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Master Makeup Artist Robin Mathews

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Kirsten Stewart in New Moon

To the delight of millions of younger fans, a closeup of the beautiful Kristen Stewart fills the screen in Eclipse, the latest entry in the Twilight series. To realize that image, behind-the-scenes on set in Canada, her makeup artist, the proficient Robin Mathews, had to carefully adjust Stewart’s natural complexion to play her character of Bella in the memorable saga. Such is the life of an artist such as Mathews, a multi-skilled master whose work has appeared in the last two Twilight films in addition to recent triumphs including The Runaways and Into the Wild.

“In the early 1990s, I started out as an actor in the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Los Angeles,” Mathews recalled of her start, speaking from the Louisiana location of her newest project, a Forest Whitaker vehicle. Thanks to a makeup teacher, who was also a prosthetic artist, Mathews started working for him for seven years in the special makeup effects and prosthetics world. She acted while working in an unofficial apprenticeship, but makeup beckoned. “I started getting hired for film, TV, commercials and music videos doing makeup – makeup just took off,” she said.

At this point, Mathews has steadily been working in makeup for 15 years. One aspect on which she prides herself is being able to do all types of makeup required on a film. “There are still some makeup artists out there who excel in both fields – prosthetics and special effects as well as straight makeup/beauty, period films, and all aspects of the film/makeup industry,” she explained. “If there’s something I don’t know how to do, I study it.”

On many films, standard operating procedure is for a production to hire a specialized effects company to do the makeup effects required by a script. But Mathews is still a viable aspect of that process. “I don’t build my own prosthetics – to have a lab and do that yourself is a whole different aspect that involves a lot of time,” she noted, “so I have a company builds the prosthetics and apply it myself.”

She counts Matthew Mungle and KNB among her key prosthetic suppliers.

Like many in the effects makeup arena, Mathews cites landmark films in shaping her interest and approach to makeup. “Makeup-wise, the first two things that really impacted me where I noticed makeup were The Exorcist and Platoon” Mathews remembered. “Seeing Linda Blair‘s face when she was possessed – I had never seen makeup like that before. Also, Tom Berenger’s scar in Platoon piqued my interest. I was in the theater department in high school and had forgotten that I was into makeup at a young age. It’s always been floating around in the background somewhere.”

Robin Mathews applies makeup to ??? with Sean Penn looking on for <i>Into the Wild</i>.
Robin Mathews applies makeup to Emile Hirsch with Sean Penn looking on for Into the Wild.
After years in the trenches, Mathews vaulted to the makeup A-list with a 2007 independent feature. “What definitely put me on the map was Into the Wild,” she confirmed. “I had been doing some smaller things for Sean Penn. He gave me a call right after Katrina and asked me to work in Alaska in the middle of the winter and in the desert in the middle of the summer, plus the Grand Canyon without makeup trailers. I was totally up for it! That was an amazing experience.”

After nine months of shooting, with the entire company traveling to every location that the real Chris McCandless had gone to, Mathews first major makeup achievement was in the can. “It was the epitome of real location shooting,” she said. “The character dies of starvation which we had to do mostly with makeup and wardrobe. He lost about 20 pounds – the character was 67 pounds before he died! That movie got a lot of attention and really kicked my career into gear.”

Unbeknownst to Mathews at the time, an actress-makeup artist relationship formed that would continue on four upcoming projects: Kristen Stewart had a part in Into the Wild when she was only 15. “She asked me to come in and revamp the Bella look for the Twilight movies,” Mathews said. “So much changed from the first movie to the second. New Moon had a completely different look from Twilight. They really stepped it up a bunch of notches with the production value and the look.”

With Stewart’s look planned with new directors of the films, it was determined that Bella needed to be a stronger physical presence. “She is running around with these otherworldly beings,” Mathews said. “If we made her too plain, it doesn’t match, so we kicked up her look a little bit. She is supposed to be pale and a normal girl. She is kind of a modern day fairy tale character – a Snow White or Sleeping Beauty, loved by many people.”

Just released this season, Eclipse takes place only a few months after New Moon, so there couldn’t be a change in Bella’s look from the second film to the third film. “ She is growing up emotionally and finding herself as well as from 17 to 18, so you start to show a physical transformation,” Mathews explained. “Kristen is close to Bella’s age, so that was kind of happening naturally. As fair as Kristen is, she is almost as fair as the vampires [though] she isn’t one yet. I warmed up her skin tone and used nothing cool – a shade darker than her skin tone.”

Kirsten Stewart in <i>Welcome to the Rileys</i>
Kirsten Stewart in Welcome to the Rileys
With Stewart as her makeup “canvas” Mathews process on every project is about letting Stewart’s natural beauty show through. “What’s really amazing,” Mathews observed, “is comparing photos from The Runaways and Welcome to the Rileys; she is such a chameleon. She throws vanity out of the window if a role calls for it. With the Bella look, she is a completely different looking person.”

To enhance her Bella look, which took 45 minutes to achieve, Stewart wears brown contacts – her eyes are naturally green – which dramatically changes her look, much of which the audience sees in closeup. “In Eclipse especially, the closeups were a huge concern of mine,” Mathews revealed. “I was very nervous about all of the super-tight shots. Plus, the Twilight films are extreme location shooting. We were in such extreme outdoor places, it’s difficult to maintain the makeup when it’s so humid and rainy.”

Shooting Final Destination 3D before she shot New Moon and Eclipse was instructional for Mathews in preparation for her Twilight films. “We tested for a good month with the brand new Pace HD 3D cameras before we shot,” she said. “Shooting high-definition 3D is a whole different realm than film. You could see every tiny detail.”

With the same cinematographer for New Moon and Eclipse, Javier Aguirresarobe, Mathews worked out a system of shooting Stewart, who has shot to major stardom because of the three Twilight films. “Part of being a good makeup artist is proper lighting,” Mathews said. “Kristen’s in every single scene. We’d be on set for 12-14 hours a day and she has to look as flawless as she does every minute of the day.”

(From left) Joan Jett, Robin Mathews, Kirsten Stewart (as Joan Jett in The Runaways).
Without question, Mathews also triumphed on The Runaways, recently released on DVD, where she transformed Stewart again, this time into the mid-1970s pre-punk manifestation of rock cult hero Joan Jett. Stewart and co-star Dakota Fanning, magically realizing the drug-addled teen lead singer, Cherie Currie, vaulted that film into an underground classic and cemented Mathews status as a master of many disparate types of makeup looks. For the project, she created and designed all the characters’ makeup. “I was obsessive about researching photos of original Runaways,” Mathew stated, “and replicated every single look in the film from an actual photo of the real person. I also sculpted each actors’ features with makeup to make them look identical to the person they were portraying.” To do so, Mathews changed lip-lines, noses and eye colors, contoured the actors’ faces, and used some prosthetics.

Following Into the Wild, The Runaways and the Twilight films, Mathews is sure to be a similar type of star in the makeup field with many challenges which await her.

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