‘Feud: Bette and Joan’ Makeup Artist on Her Long Collaboration With Ryan Murphy

Eryn Krueger Mekash marvels at the timing of her frequent collaborator Ryan Murphy. The makeup artist started working with the showrunner on “Nip/Tuck,” and has served as makeup department head, prosthetic makeup artist, and makeup designer on nearly all of his subsequent projects. That’s given her a front-row seat from which to witness the way Murphy taps into the nation’s zeitgeist on shows like “Glee,” “Scream Queens,” and “American Crime Story.”

When Murphy approached her about “Feud: Bette and Joan,” the FX anthology series that highlights the friction between Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, she was thrilled — and inspired by his devotion to the details of old Hollywood, and by the series’ relevance to the struggles of women. “I knew he would hit it out of the park,” Mekash says.

Murphy prefers a less-is-more approach with makeup design, and Mekash’s efforts on his behalf have won her four Emmys out of 26 Emmy nominations. With her understanding of his tastes in mind, she began her research for “Feud” by looking over vintage makeup books and period photos. The series includes 150 characters, hundreds of extras, and multiple time periods, so Mekash had a number of looks to refine and replicate.

Recognizing the powerful acting chops that Susan Sarandon (Bette) and Jessica Lange (Joan) would bring to their characters, Mekash decided not to diminish their facial expressiveness, and instead rely on contouring and vintage eye and lip colors to enhance their appearance. With her ideas drawn out, she met with Murphy and head hairstylist Chris Clark to solidify looks that were realistic, and avoided camp.

The minute she signed on to the eight-episode series, Mekash began calling makeup artists to gauge their availability and lock them in. As she broke down the scripts, she assigned artists to actors, particularly any who might have previously worked together.

Key makeup artist and facial hair whiz Robin Beauchesne oversaw actor Stanley Tucci, who, as studio head Jack Warner, required a special mustache, brow and teeth. Special-effects makeup artist Mike Mekash was brought in to quickly age Catherine Zeta-Jones’ Olivia de Havilland by 15 years in one shooting day. Experienced makeup artists Kim Ayers and Tym Buacharern helped oversee various units.

For scenes such as an Oscar ceremony that featured 300 extras, Mekash ensured that there were 25 makeup artists and stations that could quickly work through each individual’s period hair and makeup needs.

Murphy calls Mekash his “eyes and ears” during production, and at this year’s Make-Up Artists & Hair Stylists Guild Awards, where he received the Distinguished Artisan Award, he said that she and her fellow artists are “a crucial part of the filmmaking process.” Murphy further feted Mekash by announcing that he would give her a producer credit on their next project together. Mekash admits to being “blown away.”

“Our departments are never acknowledged like that,” she says. “I want to honor his vision and what he creates.”

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