We’re back tonight with more from our time at the Star Trek: Discovery red carpet Season 2 premiere, this time we’re chatting with our favorite Kelpien, Doug Jones, and the man who makes Saru come to life, makeup wizard James MacKinnon!
As we started talking with Jones, MacKinnon — who has worked on Trek productions since the mid-1990s and is now head of the Discovery makeup effects department — joined the conversation, wearing a Saru pin from FanSets for the event.
Note: This interview has been slightly edited for length and clarity.
DOUG JONES: This is James MacKinnon; my lead makeup artist. I’ll tell you what — being Saru, it’s an honor to play this delightful character, but the look of him can’t happen with my own face.
James is responsible for getting [the Kelpien makeup] on me, and he’s got a whole team behind him.
JAMES MACKINNON: It’s a team effort. Glenn Hetrick over at Alchemy Studios, who makes all these beautiful creatures, and Neville Page who designs all of them… we can’t all do it without each other.
It takes every layer and every artist, in all aspects, to create it — and then it [goes on Doug], and then it goes on camera. It’s one of those things where we care so much because when you think about it, this is not a show that is just gonna go 12 episodes, get cancelled, and maybe [not even] go on DVD.
JONES: It’s gonna last forever.
MACKINNON: Right. So we all want it to be the best.
JONES: People ask me all the time, “So, how long does it take to become Saru every day?” And I say “Months,” because of what he just said. There were months of designing and sculpting and painting at the shop.
James gets them on set, and he has to apply it to me; that’s down to about an hour and a half now, because he’s so fast and wonderful at this. He’s done more Star Trek before this, you know, he’s got quite the pedigree. To have his hands on my face is quite an honor.
MACKINNON: The application used to be four hours, so we whittled it down throughout the two seasons. As a makeup artist, as I’m doing his makeup, Doug slowly disappears, and by the end, we’re talking to him as Saru.
It’s great, and that’s my goal as a makeup artist, to not see the actor underneath; my goal is to see the character. So we bring these two worlds together, acting and prosthetics, to create a new person, or creature.
With the Klingons this season, we have hair, and evolving those makeups and those characters in the show has been great too. We get to see a little bit more [of Saru], and we might get to see a little bit more with Mary [Chieffo as L’Rell] as well.
TREKCORE: With more Kelpiens joining the cast this year, did you get to teach the new actors how to be like Saru?
JONES: Well, when you’re the first Kelpien on the show, yes! They cast others, and it’s like, here’s how I walk, how I stand, how we feel… yeah, I taught Kelpien school!
I had to make a video of myself walking and standing, so they could all get that down. I also had a sitdown with Hannah Spear, who plays my sister Siranna, and [Robert Verlaque] who played my dad in the “Short Trek,” to talk about the threat ganglia — how and when do they pop out.
It was a lot to discover, and a lot to review, with anyone playing a Kelpin. Hannah is also tall, lanky, and lithe, and she went through the makeup process beautifully too. James can vouch for that, she was a real trooper with all of that.
MACKINNON: She’s got a great facial structure for the makeup.
JONES: And it was her first time doing a prosthetics makeup job, so with that in mind, she did it with flying colors. She took on the demeanor of a Kelpien just beautifully; I think you’re really going to fall in love with her even more in Season 2.
ANOTHER INTERVIEWER: Can you tell us about familiar aliens we might see this year?
MACKINNON: Nope! But it’s a cool amount. It’s a great thing, because I’ve done five of the other Trek productions, going back to Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and First Contact. So it’s kind of cool, as an artist, if we bring back any of those makeups again, I would get do it for a second time — and make it with new product.
Back in the 1990s, it was all foam latex, and today it’s silicone, so it’s a new medium. It’s washes for color, instead of the PAX paints we used back then. I get to be challenged as a makeup artist now to kind of create a new version of what I did back then, with Michael Westmore, on the older shows.
TREKCORE: Is there anything you can tell us about Airiam 2.0, as Hannah Cheesman takes over the role from Sara Mitich?
MACKINNON: I don’t know anything [about why the casting change occurred], but as for the prosthetics, it is a redesign and resculpt on our behalf.
As a makeup artist, you are always learning ways of doing new stuff, new techinques, and sometimes after you do a makeup, you think back and say, “Oh, I wish I did it some other way.” So now, we do get to do it another way.
Sometime’s there’s a layering effect, maybe where we apply the lip portion before the chin for example. Like with Mary, it depends on how much action she has — so if I put her lip on before I put her chin on, the layering aspect helps with action, smiling, and opening her mouth.
So part of my job is to watch for these things — but with Airiam, this is just the next step in the evolution of a cool makeup.
We’ll be back tomorrow with more from the Discovery premiere event!