Keeping ‘Will Trent’ Action-Ready and TV Star Handsome Requires a Specific Makeup Plan

Makeup design doesn’t always mean prosthetics or extremes — that’s why the Emmy Awards smartly single out contemporary makeup design as its own category. But too often, those more immediately arresting designs are the ones that get all the attention. Not anymore. Join IndieWire in celebrating the makeup artists creating subtle, character-specific work for contemporary shows.

“Will Trent,” the ABC procedural that just ended its second season, spends a lot of time with its characters on the job. That means a certain look is required for its cast: something natural but not so natural that it’s blasted out by the lights and the sharp eye of the camera.

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“I never like, personally, to have anyone look ‘made up,'” makeup department head Lisa Layman told IndieWire. “The key for me is to have it look natural. I don’t want a ‘makeup’ look. And so I do everything with brushes, whether I’m doing tattoos, covering them, everything is done with a brush. The only time I use a sponge is when I do sunscreen and moisturizer. And then from that point on, it’s brushes.”

Pointing to Will (Ramón Rodríguez) and his partner Faith’s (Iantha Richardson) jobs in the G.B.I., Layman added, “They don’t come in [to work] made up. So I wanted to make sure it was a natural beauty that we were giving all the women. And then, with the men, we were giving them a natural look. My thing is we enhance their beauty. So they are our palettes, and we just change a little bit, and we enhance their features. We enhance their own beauty.”

Sunscreen is always important, particularly on “Will Trent,” which utilizes its Atlanta shooting location for plenty of outdoor scenes (you’d be surprised — or maybe not — at how many crimes are committed in the woods). But while filming outdoors brings plenty of additional factors into play, a drastic change in the makeup design is not one of them. Not even for that Georgia sun.

“We don’t powder as much when we’re outside; we will blot them a lot with tissues or paper towels,” Layman said. “The big thing is wrapping a paper towel around a powder puff and blotting away the sweat because the tissue will stick to the face more so than a paper towel. And then we don’t powder as much; we’ll use oil blotters. And we do that a lot on set. We will rotate between oil blotters and translucent powder.”

The other key is creating a custom foundation for each performer to highlight their natural skin tones, mixing tones on different parts of the face to achieve that effortless, going-to-work look that still has the polish of a network series.

But even detectives as dedicated as Will Trent have to cut loose every once in a while, though — and that requires a whole new way of approaching the cast’s makeup. In a recent episode set at a wedding (there is almost immediately a hostage situation, because work doesn’t stop just for a social engagement), both Will and his partner Faith got an elevated look for their friend date. (And in Will’s case, a snazzy white tux.)

Those conversations begin with the other department heads to ensure everyone is on the same page and that what Faith might wear to attend an old friend’s wedding will complement her makeup. “We wanted to give her a little bit of a bump because it is a wedding, Layman said. “It’s not her everyday makeup, so we add a little more color to it. We found out what she was wearing so we could make sure everything matches, and she was not wearing like a crazy orange or a red.”

For the guest stars who pop up to wreak havoc for an episode, Layman follows a slightly different plan. Some suspects aren’t suspects at all until the final act (“We do more of a natural look [for women] than more of a natural beauty. Unless we need to keep them looking kind of unsuspectful, you know?”) and some are immediately suspicious (“We’ll leave like darkness under the eyes sometimes”). But then ther are the episodes that require quite a bit more planning and strategizing. And for a show about detectives and criminals, that often translates into bespoke tattoos.

“The director and the producer give us the ideas of what they’d like,” Layman said. “I come up with some photos or some research, and then I’ll hand it off to the producers and the design house, and they have to make it. There’s a whole procedure we go through for liability and copyright, so sometimes that is like a last-minute thing. You have to get everything approved before you bring it to camera.”

And though Layman joined “Will Trent” after the pilot, she’s perpetually adjusting the scars that Will carries on his back from his abusive childhood, initially established in the first episode. “I kind of tweaked them a little bit to try to make the process easier because it takes some time in the chair to put on and to remove,” she said. “For me, there’s no ending. I’m always trying to make something look better or do it better or have it go on easier so they’re not in the chair as long.”

The Season 2 finale of “Will Trent” airs at 8 p.m. ET May 21 on ABC.

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