Miriam Shor on the Power of Makeup: “When It Transforms You for a Character, It Feels Magical”

Miriam Shor on the Power of Makeup: “When It Transforms You for a Character, It Feels Magical” featured image
Courtesy of Marvel

If you didn’t recognize Miriam Shor as the alien-villain in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, that was intentional—and not-so-easy to pull off. The Younger alum and mom of two (she took the role because her family binged the Marvel movies at the start of COVID) recently sat down with us to break down all the makeup steps that got her into character, how much it impacts what she does, and why she feels so strongly about its particular purpose.

How was it like playing the villain? I heard that there were some very specific makeup steps just to get into character.

I’m an actor because I want to play characters vastly different from myself. That’s part of the fun of it. It’s not that interesting to play myself over and over again—I do that day to day. There’s some alchemy involved: When you sit in front of a mirror and makeup transforms you, it feels magical. To take that to as far as you can is magical.

My very first experience with that was I was a kid; I got to play the Wicked Witch in The Wizard of Oz. Of course, I wanted to be Dorothy. But Dorothy is done at 25—the witch works forever! That’s the first time I ever put on prosthetic makeup. To look in a mirror and see yourself reflected looking completely different truly changes your psychology. It really does.

I think that’s part of the reason there’s so many makeup tutorials around right now. That experimentation has taken hold. I’m hopeful that we’re doing it not because we now feel like we have to in order to hide ourselves, but we’re doing it more to express ourselves, right? That’s the essence of drag—to create art. That’s what I love about makeup. I don’t like having to wear makeup to make someone think I’m pretty. I think that’s bullshit. I hate that. I prefer to wear it to tell a story.

I’m down for it when someone’s like, “Are you ready? Are you ready to become someone completely different?” My answer is, “Yes, let’s do it.” For this movie, I spent hours in a makeup chair just so I could come out of it with someone believing I’m a creature from a gajillion light-years away. Some of the stuff I had to do was get my head and shoulders cast at the Special Place in Los Angeles. Which was a dream for me. It’s weird. It’s intense. You have an entire cast made up of your face, head and shoulders.

Courtesy of Marvel

Is it comfortable?

They do have little breathing straws. But it’s not for the faint of heart. But it’s also amazing because you’re watching the work of these artists who are true artists. I feel like that often gets thrown away or hidden in our understanding of what makeup can and does do. When I was in Hedwig and the Angry Inch and I played a man…I did the makeup myself in little shoddy backstage dressing room. I would walk out on stage and be five feet away from the audience, and just because I put some stipple on my face and eyebrows, they believed whatever I was telling them. It’s all so fascinating to me.

To be able to do that on the level of the people who are creating the special effects makeup are the people who are changing the makeup industry, right? Alexey Dimitrio, who created these looks for Legacy, and then the actual artists who do it, are truly forging a new path for makeup. It’s amazing. They’re creating products in real-time with you. They’re creating techniques in real-time with you.

I am obviously a total geek about it all and love it. The two women who I got to work with and become friends with, Lou and Miche, are the kindest, sweetest, most amazing humans. And they are amazing artists as well. They were artists and they were a team, but they were also creating something with me. It was so collaborative. Long, long answer…but my short answer is I loved it. It was a lot of time, but it was time well spent.

Are you the type of person that can sit in the chair and chill out, or are you chatting when you are getting ready?

It depends on the vibe of what I need to do. If I need to reserve because it’s going to be emotionally stressful or physically stressful, then I’ll reserve. Anyone who’s spent any time in a makeup trailer with me—and there will be many people laughing—know I’m a talker. As you can tell. The makeup and hair people are there before I’m there and they leave after I leave. They are some of the hardest-working humans on the planet and some of the kindest, most amazing people I’ve ever encountered. You get to know them really well and they help you through the transition from who you are into who you’re going to be for the project. We have so much fun. We had so much fun in that mega trailer for this movie. Some great tunes were spun. I have to shout out Lou because every day, the playlists were amazing.

Courtesy of Marvel

I know you talked about it being in Broadway and everything over the years. Have you found a really good makeup remover to get everything off when you wrap?

I have deeply problematic skin I don’t have perfect, dewy, flawless skin. I haven’t found the holy grail. I don’t think I will, because my skin is this way, because of my DNA, because of environmental issues, because of my makeup. That said, I have to use a really gentle cleanser. When you have makeup caked on your face for 16 hours, you have to be careful. I use Garnier’s Micellar Waters ($11)—that gets it off. Then I can use a gentle cleanser, like CeraVe or something. I just can’t get too crazy to get all the rest of it off. It really does create quite a bit of havoc on my skin. My skin is not a fan of makeup as much as I am, and that’s why I don’t wear it in my everyday life. In real life, it’s mainly sunscreen.

Also, with my kids, I make it very clear to them when I’m putting the makeup on at home, if I have an event or something, that it’s for work or fun. It’s never something that you have to do because someone else needs you to look a certain way—unless it’s your job as an actor. I don’t want them to walk through the world and think, well, my eyes aren’t pretty, so I have to make someone believe they are by doing this. I don’t want them to feel they have to hide anything. I want them to feel like they can stand strong and express themselves.

It seems like you are very passionate about that messaging.

That’s how I feel about it. If I can promote that sense in my kids, then that’s amazing. Like I said, I think the world is turning. I hope the world is looking at it that way now. At least, I hope so. There’s already enough problems in the world—we don’t need to look at ourselves in the mirror and not like what we see. I don’t like looking at my reflection and seeing something completely different because I don’t like who I am; I like it because it’s fun and creative and artistic. I want to be happy with who I am. Look, I’m not perfect. I’m a woman, an American woman—so, obviously, I look at myself and I criticize, but I don’t want to encourage that voice. There’s already too much encouragement of that voice everywhere you look.

Listen, I got my start here in New York doing a show that connected me to the drag world, which is a world so near and dear to my heart. It is the forefront of the artistry of the makeup we’re seeing now. It takes a couple of decades for the world to catch up to the drag piece. They’re the future makers. They really are. And I don’t think it’s about hiding. Drag is in your face, it is making you see. I’m all about makeup in that way. That’s why I think I don’t want to have to slather it on when I’m just like, walking through the world. But I’m deep into the world of believing that makeup is for fun and for expression.

Alex J. Berliner/ABImages

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