Interview With the ‘Hillbilly Elegy’ Hair & Makeup Crew

Matthew W. Mungle, Eryn Krueger Mekash & Patricia ‘Patti’ Dehaney were all kind enough to join me for an interview on their transformative work on Hillbilly Elegy. Despite a negative reception, something that survived the controversy was the incredible makeup and hair displayed on characters played by Amy Adams and Glenn Close.

As always, I started the Zoom call early to be prepared and to give them time to join if they want to join early. Much to my surprise, Matthew joined fifteen minutes early and spent a good few minutes trying to change his camera. In this time, I decided to use it as an opportunity to ask more basic questions that I don’t have the time to ask in the interviews.

What’s it like to win an Oscar? (He won in 1993 from ‘Bram Stocker’s Dracula)

Matthew: “It was amazing. It’s like you’re on Cloud 9. I’ll never forget my father telling me the press called him, wanting to talk to the parents of their Academy Award winning son. I’m the youngest of three boys, and I remember him telling me he told the press, ‘Matthew is the youngest, but tonight, he is Number 1.’ He died that same year, so there was something sentimental about it to me.”

Matthew had his Oscar hidden under a blue cloth behind him. He was kind enough to show it to me for a few moments. This was really cool for me, I’ve never personally been shown an Oscar, albeit it was through Zoom.

At this point, Eryn and Patricia join together. I hit record. They are both working so I was super grateful for them to join me.

They take a minute just to talk to one another. After a moment of chatter, I start my questions.

First things first, congratulations on the Oscar nods!

All: “Thank you.”

It’s the age old question, but where were you when the nominations were announced?

Patricia: “Under the covers.”

Eryn: “I was in bed. But I always get up and watch anyway because I’m a big fan. Obviously, it was a little different this year. My husband filmed it. “

Patricia: “It was very touching!”

Eryn: …yeah, I was surprised at how emotional I was.

Going straight into Hillbilly Elegy, was there anything that drew you to it, or was it more of a contract thing?

Matthew: “I got a call from Glenn [Close]. I must have been the first call she made when she got the part. She said, ‘I’ve got this role, it’s for a movie called Hillbilly Elegy, I’ll send you some photos of her, I need a nose tip.’ So I was like, ‘Okay, I can do that for you.’ So I sent it to her, and she sent a picture and I was like, ‘Yano, I think you need a bigger nose tip and I think we need to do something with the ears.’ I flew to her, we did a test, she loved it. Ron Howard was there, and she got into character as soon as he walked in, and she just balled him over, he loved it. It’s just wonderful working with her. She doesn’t mind wearing prosthetics.”

Patti: “I received a phone call from a fine producer, Diana Pokorny, and she invited me to work on the movie, which I was super excited about, especially when I knew it was Ron Howard. I don’t know that I knew all the cast. We began to discuss makeup artists, there was a long list. I gave her my list, until we riddled it down to the best one!”

Is the best one Eryn?

Patti: “It was, yeah.”

Let’s transition to Eryn then.

Eryn: “I didn’t know Patti was involved. I’d worked with Diana before. As soon as she called I got excited as I knew it could be for a job. As soon as she mentioned Ron Howard I dropped everything to work with him as it was a dream job of mine. When she started to mention Amy [Adams] I wondered if Patricia is involved. After the call I was pretty much hired there and then, and through that I discovered Patti then Matthew were attached to the project.”

Matthew: “When I found out Eryn was attached I was relieved as I knew the prosthetics were going to be applied excellently!”

Patti: “We all started to listen to the audio book, just to get that background before we started.”

You’ve all been in the game for a long time am I right? Eryn and Matthew in particular.

Eryn: “Oh yeah. Patti too, though!”

Sorry Patti. I didn’t want to single you out!

Patti: “Well, you know, I’m just so much younger than them.”

What I was wondering is what was it like working with Adams and Close? I know some of you have worked with them before.

Patti: “I have to say when I found out Close was attached I got a little nervous. I’ve seen all her work, I really admire her as an actor and I was in love with the movie Albert Nobbs and I knew Matthew had worked on that, and I was just wondering could I raise the bar as high as she is used to. I know her wig-maker, Martial Corneville, who has been working with her for YEARS. There’s just this level of expertise. This was great for us all, it really pushed us. My first meeting with Martial was in his apartment. Glenn arrived with her two dogs, and in a way that made me feel at ease, when the dogs are around. We tried on both the wigs, they were gorgeous. Those two have a friendship and have a long relationship. They made me feel so comfortable during the process.”

Matthew: “Working with Glenn is always a treat, she just loves prosthetics! We have a great working relationship because I love small prosthetics. When people watch the movie they say afterwards, ‘I didn’t know there was prosthetics.’ That’s when you know your artistry is good. To do subtly prosthetics is harder than to just cover someones face. Every time Glenn calls it brightens my day.”

Patti: “Same with Amy, she’s a star to work with. So respectful of makeup and hair artistry and understands how hard to work to make it just right, make it to a point they don’t feel uncomfortable and can just focus on acting and not worry about things like, ‘is the wig on properly?’ She’s such a talent.

Working with Amy Adams and Glenn Close just seems like the best scenario.

Patti: “No kidding! The rest of the cast was amazing.”

Have you anything to add, Eryn?

Eryn: I hadn’t worked with either of them. Matthew had already done the tests on Glenn at that point. Diana phoned me and said I’d be working on Amy AND Glenn. I was like, ‘I’ll figure it out.’ I wanted to work on both on them. I don’t want to give either of them away. That’s like a jewel, that’s like a present, to be able to do that level of actor and I knew Patti had worked with Adams many a time and really enjoyed working with her. I was really looking forward to it and I was ready for the pressure. We were working with a minor at the time which meant we had a very constricted schedule on getting the two of them ready. I’m a fast makeup artist and I know how to speed up the job so I knew I was good for the job. Jamie Hess was my big back up there on making sure we could have Glenn done in a decent amount of time so we could work with Amy as well.”

I guess I’ll use Close and Adams to transition onto what was the process on the makeup design for Close and Adams and did it bring any difficulties?

Eryn: “It started with Matthew, he created this beautiful look for Glenn. Of course, Patti had already created the wig. So, I kinda knew I was taking over Matthew’s design and replicating what he’d done. I decided that Amy should have a wider nose. I had my pal make me two little pieces to go on the side of her nose to make her look a little bit more like her real life character. She was always gaining weight so I wanted her more petite parts to look fuller. I did some makeup to make her look sun damaged. Of course she has the drug problem later on so I wanted her skin to look aged and more damaged in general. Patti made a beautiful wig for Amy for that. It started with looking at pictures and seeing how they aged. It took at most a month to figure out the look for Amy and make sure Matthew’s look was still fulfilled on camera. Patti and I sat down and did a game plan to figure out how to get them in-and-out the trailer in best a time as possible.”

Matthew, looking at your IMDB, am I correct to say you focused on Close?

Matthew: “Yeah, mainly because I’m retired. But she calls, I’m there in a second. I have picked up a couple of jobs since then.”

Patti: “They’ll always find you, Matthew!”

Just like The Irishman, when you think you’re done they pull you back in.

Patti: “OH! Careful!”

Patti, you focus on hair. Was there any difficulties or anything new you had to bring in terms of designing the hair for Adams and Close? Or was it just a breeze? Actually, I don’t want to say a breeze because that sounds rude, I guess all I’m trying to ask is did it bring any new difficulties?

Patti: “Wigs are different everyday. It’s like hair. One day you have good hair, the next you have bad hair. One day it fits on perfectly. The lace stays down, everything is fine. The next day, it’s 100% humidity and they’re in a car. That’s what we dealt with. Eryn chasing the sweat and me chasing the hair wet against their skin and necks, and is the lace going to stay down. You can never just relax. You’re constantly looking at all aspects.”

Did Close sleep in the hair?

Patti: “No, no. At the end of each day it was all cleaned up and beautified.”

If your hair is like mine and Matthew’s then the whole hair thing won’t be an issue. Especially Close because of the thick makeup on her face, were there any health and safety precautions you had to consider?

Matthew shakes his head.

Eryn: “Well, all the aging, the freckling, was all hand painted on, so that was directly on her skin. I didn’t use any foundation. Her nose was bigger, her ears were much bigger, but the rest of her face was by hand. She didn’t have a tonne of makeup on, it’s just very specific. We were using the Sony Venice, which is a very high quality camera, so I knew we could get away with more of the painting.”

When I first watch the film in November I remember saying to my parents, “was there even any makeup”, and it wasn’t until I did research I realised that’s why it’s so great because it’s so subtle.

Patti: “Yeah, and they’re both beautiful women. They have gorgeous skin, right Eryn?”

Eryn: “Beautiful skin. Glenn’s skin has nothing creepy about it. No wrinkles. Very fine textured skin. Beautiful hair. The whole bit. Same with Amy. Just flawless women. So not only is it exciting to make them look very different, but it was so challenging to bring so much texture to someone with no texture. They don’t even have pores.”

Eryn, I’d like to turn to you because we’re here talking about makeup, but you’ve found yourself a successful career in producing.

Eryn: “Yeah, I’ve done some producing for Ryan Murphy in television. It’s kinda an aesthetics producer, so I oversee some his shows to make sure they’re in the same vein and quality episode to episode. I help fill up the makeup and hair positions if it’s needed, and you know, be bossy here and there. I don’t have to deal with any money parts so that’s great.”

Patti: “Benjamin, if I may say while we were shooting Hillbilly Elegy, Eryn was doing her producing job whilst working on this job which was very consuming. She’d be reading six different scripts, while keeping up with her Ryan Murphy jobs. Always talking to her team who were replacing her on her shows, making sure things are covered. She was wearing all these different hats whilst also making what you see on Hillbilly Elegy. I have a lot of regard for the way she works.”

Eryn: *laughs* “looking back on it I think I was reading too much stuff. If I would do it now after the pandemic, I think I wouldn’t take on too many things.”

Do you consider yourself more of a producer or makeup artist?

Eryn: “Oh, makeup artist, 100%.”

I mean, you do have an Emmy in producing, that can’t be a bad thing?

Eryn: “No, it’s not, it’s great!”

Patti: “How many Emmys do you have in makeup?”

Eryn: “7. It’s one of those things where I was involved in the show Versace and there was so much going on in that. It was a huge honor to be awarded as a producer. It was a huge show. But there is a lot of responsibility to do both. Sometimes I can say yes to both sometimes I say it’s too much. I know my limits. I do what I can.”

With the rise of visual effects in film, do you fear a future when makeup and hairstyling won’t be needed?

Matthew: “No, I don’t. I think there will always be a need for makeup. Now, it’s a perfect blend when it’s great makeup and they enhance it in VFX. But there will always be a need for our creativity.”

Eryn: “I agree completely. We use post for all kind of things. For example, I had one recently where someone was hurt and has a small stab wound on their face, post can cover and take it out. There’s deepening for makeup for something like zombies. There’s things like if a director doesn’t like a fly on the hair, we can take it out, that’s the best reason why VFX are used in terms of makeup and hair. De-aging for something like a flashback scene is fantastic. For Hillbilly Elegy we didn’t do much if any makeup and hair correction. For the most part it’s a great tool. We work well with the VFX team. I think for a moment in the 90’s some had a moment where they thought makeup was over, but it’s kinda swung the other way where everything is practical. I think they’ve realized practical is much for identifiable and much more relatable. So I think we’re swinging back the other way, we have been over the past few years.”

Matthew: “I think the VFX people are much more giving now than they were in the beginning. They used to be like, ‘no, no. We can do it’, but now it’s a much more symbiotic relationship.”

So you’re all supporters of VFX to enhance the makeup in film?

Eryn: “Oh yeah! Not like Cats or something, that would’ve been beautiful with practical effects. Mark Coulier has been releasing tests he did for the makeup of Cats, just stunning! But that got crazy in post. You can tell right away if the blend of makeup and VFX has been done well. It’s much better to get actors to act with practical effects, blood, rigs, all kinds of stuff.”

Okay, this is the final, FINAL, question. What would be your advice to anybody trying to get into the makeup and hair department in film?

Eryn: “This is always a tough question!”

Matthew: “Well, for me, I say be sure this is exactly what you wanna do. It is a hard business. Long hours. Not only is it the doing the makeup, but dealing with others. Just be true to yourself, life is too short.”

Eryn: “You should be obsessed with it and love it so much, because it’ll sustain you when you hate it. There will be days where you’re missing birthdays, missing planned leisure, so you have to really love it. Know your history, Be diverse with your makeup. Otherwise it’s pointless, and I wouldn’t hire somebody who didn’t know all that, there’s just no point.”

Patti: “Of course I agree with what Matthew and Eryn are saying. It’s not as exciting and glamorous as it’s made out to be. Like anything else, if you love it, learn as much as you can about it. Take every class you can. Anything you have time for, you’ll learn something. Even if you think it’s from somebody who doesn’t know much about hairstyling, you may still learn something. Always be open minded to the craft. Don’t get stuck in not looking forward. Find a mentor, more than one, let people guide you along, and be open. Feed yourself with knowledge. You have to report to so many people, and it can be exhausting. So make sure you learn as much as you can so you can still express your talents.”

What a lovely word to end on Patti! I’d like to thank you all for joining me. Patti and Eryn in particular I know are busy so I really appreciate it.

If you’re interested in watching/hearing the interview, please head to my YouTube Channel!

HILLBILLY ELEGY (2020) Makeup Department Head Eryn Krueger Mekash, Glenn Close and Hair Department Head Patti Dehaney on the set of Hillbilly Elegy. Cr. Lacey Terrell/NETFLIX BTS

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