Star Trek Make-up Artist Jeff Lewis Talks Aliens and George Clooney's Wonderful Skin

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Jeffrey Combs as an Andorian, one of the aliens Lewis had a large part in creating.
  • Jeffrey Combs as an Andorian, one of the aliens Lewis had a large part in creating.

Star Trek make-up artist Jeff Lewis is at the St. Louis Science Center tonight for First Fridays, a monthly series for Trekkies to geek out with their half-betazoid loving kin. The six-time Emmy nominee will make-up one lucky girl -- the the costume contest winner from last month's inaugural event -- as a Borg, the pseudo-humanoid race of aliens meanies. Afterwards they'll be showing First Contact, the 1996 Star Trek film. We caught up with Lewis to talk all things Trek, and what it was really like to work with George Clooney.

Daily RFT: So I hear you just recently got a new job?

Jeff Lewis: Yeah, it's called Teen Wolf. It's like Twilight but with werewolves. It's on MTV so it's edgier.

Is it fun so far?

JL: I don't know, we're just kind of prepping this week, and we start shooting tomorrow actually. So first and second days, I'll be there half a day Friday and then flying home to St. Louis to do this for the Science Center. I live in Illinois.

Did you get on Up In the Air because you're local, or was it a project you wanted to do?

It was a project I wanted to do. We moved back from LA, but my union is 706 which is still out in Los Angeles, so that's where I do all my work from. We figured I wasn't going to do TV anymore, so we decided to move back to Illinois and fly to wherever the films were shooting. Now I'm getting back into TV here a little bit.

What prompted you getting back into TV?

It sounded like an interesting show, and it wasn't just a beauty show, it involved the special effects make-up again, so that's what kind of got me into it. It wasn't going to be as long as doing Star Trek, which was basically ten and a half months, this one is only about five and a half months. It makes it easier to do.

Do you have an early memory of Star Trek? What got you interested in it to begin with?

I do remember when I was little having the Star Trek toys, getting the phasers and stuff when I was younger. But growing up, I always did make-up to Star Wars, that was kind of the first influential movie that had make-up I would try to recreate. Once I got out to California and got in the union, Mike Westmore (make-up supervisor) told me he wanted me as soon as I got in the union. Once I did, he kept his word and hired me the next day.

You must have some fond memories of Star Trek.

Oh yeah. Looking at my pictures the other night, thinking back to all the stuff we used to do, how much fun we used to have. It was a lot of long hours and a lot of hard work, but it was the best show in terms of being able to do straight beauty make-up, character make-ups, all the prosethetic make-up, do all the sculpting and creating of the aliens, and then at night being able to goof around on the Paramount lot, basically having the whole lot to ourselves. Those are always the things I kind of think about. Do you have a favorite franchise of the three shows you worked on?

It's probably between Deep Space and Enterprise. With Enterprise I had a more hands-on role in creating the aliens with Michael as far as the Andorians, the Sulibans and things like that. Deep Space was fun because we had so many different kinds of aliens to do, so it never got stale. But Enterprise I had a lot more input on the character designs and the paint schemes and things like that.

Was there a particular alien that you had a really heavy hand in creating?

Probably the Andorians, they were brought back from the original series, they were the blue aliens with the antennas, and our producer did not like what the original Andorians were painted because they were just this one color blue and he wanted something different and more unique. I got to design the whole new paint scheme for the Andorians. So that was a lot of fun, to take the classic alien and put my own tweaks on it, update it and make it better and a lot cooler.

Yeah, they are really cool looking. Were they your favorite alien, would you say?

Yeah, because I got to do Jeffrey Combs. We were really good friends, we still are. We met originally back on Deep Space because he played a lot of different aliens for us, and when we did Enterprise they wanted him to be the lead Andorian, since they had a huge role in the whole Enterprise storyline through all four seasons. To be able to do him a lot was a lot of fun.

Have you seen any evidence of the younger generation getting into Star Trek, with shows like the Big Bang Theory and the popularity of things like Comic-Con?

You know, I do see a lot of it, you see it and you hear it. Certain phrases and stuff, you're like, where did you come up with that? And you start thinking, oh, okay, Star Trek. I think there are colleges that teach courses in speaking Klingon and stuff like that. Star Trek has become a huge reference point as far as science and technology, because one of the big things about being at Paramount, we had JPL (NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory) up in Pasadena, they were like 20 minutes from us, and the scientists would like to come hang out on the set. That's where everybody got their fascination for science -- from Star Trek. That's where you have cell phones originating from, and hand-scanners. Those things that Gene Roddenbury created back then, we can actually make this real and work, so it's nice to see a lot of people are still influenced heavily by Star Trek. Roddenbury created things you would never think could happen, but they've all happened. But now I look at the tech we created for Enterprise, and we've caught so far up, it doesn't really take your imagination away too much. It's hard to think what would come down in the future, but that was what was always neat about the original show. Everything came from that show. You can watch any TV show you want and you're always going to hear a reference to Star Trek. It's still very mainstream and popular; it's just kind of grown into the culture.

It definitely has. Since you live in Illinois, have you been to see the exhibit at the Science Center yet?

Yeah, I brought my son over a couple weeks ago. We got to walk in and look at some things, I got to show hims some things that I had done that are in the exhibit. He grew up on the set, one of his first baby pictures is him sitting on the bridge of the Enterprise in the captain's chair. I know he probably doesn't think it's that fun, but I know years from now he'll think it's really fun that he grew up on the set.

When people are going through the exhibit, what should we look out for that's yours?

There's a section with a bunch of display heads of different characters, some were from the original Deep Space, there's a fair amount of those heads that I actually put together. Part of our thing with Star Trek is any make-up that's to go on display--and there are hundreds of displays and travelling exhibits all over the world--they all come out of our lab. Michael wouldn't allow anyone else to do anything. Everything from the theme parks or the Star Trek Experience in Las Vegas, we had to generate all of that. The display busts, anything and everything had to come through us. Not only did we do our shows, but we constantly had all this extra work we were doing. On Friday we'll have a little fun, I think everybody will be pretty amazed by the exhibit. You get to see some of the sets, what it was really like to be there. Now if they just sit there for the next 20 hours, they know what it's like to work on it. How long would it take you and Michael to create an alien?

It would really depend, when we did the Souliban, that was going to be our new bad guy for Enterprise, it probably took Michael and I a couple days to figure out the look, and then it took us about a week to sculpt and put the Souliban together so we could just mold it and get going. Michael a lot of time would sit there, and he's got thousands of drawings from over the years; it would always be fun to go through the drawings and say, what if we took this part and then added this part.

Did your work on Buffy the Vampire Slayer prepare you at all for Star Trek?

No, it's probably going to help me on this project though because it's late nights. Ours were always early mornings on Star Trek, we would work anywhere from 16 to 18 hours a day. That was kind of the norm for us, there were a couple days where we did 24 to 26 hour days. But that didn't happen too often. It doesn't make it that fun when you're working 85, 90 hours a week.

Who has better skin, George Clooney or Sarah Michelle Gellar?

George's is pretty good, Sarah I haven't seen since the Buffy days, but she still is looking good. I have a friend that's doing her new show now. She's doing well still. I'll take George any day, he's easy.

Is he?!

Oh yeah, he's the easiest guy to work with. As far as make-up, we would kind of do our thing, whereas other actors liked to run around and do stuff, George kept himself always looking good, he wasn't out sweating like crazy, except at lunchtime. He had to play basketball every day at lunch. After lunch we'd redo things and get him back to looking great and in a suit. He can wake up at 4 in the morning and go to bed 24 hours later and never change his look. He was put together all day long. It made it nice, we were able to put that aside, it gave us a lot more time to hang out and just talk and hear stories and that kind of thing, versus working and being a high-maintenance person. He's definitely not that.

That's surprising to me, but I'm glad to hear it! Any stories that stand out in your mind from him?

Probably none that I can tell, we just had a really good time, we'd play basketball, throw the ball around in the hangers between shots, because we were in a lot of airports. One of the bigger things was to have my parents come down and bring my son down to the set one day when we were in St. Louis, and they actually got to have private time with George, and talk to him and get their pictures taken. That's awesome. How old is your son?

He's 9, almost 10.

What a cool way to grow up.

He's gotten to meet lots of famous people, he's just now starting to get to that point; before he just thought, oh, everybody gets to talk to these people. He's been a lucky kid. One time he was really into Drake and Josh, the TV show. So I went and did the Drake and Josh Merry Christmas movie, that was the height of when he was really into that show. I had to go out to LA, and they knew he was sad, so Drake and Josh would both call and talk to him while we were filming, and then when Sam came out they took him around and showed him all the sets, and Miranda Cosgrove talked to him and stuff, he just had the best time ever. To watch a show that he loves and then be able to meet these guys; he was always surprised when they'd call him at home and see how he was and what he was up to. It was nice that they knew he was sad and took care of him, they'd call once or twice a week and talk to him for five or ten minutes, it kept him happy.

Wow, what a lucky kid you have.

I think I start to pick more shows and stuff that he would like.

Do you pick shows just because it's going to be a challenge, or because you're interested in the project?

Like this one, it just seems like more of a challenge, getting to do more of the prosthetic work as well as the straight beauty stuff. I'm always looking for projects that are kid-oriented, when I have opportunities to do those, I take advantage of that. I shouldn't be the only one having fun.

Is there a particular beauty tip that people don't know that you know? I mean, I'm sure there are thousands, but is there a really basic one that people seem to miss?

Hmm. I think hot towels every night. That's how I clean my actors every night and keep everybody's skin looking good. We wet towels, either put them in the towel steamer or the microwave and every night they steam their faces. It opens up the pores, gets everything out, it relaxes them. I think a lot of people skip that, the first basic is keep your natural skin looking good because if that looks like crap, everything you put over it doesn't matter. I just got done about a half hour ago sitting my entire cast down and saying, this is how it goes. After all the make-up every day, you're going to come in and let me clean you, and clean the face. We've gotta put make-up on these kids every single day. It takes a beating on their skin, and women wear make-up every day, and I think a lot of them just put soap on the face, but using that towel and steaming the face does a lot.

Well thank you, I will amend my regimen immediately. Which alien took the longest to make up day to day?

It's a Borg, it's a plane!
  • It's a Borg, it's a plane!

I would probably say the Borgs. Between getting their make-up on, their clothes on, and then getting the hoses all attached, from start to finish you're talking a good 4 and a half, five hours. We would have a lot of early mornings when we had to do those guys.

How did the actors deal with it?

We had some that were claustrophobic, but we kind of weeded them out. It was always a big concern of ours, because once we got the guys in the make ups, they would be in them for 20 hours, to be able to have to wear all that stuff, they would try and take naps here and there and not eat a whole lot. Try not to sweat a lot. That sounds rough, I imagine most of us would be royal pains if we had to go through the work day under those conditions.

A lot of the time, they couldn't eat actual food, so at lunch we'd have to order milkshakes or protein shakes for them. They may go 12 to 15 hours without actual food. We'd load them up at breakfast, and then have a ton of food sitting there for when they wrapped and we got the make-up off.

Was there anybody from the earlier shows that you always wanted to meet but never got to?

That was the nice thing about Star Trek, every body kept close. If you worked on Star Trek, it was like a great big family, it was your choice to leave, but if you didn't want to leave, you stayed. I was basically the last new guy to come on, and I was there for nine years. There were some that were there for 20 years. My boss started with Generations with Patrick Stewart, but the nice thing is, those guys would come back. Patrick would come bac and just visit the set. We'd have people like Levar Burton and Jonathan Frakes and Brent Spiner, they would come back and direct. Everybody stuck around, you never went too long without seeing somebody. When we had parties, everybody was invited. We had Brent Spiner come back on, for Enterprise as a character, the other guys did a lot of directing for us. They had a vested interest in the franchise.

Do you still watch the show?

Not really, because I've seen them so much. People are like, I can't believe you don't sit down and watch it, but you know, it's just not one take and you move on, we shoot every take four and five times, maybe 20 times, and so by the time it's finished and cut and aired, I've seen every episode 20 times at that point. Occasionally I'll turn it on just to think back to what was going on. If Sam is with me, I'll say, to the right of that is where I'm sitting. I remember where I was sitting, or who was doing what. Sometimes you'll do that. But for the most part, no, I really don't watch it.

Is your son into it? Do you think he's going to become a huge Trekkie at some point?

No. He's a Star Wars kid. If they do that as a series, I have to get on that for him.

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