For many of us, the spirit of Christmas in December 2020 seemed like an impossible dream. Mariah Carey saw the vision of celebration through those darkest days, bringing that holiday cheer into our homes with Mariah Carey’s Magical Christmas Special on Apple TV+. The seven-time Emmy-nominated make-up team led by seasoned Department Head Makeup Artist Bruce Grayson, set about fashioning faces with festive looks, illustrated best in Carey’s glamorous eye makeup designs. They glittered and glowed to match each of her costume designs, from smoky to shimmery.
Creating Christmas and holiday cheer in the faces of Carey, the cast of elves and townspeople, and star-studded performers fe,aturing Jennifer Hudson, Ariana Grande, and a funky bearded Santa Claus was a welcomed challenge for Grayson and his team. Plus, all of the looks they created required final approval by Carey. Comprised of Key Makeup Artist James Mackinnon, Assistant Department Head Makeup Artist Angela Moos, Personal Makeup Artist Kristofer Buckle, and additional Makeup Artists Deborah Huss-Humphries, and Julie Socash; they each observed strict COVID-19 protocols when applying their makeup.
Grayson tells Below The Line what measures needed to be followed in order to keep the company of elves, dancers, a choir, and of course, Santa safe. He talks about designing the makeup that caught the eye of The Television Academy, garnering a nomination for “Outstanding Contemporary Makeup for a Variety, Nonfiction or Reality Program (Non-Prosthetic).” If fortune strikes Grayson, the seventh could just be the charm.
Below The Line: Congratulations on your Emmy nomination.
Bruce Grayson: It’s an honor to be nominated and also among these great makeup peers. I’m always incredibly thankful for the nominations. This is my seventh, so it’s kind of cool. I have not won yet. I’ll share with you this. I was in a Chinese restaurant and I opened the cookie and it said, “Your talents will capture you the highest status and prestige.” Not a bad draw at the end of the meal. My first call was to James [Mackinnon]and to congratulate him and then Angela Moss, the co-department head who’s been with me on several of my nominations on a lot of shows, and to Kristofer [Buckle] and Deborah [Huss-Humphries] and Julie [Socash]. We’re sort of a team.
BTL: Can you pinpoint which makeup look caught the eye of the Academy for the Emmy nomination?
Grayson: Probably the bronze look for Mariah because I just loved her in those warm colors. I think Kristofer just nailed it on that look. That is the sort of iconic Mariah Carey look. Within that realm, it was bronzey, and had a shimmer to it, with a glitz of shimmer used around the eyeliner. On the other side, I thought the dancers looked beautiful in the toy factory scene to “Oh Santa.”
BTL: Had you ever worked with Mariah Carey before?
Grayson: I have never worked with Mariah before, and obviously I jumped at this opportunity. I’ve been around her before, running the Grammys makeup department for years. But I jumped at this chance because she’s the iconic Christmas songwriter and singer which is so much a part of her DNA. At the time, during the pandemic, what greater project to be on than one that could bring so much joy to the world, and so festive so that’s why I rose to the challenge.
BTL: I was thinking the alternate title of this story could be “The Eyes Have It.” Did you match her eye makeup with what she wore?
Grayson: (laughs) Exactly. Kristofer Buckle actually did her makeup. He’s been her makeup artist for some time so he handled that end of it. He did a fantastic job because all of the backgrounds were electronic, and the Production Designer Julio Himede had some marvelous things going from the sleigh ride through space to the North Pole, and from her apartment in New York to that, and into a white background. Kris had six or seven changes, so we molded the other looks around what he was doing with her. False eyelashes are great but you move in on someone like Mariah that close, I’m pretty sure he used individual flares across them, between eight to 10, and you really create that eye. Or you can use a strip lash if it’s far away. But if you’re gonna push in as close as we are on camera, you’re bound to see a strip at the end of that lash, so you go with flare lashes because you can pinpoint them and directly place them on the eyelash. Once they’re curled, they become melded together as one.
BTL: Can you tell me what looks Kristofer created for Mariah?
Grayson: The first makeup where she is in her apartment with her kids was sort of a mid smoky look with a brownish eyeliner, slightly black, and then when she gets to the North Pole she has sort of a bronzy type of eye. I do remember the outdoorsy look when she was in the forest because it was far removed from any of the warm colors that we had seen because she was wearing that pale white outfit. With the white ballgown outfit, he went to sort of a blue, pale white shadow with a lighter lipstick. He had it down pat. It was really beautiful. We shot several of those looks during the day and to continue to make it look fresh for all those numbers is really key.
BTL: Did Mariah have the final say for the looks of the show?
Grayson: Mariah was very hands-on for this show. We ran everything by her so, when we start to storyboard, I go through the producers, Nick Flores and R.J. Durell. They’ve choreographed many shows and are now producing. They’ll give me keywords like “Make it the best festive makeup that you can,” but make it simplistic. So you start there with elements of the holiday season, so we used emerald green eyeliner, but we wanted the cheeks of all the performers to have this rosiness and frostbitten look like they had come in from the cold.
BTL: Do you also consider the background and costumes when you’re designing makeup looks?
Grayson: I’m always looking at how the makeup can fit into the costume. The dancers wore hats, so you have to consider those elements, and the electronic background. There’s a lot going on, so you want to make sure that your makeup is able to fold into that to get the big picture.
BTL: When did more bling and more sparkles come into play?
Grayson: For Mariah, it was more bling and more sparkle, but for the rest of us we took our cue from Nick and R.J. who I’ve worked with so many times. They just wanted me to make it festive, holiday seasonal makeup. It’s like you picked out the best makeup that you see at a holiday party. That’s where my head went to. There were a hint of sparkles in Jennifer Hudson’s eyelashes. You do things to get a glimmer, not on every shot. You want that razzle-dazzle to embrace one or two shots when they push in.
BTL: What was the look of Santa’s iconic beard?
Grayson: James did the Santa beard and put some eyebrows on him. We had some sideburns in there and then for some of the townspeople. Mariah checked off everything, including the Santa. We wanted to make sure that it was a Santa that she had in her mind. A lot of these visions came out of all these years doing Christmas songs and you have a vision in your head of what a Mariah Carey Christmas is and she certainly did. She wanted a mid-length beard that was more contained but groomed that was funky but not too funky. She wanted it to look real.
BTL: What was it like working with two directors?
Grayson: This was the first time I worked with Roman Coppola which was very exciting. Any time I’m around a Coppola it’s kind of an honor. He had very specific ideas. Hamish Hamilton does every big TV special, and I’ve worked closely with him a lot over the years. I’ve always enjoyed his energy. He is a leader and pushes these big shows through to the finish line, which is quite cool.
BTL: This was shot during Covid so how did you navigate those safety compliances?
Grayson: That was a big job in of itself. We were one of three shows that were permitted to go out and shoot. We got a waiver to shoot because TV specials hadn’t been able to be produced until August. Nobody had done a TV special, except for maybe the Emmys where nobody was there and it was done remotely. When the producers came to me, and they asked if I could it, I said if we could have a large space with vanity mirrors for each performer in that space and move amongst them with individual kits, individual foundations, individual lashes, an individual set of brushes so that we would not cross-contaminate.
I think we had 37 performers between the choir, dancers, and some of the townspeople in Santa’s village and Santa himself. The main performers had their own dressing rooms. We would move amongst them and do their makeup as well as walk around from table to table taking these performers out of one look and putting them into the next in this huge space. We had 40 some odd kits, personalized kits of makeup that we had to make. Makeup is so rigorous because we have to do our job with one of us not wearing a mask. There was a lot of focus on us, and we wanted to make sure that this job was done correctly so that other people would possibly go out with their TV specials or productions. It was an endeavor but we were ready for it.
BTL: When all was said and done did you hear from Mariah about your hard work?
Grayson: She sent out something on Instagram congratulating us for a job well done which was very kind. Of course, I’ve framed it! But I have my fortune cookie, which is also kind of cool. I can’t lose it. I’ve got to put it somewhere and make sure I hold onto it just in case.
All photos courtesy Apple TV. Click on images for larger versions.