ATY: How did you first get interested in make-up design?
RM: I first became interested in make-up design at a very early age, five years old. My mother used to allow me to play and do her make-up and hair. I would even repaint the faces on some of my dolls...too bad I didn't keep them, or maybe I am glad that I didn't!!!
I had two passions that I wanted to pursue in life. One was to do make-up or hair in film. I went into Cosmetology, a vocational program offered while in high school. The other was Aviation, another program offered in high school. I never had a desire to work in a salon and decided to pursue my aviation career first.
ATY: Who or what were some of your influences?
RM: My first influences in make-up and hair were the glamour movies of the '40s, '50s, and '60s. I loved the glamour photos of those periods. I also loved the styles of period films. Early in my career I was fortunate to have had the experience of working with some of Hollywood's great artists. One being Dell Armstrong, who was the personal make-up artist to Judy Garland and Lana Turner and many others. He shared some of the secrets of the make-up masters, which I am forever grateful for. I was also blessed to have worked with a special effects master, Matthew Mungle, who has been recognized for his work and awarded both an Oscar and several Emmys. Matthew has always been very giving of his expertise whenever I was in need of learning a technique. Matthew or his partner John E. Jackson came on board on several of the videos that I did with Al. Without their artistry I wouldn't have been able to pull off many of the parody images created. On The Weird Al Show it was all my design. It amazes me to this day what I was able to create with hardly a budget! I have always maintained creative control with regard to hair and make-up at the direction of Al on all the videos that I have done with him.
ATY: What was your first Al project?
RM: I was the make-up assistant on UHF, one of my first projects, and have been with him since on almost every project.
ATY: How did you get your start in the industry?
RM: I got my start in the industry by a friend, Nina Kent. She knew I was very interested in working as a make-up artist and was doing a very low, NO-budget film and asked if I would like to help her out by powdering the actors on set while she was getting others through the process. I was thrilled. I was hooked and literally quit my job one month later and told my friend Nina. She helped to guide me. I got on an AFI film, working for free and basically worked my way from there. I soon met a make-up artist named Pamela Peitzman, who took me under her wing and became my mentor. Another friend named Lynn Eagan, who also helped me to get started by hiring me to assist her and introduced me to Matthew Mungle, brought me to work as her assistant on UHF. When she wasn't available to do the music video's George Michael, ZZ Top, and Prince scenes for Al, she recommended that they hire me to do the job.
Al was great and believed in me, and I was given the opportunity to prove my talents. When I pulled off the George Michael look I got a standing ovation from the entire crew. That to this day that was a very special moment for me in my career.
ATY: Needless to say, the "UHF" music video contains some of Al's best visual parodies, and that definitely can be attributed to how dead-on Al looks in each of the scenes. But anyway, what is the usual process when you're designing hair and make-up for the music videos?
RM: I have a unique relationship with Al. He knows how I think. Articulation is not one of my finer points. I always receive direction from Al. He basically tells me what he wants and provides me with a music video of the artist that he will be doing the parody of. Then I review the video several times to get the feel of the song and artist. On one occasion I was unfamiliar with the artist, Prodigy, and found that I liked their music.
After I review the video, I then study it frame by frame and specifically the artist that Al will be portraying. I have become somewhat of a "copy artist." Once I know what I need to accomplish the look, I then present that to production for budget approval. Al has had some of the same crew for many years and we all put in an extra 100%, and the producers know that I am capable of working with a tight budget and being able to pull it off.
ATY: What kinds of challenges have you come across in creating make up for the parodies, particularly when Al has to resemble the other artist? Would you say it's a difficult challenge overall or a pleasant one?
RM: On all the videos there is an element of challenge. I thrive on the challenges, so I would say it is a pleasant experience. It may not always seem that way, especially when we're still shooting after a long day. It's the end result that is important to me and that Al is comfortable and pleased with the character whom he is doing the parody of. There have been a few times where I have been disappointed, particularly when I have to do effects and it's 112 degrees. The challenge is to maintain Al as much as possible because he not only performs in the video but also directs all his own videos, so it's not like I can get him out of character if he still has shots to do that include him. The secret to the working relationship that I have with Al is that we have an understanding and respect for one another and stickler to detail. Al has no problem letting you know what he expects and if something is not quite right creatively. He is a special human being. He is a perfectionist, quite intelligent and talented. At the same time he is one of the most humble and hardest working individuals I have ever worked with or known.
One of the biggest challenges for me is getting my crew together. I have been very fortunate to have had some of the same people work with me on most of the videos. Kathy Hagan is one of the artists who has worked with me on almost all of Al's videos. Whenever a parody is special effects intensive, then Matthew Mungle takes over that end and has his own crew. It's impossible to be able to do a great job in all categories, make-up, hair, and special effects. I usually try to always have a team member who is strong in hair.
ATY: Perhaps inarguably some of your best hair designs were the "Bad Hair" styles you created for Al and the band. How were the styles created and executed?
RM: Doing Bad Hair Day was probably one of my favorites! I had so much fun doing the "Coolio" look on Al. You would not believe the time or the rigging that it took to achieve that look. I had a partner who specializes in hair with me when we shot the album cover and we had a blast!!! As artists, doing stuff like the work we get to do on Al's projects is what we live for! Doing the same look on someone day after day is sooooo boring and becomes paint-by-numbers to me. On Bad Hair Day we got to have fun with the designs. Most of the designs for the cover just kinda evolved as we did each band member. I even got credit for "bad hair," my first credit ever on Al's albums. Doing the video for "Amish Paradise" was great fun as well. I had a great crew, Kathy Hagan and John E. Jackson!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! We just rocked and rolled and worked great as a team.
ATY: Since you helped create the look of Al's parody, what are your thoughts on Coolio's negative reaction to "Amish Paradise?"
RM: I have a definite opinion on Coolio's negative reaction. First of all, they presented at the American Music Awards, which was prior to (Coolio's) comment having been said. When Coolio saw Al backstage it was not a negative response and he actually taught Al how to do the "Coolio walk" prior to walking out on-stage. Most people are unaware of that.
I think the person who asked Coolio, right after having won HIS first Grammy, how he felt about Al doing the parody should have waited to ask that question. That was Coolio's moment, and to ask him about Al I think was inappropriate. I have no idea whether Coolio got any grief from his fans after the AMA presentation and felt some sense of obligation to his fans to respond as he did.
What I do know is that Al felt horrible and meant no harm. He personally wrote a letter to Coolio to apologize, but he never even got a response. I am sure Coolio didn't mind the money he earned off the success of the song. Most artists are generally honored when Al does a parody of them. It's humor, folks. Get over it and put your humor hat on. I do think journalists should think about the questions they are asking and have some common sense. It was his first Grammy and a big deal to him. He didn't want to talk about Al at that time. Maybe if asked at a later time his response may have been different. You'd have to ask Coolio that.
ATY: Would you consider "Amish Paradise" and Bad Hair Day to be your best work overall, or do you have another favorite?
RM: I actually have several favorites. "Amish Paradise" being one, Prodigy was fun to do, and the Star Wars video was great fun. I was extremely pleased with that look of Al. And, of course, the George Michael parody. I am proud of all of them, so it's hard to pinpoint a favorite.
Oh, there was also the project that we did for MTV where Al is portrayed as some acoustic artist. They actually had Al giving consideration to cut his hair and straighten it!!!! What were they thinking??!! Al does look great in short straight hair, but to maintain the look is unrealistic. Thank god for wigs!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
ATY: We recently spoke with Julie Rae Engelsman, the costumer designer for The Weird Al Show, and she said that the way Al works is a rarity in the business because he hardly ever interferes and trusts the designers completely. Do you agree with that assessment, or is Al more hands-on when working with you?
RM: I have worked with Al for many years and have worked with several costume designers, and yes it is true to a certain extent that Al leaves you to do your job without interference. But there are pre-production meetings, there are fittings and measurements to be taken, there are steps along the way where interaction with Al is necessary and the opportunity to make changes. Al is a very busy person and his time is limited, so to go back and forth on every level just doesn't happen. It is true that he has hired you because of your skill and his confidence in your ability to deliver.
ATY: At which stage in developing a character or one of Al's looks are you brought in? Do you normally look at the costume design first, or does it not matter?
RM: I do have some interaction with the costume designer, especially if the costume will have a direct effect on the hair of make-up, and how we can work together to achieve the final result. Generally we just go about doing our jobs.
Generally speaking, whenever Al is in the process of doing a new project he will let me know, and I always try to keep my schedule open to work with Al. Then I am contacted by the producer once production has begun. It has happened on occasion when Al hasn't contacted me, or the producer has contacted me too late, or my schedule hasn't allowed me to work with Al. That has happened when Al is directing another artist's video. I am always contacted well in advance on any video or job that pertains to Weird Al.
ATY: Was The Weird Al Show your first television series?
RM: The Weird Al Show was the first TV series that I was Dept. Head, however I have been Dept. Head on other (kinds of) shows, game shows, interview shows, etc. I have worked on other series since the start of my career in 1986, and recently worked for two years on a multi award-winning TV series.
ATY: How early in pre-production were you brought in?
RM: I was made aware of The Weird Al Show at the early stages, but wasn't brought on until after pre-production had already begun. I had only a few days to prep the first script, and work on character designs for make-up and hair. This was a non-union production, therefore I was Dept. Head for both MU & H. I brought in an associate to work with me. That was Peggy Nicholas. I don't like to refer to my assistants as an assistant when they are one of my peers and doing me a favor to work below the union scale. I needed someone who was also strong with hair as well as make up.
ATY: Since we're discussing hair design on The Weird Al Show, we must ask you about the character of Val Brentwood the Gal Spy, who always had a different hair color each time she appeared on the show. The actress that portrayed her, Paula Jai Parker, had this exact same trait in a movie she did called Sprung. So, was the altering hair color something she suggested to you or something you came up with?
RM: I was aware of her costume designs and wardrobe changes and felt is was best to work with wigs. Manic Panic had these fun wigs that worked great. Peggy Nicholas was responsible for doing her character and we discussed the wigs with the actress and she was in agreement and liked the concept. Since this was a TV show geared for young audience I wanted to keep it colorful and it worked.
ATY: We don't know if you have heard about this, but a few years ago Al's Prodigy "wig" was sold at a fan convention for a couple of hundred dollars.
RM: Yes, I was aware of the wig from the Prodigy video had been sold. Actually it was a bald cap with hair that had been glued onto it. It cannot be reused. That one was so much fun to do. We had limited time in which to do it. It was not something that could be made in advance and I also had to have the bald cap custom made to fit Al's head with all his hair and make it look as real as possible.
ATY: A lot of the props and costumes from the TV show were either pitched or packed up in Dick Clark Productions' storage. Were you ever able to take home any keepsakes or mementos from any of the shoots?
RM: I keep all of the wigs I make for Al. Should he ever need one of them, he knows they are in safe keeping.
ATY: And finally, you've been working with Al for close to fifteen years now, and definitely your design is a big part of what makes the videos (and Al's visual look in general) successful. Is there anything you would like to say to the fans out there who have enjoyed the work you do and are looking forward to the future?
RM: Glad to hear that Al's fans approve of my work. I am honored. I know that Al took some time off after completing his two year tour, so your guess is as good as mine as to what is next. You never know with Al. When he finishes recording and has created the next video is when he lets us all know!!! Hopefully, in the near future!!!
The Weird Al Show ©1997 Dick Clark Productions, Inc.