Cheri Minns has had the career most makeup artists dream of, as she says he really did have her dreams come true. As department head on the humongous 80s hit show Dallas her hollywood career started off with a bang. After 4 years she left to go back to films and spent the next 30+ years working on some of the biggest films in the world with some of the biggest names in the world. Cheri was Department Head of mine (and every teenager in the late 80s) favourite film 'Say Anything' and worked on so many classics of that time, including Postcards From The Edge, Dick Tracey, Adams Family Values, Bugsy and so many more. She then paired up with the spectacular Robin Williams and formed a special working relationship that span twenty years and numerous films until his untimely death in 2014. I am thrilled Cheri took time to tell me about her wonderful career, the highlights as well as sharing some of her excellent pro-tips. 

A snapshot of a 40 year career

MANW: How did you start your career and what was the progression it took?
CM: I started in New Orleans which is where I am from. I always had a passion for makeup and hair, I went to cosmetology school for hair but once I was in the salon I knew pretty quickly that it wasn't for me. If color was the art form it is today I probably would have stuck with that. My good friend worked on independent films with Producer-Director  Charles B. Pierce and he got me to come up to Montana and help with makeup and wardrobe on a film and that was it, my PASSION was there and I didn’t want anything else! There were no schools for makeup then and they didn’t let women in the union, although it wasn’t said out loud. Mr. Pierce hired me on his films for makeup and hair, one I also did art direction and another he he fired props and then I was makeup, hair and props! 
His films were mostly westerns, one true story of a murderer in a small town during the 50s and all on location. I learned a lot by buying any books I could find (NO INTERNET), it was tough but when you are young you are fearless and I had a natural talent and passion for it. Eventually on one of those films I met an actor, we fell in love and he asked me to move to LA and after a while I did. 

Once in LA I couldn’t get into the union, sometimes I went to work with him and observed, and when he did “King Kong” he asked the makeup man if I could watch and he said yes, but he told me I would never get into the union because they don’t allow women. That’s when I learnt film makeup was a handed down legacy from fathers to sons and so on, and the wives and aunts would be allowed to do hair. After a few years I was still doing independents when the union was forced by law to open their doors to some women and minorities and I got a phone call that I was in as I had all the credentials. I then got a show called Dallas when the current Department Head, Jerry O’Dell, didn’t want to continue after the pilot, they offered it to me way before it became the huge show that it did and I was on it for 4 years. I left to go back to films as I wanted to feel more creative, work with different people and collaborate more, that’s what I needed. It was scary but I was lucky, I met some wonderful people and great directors; Barry Levinson, Cameron Crowe, Mike Nichols, Warren Beatty, Barry Sonnenfeld, they all would ask me to work with them again. And then I hooked up with the fabulous Robin Williams and we were together twenty years until 2014. 

MANW: You mainly work as hair & makeup artist and department head in film, did you ever want to work in fashion or beauty?
CM: Oh yes, I love it! All makeup is my passion but you play the hand you’re dealt. When I started you had to be well rounded and do everything… beauty, facial hair, prosthetics, tattoos, scars and wounds etc. Makeup artists today call in a person that specializes in appliances, tattoos, facial hair, etc. and producers don’t care. It’s a new world in this department, you could never do that 10 years ago. But it employs more people so it's great.

MANW: Do you have a preference for the type of jobs and makeups you like to do? Do you prefer hair or makeup, and do you prefer straight or effects makeup? Do you prefer being a department head or being personal to one person?
CM: This is a big question…I’ll address the makeup AND hair issue first. I have not always done both, I did it in the start of my career on indie films but when you join the IATSE (American union) you must choose your category; either makeup or hair and I chose makeup. You are allowed to do hair as an extension of a character creation and when I started working with Robin Williams it was something that happened organically after a few shows, and it worked for him to just have one person in his space. I found it difficult at times but his trust in me had grown about his characters and his look so we collaborated. It worked for us but it’s not the norm.

MANW: What is your process of creating character looks and how much say do you have in the designs?
CM: As a department head you usually have a lot of say, and you work with the costume designer and director to see what their vision is. After you research and develop some looks you bring your ideas to the director and continue until a strong 1 or 2 looks are ready to test. One of my favourite examples was Robin Williams in “One Hour Photo”. His character worked in a Target type store at the one hour photo department and he was withdrawn, socially challenged and lived his life through the photos of others lives, and I immediately decided I wanted him pale, balding and blonde. I could never just do that unless there was a computer generated photo to present to the director first so Michael Key helped me out there and I brought it to Mark Romanack, the director, and then it went down the line to everyone else. They loved it and OMG now I had to pull it off! Robin has a lot of red in his skin and when he starts acting he perspires a lot, blonde hair is not easy to maintain and balding was a challenge but I knew all this going in and I loved the challenge! 

I cut Robin's hair short, thinned the front and top very thin, then with a small shaver I hand shaved the paths I could follow for the duration so it looked natural. I took him to Beverly Hills and had his hair bleached and toned to the perfect shade, I got the formula from them and off we went. I used an anti-sweat product, then 
I mixed a light custom colour to block the redness, I followed with stippling a two toned pale sheer foundation and it worked, he looked great. He also wore a pair of glasses and when we walked to the set to film the test he couldn’t stand it that no-one recognised him. He started stopping them and shaking hands saying “Hi, I’m Robin Williams” it was too funny. He loved that look and that really pleased me.

MANW: You have had an amazing career, from working on the insanely poular Dallas for such a long time, on so many classic films throughout the 80s and 90s (Postcards from the Edge!) and the many films as personal artist to the incredible Robin Williams for over two decades. Can you tell us about some of the stand out moments of your career, of which there must be so many?
CM: These moments for certain: Being invited to be a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science in 1996, being nominated for an Emmy, winning The Saturn Award and receiving the Designing Women Award from NY Women In Film. Working on “Say Anything” with Cameron Crowe 
as Anthony Kiedis would stop by to see girlfriend Ione Skye. Another time I few to London with Robin Williams and I met Paul McCartney and slept next to him in first class. I saw the Beatles live when I was very young and I worshipped them! Paul gave me his guitar pick! I acted like a giddy girl.

Other stand out moments are the hundreds of times I felt like a fly on the wall watching an incredible Meryl Streep perform “Postcards From The Edge”, watching the charismatic Warren Beatty flirt with everyone, even me! Staying on a yacht with Robin Williams and his assistant while filming “Insomnia”. It was very well kept all wooden style, Al Pacino had one that was huge and like old-money dining deck with a bar and bedrooms below and Hilary Swank had one like a Miami drug dealer all chrome and glass. All 3 had their own chef and one night there was a dinner party we had drinks on Robin's yacht, then to Al’s for dinner, then Hilary’s for dessert!! So much fun! Who does this?? ME!!  Working with Mike Nichols, Barry Levinson, Nora Ephron, I worked with so many fun and talented directors and actors, the stories are endless!

MANW: You’ve been in the industry a long time, how do you think it has differed and what advice would you give to new artists starting out? 

CM: I think they will be fine. They are a social media breed now, and a self promoting group, that’s what it takes these days. It will change again. My advice would be to share knowledge, don’t take where you are for granted and respect those that came before you.. we forged some roads for you, as the ones did before us, it will always be this way. I see some disrespect now towards our department, you can set the tone, learn from seasoned artists and keep it fun but keep it professional. 

MANW: All artists have ‘the wish list’; a face they would love to work on or a show or film they would have loved to have worked on. Mine have always been Bugsy Malone (I was obsessed with Tallulah) and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. But my current one is Nashville, I'm obsessed with the country glamour and Connie Britton's hair. Who or what are yours? 
CM: Cate Blanchette I have always wanted to work with (I adore her), but truly I have worked with some wonderful, beautiful people and I’m happy with my career. Sarah Jessica Parker, Madonna, Goldie Hawn, Joan Cusack, Jessica Lange, Demi Moore, Kristin Chenowith, Robin Williams, Dennis Quaid, Robert Downey Jr., Michael Caine,Warren Beatty, Nathan Lane, James Caan, Liam Neeson...yea, I’m good. I've done some films I love, and I watched a lot more that I loved. Ve Neil has some fantastic films; Lost Boys, Batman series, The Hunger Games. I got to work on some of her shows and it was always such a great time. I wish everyone could have the successful and fun career that I have experienced, I had my dreams come true.

MANW: On to the good stuff, what are your tricks for flawless looking skin?
CM: For men and women COLD eyepads while having hair done, or in my chair if there is time. Also for men and women I like the beauty blender, and to mist Evian after makeup in the morning and after touchups so skin looks fresh.

MANW: What are your top 5 holy grail kit products? 
CM: Anthelios SX Daily Moisturiser Creme w/ Sunblock (they make other types, but very good), I get mine at CVS pharmacy here. I also like Murad products they have a non-greasy sunblock and moisturisers for a variety of skin types, I’ve used it on myself for years. Eyelash curler, Derma Colour palettes.. they have a thicker pigment than regular makeup you can mix and blend for all skin types to cover things from shaving rash, zits and scars. Which leads me to Skin Illustrator pallets which are good for many things; Tattoo cover, Grunge Palette for dirt and many other things, FX pallette for bruising, some burns and cuts, Complexion and Dark Flesh are great not just to match skin tones but to mottle skin tones and create washes over some other FX you have done. And liquids to custom create my own colors and palettes, and airbrush. 

MANW: What's your best makeup artist tip to give women?
CM: Good light when you do your makeup! You should do your best to have good light wherever you do your makeup, otherwise you may miss some unblended bits and harsh eyeshadow and just wrong colors. Younger ladies please watch those hard thick drawn in eyebrows, I see so many beautiful young ladies with these very heavy drawn on brows and it is not attractive!! 

MANW: Finally, false eyelashes - the longer the better or enough already they look ridiculous?
CM: This is a matter of what look you want.. fantasy, glamour beauty, innocence, youth, mature, characters. But for a natural or beauty look use them only if the client can carry it off. I like to stay closer to a more natural look usually.

You can find out more about Cheri's work on her IMDB page or follow her on Twitter.

You can follow me on Twitter here and Instagram here (@anniemakeup).

If you liked this interview and would like to read other leading industry makeup artists stories have a look at the rest of the series here.

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