Making Faces: Makeup Artist Conor McCullagh

  • Conor McCullagh

GIM: The way that Face Off was structured, did you feel that it was actually testing professional boundaries or was it just “reality TV”?
CM: I don’t think it’s a secret that the way the show is put together is designed to test our resolve. We’re not going home to our homes and families every night; we’re living with the people we’re competing against. We don’t have diversions. We can’t call our loved ones. We can’t watch TV. That’s all part of keeping our minds in the competition. And some people handled it better than others.

GIM: When did winning the show feel like a lock to you?
CM: Never felt that way. I never felt that way because there were a lot of things being said in the judging that really threw me, things I didn’t expect. And it definitely made me feel like I was not just going to be walking away with the title. Especially after the second episode, where I was at the bottom.

You’ve gotta understand, at the end of the day, this is television. There is an element of entertainment value. Had it been just a competition of my peers, everyone else would have had 20-plus years in the business. They cast from all walks of life, people from different parts of the country and different levels of experience. And that makes for a better show. It’s more entertaining, because otherwise you’ve just got a bunch of carbon copies of each other trying a bunch of one-upsmanship.

GIM: Since doing the show, is there anything that you haven’t been asked that you wish you’d been asked?
CM: Here’s what I don’t think I’ve gone into yet. The show, especially in the beginning, was a little short on how much shop time they covered. You know, there were so many contestants and there were so many elements that I would get fans personally complaining that you don’t see enough of the process. And, again, there’s only so much you can fit into an hour. However, there were definitely some things that happened during the show that I thought were really great drama but kind of got missed.

There’s a formula to reality television that obviously works for these people. But as far as tailoring a show as specialized as this, who knows? Maybe they will next time. They were having us do audio bites for the show right up until two weeks before it aired. So I think maybe they’re learning there are things you need to explain along the way, and I’m willing to bet that Season Two will focus on some developments there.

GIM: Have you gotten the “Say the line”-type fans?
CM: Actually, everyone’s favorite line from me seems to be [in a Russian accent], “You look like little mermaid,” from Episode Seven. But I didn’t do the show for stardom. I didn’t do the show to be on a reality show. I did the show to be in an effects competition. Obviously I accomplished what I set out to do. If I’m asked to do another reality show, I don’t know. I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. I’m certainly not looking to be in any more competitions. It’s very nerve-racking to be in that mode—that feeling you get right before you run a race—to be in that mode for a month.

GIM: It seems like a lot of the challenges were set up to be just beyond what’s practical.
CM: Well, what happened, really from the start, was that we immediately started going beyond the parameters of the contest. We were given face casts and we just started grabbing mannequins and buckets of sheet foam and fabric fur and started making full characters. That quickly set the whole standard for the show. We weren’t expected to do as much as we did.

‘The demand for more realistic makeups has increased with HD video … high-def has really raised the bar for most of us’

GIM: Did the challenges feel like they related back to the work you’ve done?
CM: Everything we do helps prepare us for the next job. Everything I was doing in the show was somehow based on something I had done in the past. For example, that was why, on the first challenge, I was doing silicone prosthetics. Well, not everyone in the cast had done silicone prosthetics. But by the fourth challenge, everyone was trying it because they’re seeing that I had two wins. That’s not me gloating, that’s just where I’ve been. When you see something that works, it’s not copying. Whether it’s a mechanical quality or an aesthetic quality, you see something that’s successful and you run with it.

GIM: Did you pick up any quick shorthand tricks from your competitors?
CM: Frank [Ippolito] was the one who first suggested to me that I treat my molds with dish soap rather than using the wax I normally use. Very simple variation of the technique, and it actually made my life a whole lot easier.

GIM: Was it fun to spend a month around other makeup artists?
CM: We definitely geeked out sometimes. But as far as the social end of it, I think we would have had a much better time of it if we weren’t actually competing. It’s hard to completely let loose when you’ve got so much weighing on you. By the very end—and I know I wasn’t the only one feeling this way—I just wanted to go home. I was tired. I had busted my ass and I was just ready to get back to my life.

GIM: So reality contestant as a job, is that something you would recommend pursuing?
CM: As a full-time job? (laughs) Uh, no. Being a contestant on a reality show, I think that, obviously, it’s worth doing if it’s something you’re passionate about. But it’s not for everybody, because there is a certain amount of pressure to perform. And that may be fine for a day or a week. But being in that mode for month, it’s definitely … not for everyone. Get In Media 

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