Mad Men Make-Up Artist Debbie Zoller: a tFS Exclusive Interview

Make-up artist Debbie Zoller has helped create memorable looks on such award winning shows as Mad Men, Nip/TuckStar Trek: The Next Generation, and Star Trek: Enterprise, and she is currently the Head of the Make-up Department on the hit ABC TV series Castle.

Recently honored with her eighth and ninth career Emmy nominations – for Outstanding Make-up For A Single-Camera Series (Non-Prosthetic), as well as Outstanding Prosthetic Make-up For A Series – tFS spoke to Zoller about her research methods for her various projects, what it takes be a great make-up artist, and more….

The Fashion Spot: What kind of research did you do before starting work on the various TV programs you’ve worked on?
Debbie Zoller: I think research is the key to any project I work on. Whether its a period piece like Mad Men, or modern day like Castle, I immerse myself in that era so I have a place to start.
I look through books and magazines first, and then scour the internet for images that I like. Doing research helps to get my creative juices flowing. 
tFS: Most memorable work experience?
DZ: It’s really hard for me to choose one project as my most memorable work experience. I’ve been working as a make-up artist for 25 years, and I have been blessed with so many amazing experiences. Some great and some not so great, but I have learned valuable lessons on each and every one.
So to pick some of the best experiences I would have to say: I LOVE working with David Lynch. He is an artist that truly captures my heart and soul. I Heart Huckabees had a brilliant cast and brilliant director. Mad Men was a very unique experience as well, but I can’t forget to mention the Star Trek series.
I wasn’t a “Trekkie” growing up, but I was a huge fan of Michael Westmore, from the infamous “Westmore Family” of Make-up Artists. I worked for him for 3 years on Star Trek, The Next Generation and on two of the feature films. He was my first mentor, and I am so grateful to him.  
tFS: Was there ever a time you thought you’d leave the industry? If so, what made you persevere?
DZ: About 9 years ago I thought I was done with this business and with being a Make-up artist. What I realized is that I was suffering from extreme burn out. I rarely took any time off. I was like the Energizer Bunny. I just kept going and going from one project to the next to the next, and at just that moment when I was ready to throw in the towel, Quentin Tarantino called me to work on Kill Bill 1 and 2.
I was exhausted, but couldn’t and wouldn’t pass up that opportunity. His energy and artistic vision was just what I needed to remind me why I was a make-up artist in the first place. He made me appreciate all that I was, and what I still wanted to accomplish.
tFS: What do you think are the qualities that make a great make-up artist?
DZ: The qualities that build a great make-up artist are not only raw talent, but the eagerness to learn the craft and the humbleness to be taught. Having mentors like Michael Westmore and Ve Neill showed me first hand how important it is to always practice your craft. You can’t fake this. The minute your ego gets in the way of your work, watch out. Learning from those who have paved the way and respecting the craft will get you very far.
tFS: Do you work in tandem with the hair stylist when you’re conceiving a look, or is that completely separate?
DZ: I work very closely with the writer, director, costume designer, hair stylist, production designer, and cinematographer when designing looks. It’s imperative to communicate with everyone so that you are all on the same page. It’s really obvious on screen when that communication breaks down.
tFS: What are your go-to make-up brands? Favorite products?
DZ: Over the years, I have been very fortunate to work closely with many popular brands. The products they offer are crucial to my designs, and many times I design with specific products and colors in mind because I know the end result I’m looking for.
The brands I use most these days are: Rock and Republic Cosmetics, Makeup For Ever, Laura Mercier, Creme de la Mer, Kate Somerville, Sephora, MAC, Benefit, and Bare Escentuals.
Some of my favorite products are: Laura Mercier tinted moisturizers with spf, Benefit’s “Thrrrob” Powder Blush and “Powderflage”, Dior Show Black Mascara, Creme de la Mer Lifting Serum and lip balm, Rock and Republic eyeshadows, MAC lip liners, Kate Somerville SPF 55 and Micro Glycolic Polisher, and Bare Escentuals Buxom Lipsticks and Lip Gloss. Most of these can be found at Sephora.
tFS: If you could name 5 beauty products that everyone woman must have, what would they be?
DZ: A tinted moisturizer with SPF, black mascara, a red lipstick (or lip gloss), a bronzing powder, and lip balm. I can do an entire make-up with just these five items.