All the Doors to Hollywood and How to Open Them - Make-Up

04/15/2015 03:40 pm ET | Updated Jun 14, 2015

What is it like to be a Make-Up Artist? What do you do?

"I love it", says BEVERLY JO PRYOR, who suspects she's made up "over a thousand people" by now. "In a way, we're sort of therapists. We make sure the actors look the part, of course, we find out what the Director wants. But we also try to make the actors happy - confident - so they'll do their best."

How do you go about it?

Beverly Jo begins by talking with the Director and the actor to find out how they see the actor's character. "I like to make the actors part of their look, because then they'll feel better about themselves." Next, she does whatever research may be required - is it a contemporary or period film, a science fiction movie or, perhaps, adventure. She breaks the script down - "are there going to be special effects, is there going to be blood, sweating, crying, kissing. Special make-up is applied in each case. Maybe there are even teeth braces for the kids!"

Then "I want to be sure my Make-Up trailer has a soothing feeling." She selects relaxing music and a soft, pleasant aroma, she lights candles and places crystals on a small altar, "all to create positive energy and set the right mood. I pay attention to whether the actor wants to talk, or wants silence. I listen to them, I tell them how great they look - if they feel good about themselves, it helps them do their best."

Beverly Jo keeps a continuity book, taking photos as the script requires the actor's look to change, "so that if maybe old scenes have to be re-shot, I'll know what to do." She notes everything she does and uses. "And there's a special make-up bag for each actor, with his or her name on it, and a photo - so I - or someone else - can just grab the right bag and go."

How did you get started?

"I'd wanted to be a dancer, or a choreographer or an actress. Or a painter. But I got married right out of high school, and had kids right away - and I wanted to be the best Mom possible. My background was creative. My father was a clothes designer and tailor and taught at a technical school. He very much wanted to own his own shop, but he was black - and in Topeka, Kansas, in the 'forties, a black man couldn't open his own business. So we moved to Denver, and he got a job in the Post Office - a middle class position for a black man in those days. But he continued to make clothes for me, and I modeled them."

Her marriage broke up, "and I was a single Mom, and needed part-time work. I did a number of things, and then I got a job with Max Factor Cosmetics as a 'beauty consultant' after a one-time training program." Beverly Jo had always loved to paint. "I thought, gosh, this is great! I'm doing what I love, and getting paid for it!"

Beverly Jo's brother's best friend was a photographer. "I began doing make-up for his subjects - head shots - and gradually built up a portfolio." Meanwhile, continuing to do make-up on the side, she finished raising her children; at the same time managing part-time jobs as a Customer Representative for America West Airlines, working as a legal secretary, and attending California State University at Long Beach.

When did you actually begin doing movies?

"I started with commercials. Then television and Award Shows, and then I moved into features. My first was Mo Money. Both Ali with Will Smith and Posse with Mario and Melvin Van Peebles were a lot of fun. I've worked with some great people - Nona Gay, Marvin's daughter, and Pam Grier, Michel Jordan, Milton Berle, Debbie Allen, Tyra Banks, John Candy, Quincy Jones - and the list goes on. I treat everyone as special - first-time actor, or a star, or an old friend."

Where have you done films?

"I've worked all over the United States and Canada, the Caribbean, South Africa --."

What was your favorite adventure?

Probably going on Safari in South Africa - Kruger Park, while we were filming Ali. It's a huge wild animal preserve - jungle and bush and big open plains - and I think I saw just about every kind of wild animal there is. Rhinos and antelope, buffalo, giraffes, wildebeest, lions, leopards, hyenas, crocodiles. Everything except zebras. And I'd never seen so many kinds of birds. It was all just wonderful."

What do you enjoy about your work?

"I love doing my art and getting immediate results. And I'm a 'people person', and there are always new ones to get to know as well as old familiars. I'm always meeting new people. I love the irregularity of the work, too. Not only the irregular schedule of the days, but having new jobs in new places all the time. I love, maybe most of all, that it's a team effort - cooperative - all of us working towards one goal. I thank God every day that I can do what I love and make a living!"

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Learn more about Anne M. Strick