is set to start later this year.

Kennedy says the workload keeps her team of seven hopping. “At one point we were running four units — two at night and two during the day,” she says.

In season two, Kennedy and her crew — including assistant makeup department head Joanne Preece, key makeup artist Gunther Schetterer, and makeup FX artist Dave Trainor — dialed back the styles of the 1979-set drama to five years earlier, in order to be consistent with what a small Midwest community would look like at the time. The palette for the series was based on the look of old Polaroid photos and on Kennedy’s own memory.

“In 1979,” says Kennedy, “I was about the same age as the character Peggy Blumquist [Kirsten Dunst], so I had a plethora of research material in my own photo albums. I’m originally from Helena, Montana, and the sophistication level there was about the same as rural Minnesota.”

Frontier Spirit
Gail Kennedy has more than 50 film and TV credits, many on period projects.
Lewis and Clark (2018)
Kennedy is makeup department head for the coming HBO miniseries about the explorers who mapped the Northwest Passage.
Passchendaele (2008)
She was department head for the WWI-set romance between a soldier and a nurse in Canada and on the battlefield of Belgium.
Into the West (2005)
She was nominated for two Emmys for this miniseries set in 19th-century America.
Legends of the Fall (1994)
She helped Brad Pitt, Anthony Hopkins, Aiden Quinn, and Julia Ormond look good while braving the wilderness of Montana (actually Alberta and British Columbia) in Edward Zwick’s Golden Globe nominee.

Kennedy sourced magazine ads from the period to see what drugstores were selling at the time. She then found modern cosmetics that replicated those products.

Also in season two, Kennedy met the challenge of transitioning the character of Otto Gerhardt, played by Michael Hogan, from a powerful 60-year-old patriarch to an aphasic stroke victim with severe frostbite. Add in a flashback of him in his early 40s, all done just with makeup — no prosthetics — and it’s clear to see why Kennedy’s contributions to “Fargo” are on the Emmy shortlist.