'This Is Us' makeup whiz Zoe Hay on the art of aging Mandy Moore gracefully

Photos: NBC

With last night’s Season 2 premiere of This Is Us, America’s collective Tuesday night tear-fest commenced, and undoubtedly those with stock in Kleenex rejoiced. Almost as rewarding as the emotional release one gets from peering into the lives of the Pearsons is getting to clock the progression of Jack’s facial hair across the decades or watching the 33-year-old Mandy Moore transform into a 60-something senior during the commercial break. It’s an especially impressive feat when you remember that the actors who play Moore’s kids are all older than she is in real life.

That kind of makeup magic doesn’t happen on its own or look realistic without a lot of care. Yahoo Entertainment reached out to the series’ head of makeup, Zoe Hay (American Crime StoryMasters Of SexThe ArtistJ. Edgar), to find out more about what inspired the Pearsons’ many looks, how the styles differ depending on the decade, what goes into the old-age process, and whether there have ever been any hair/makeup emergencies on set.

What inspired Rebecca’s “old age” look?
She was a woman who was a creative artist her whole life, and I felt like she would be a woman who would take care of herself. Not a woman who would have plastic surgery or do strange things to her face, but just a woman who would age gracefully and beautifully. 

Did the hair come first? The prosthetics? The wardrobe?
We did the pilot [which didn’t require present-day Rebecca] and came back about six months later to shoot the first season. Before we started shooting, we had a meeting and they had an outside company, an effects house, come in and do a full prosthetic makeup taking her all the way. We talked about the look and then we started discussing coming back from there, and about the need to design something that was going to be simpler and easier for Mandy and us. We have to have a look that works within the time constraints we have shooting our episodes. Also, the biggest struggle with putting a young actor in heavy prosthetics is that you essentially create a mask that doesn’t always move the way you need it to. This is the kind of show where you need faces to move to show emotions.

I had actually just worked with a brand-new prosthetic technique from a company called Out of Kit, which is run by Stevie Bettles, and had tried these new pieces for a commercial that aged somebody. I said, “You know what, I think those are going to work.” We tested them on Mandy first. We went through all these different iterations before we decided on one that I feel ages her appropriately, but still makes her look elegant and beautiful.

What was the hardest part of the makeup to get right?
When she’s in her age makeup, she is acting alongside the adult versions of her children, who are actually older than she is in real life. So it’s quite a challenge to get that to look real. It helps that she’s done an amazing job too. I really feel that when you create an age makeup, it has to be something that allows the actor to feel transformed. I love watching Mandy when she’s in the age makeup, how she moves differently and how her voice is different. All of these things and the way they dress her come together to create this complete picture of a mature woman. It’s completely believable and appropriate for the show. Old age makeup is the hardest makeup you could do as a makeup artist. Especially now [because you] have to get it to be believable on HD television. We’re talking cameras that can see the pores on your face.

Walk me through the process of turning Mandy into a 60-something senior. 
She wears several very, very small prosthetics. They’re almost all targeted towards certain areas of the face. There’s a small piece under her neck/jowls, small pieces along her smile line to accentuate those, some for eye bags and crow’s feet in between her eyebrows to create a frown line. In addition to that, we do the texture planing all over her face before the appliances are applied. We do a stretch-and-stipple makeup that pulls her skin. We apply the product and then release it, which gives us texture and wrinkles, which is very hard to do because Mandy doesn’t have a lot of give there. She’s a young lady. So we use all of these elements together to get the skin to move differently and to create different dimensions in her face in certain areas to give the illusion of aging. But the key is that we need enough of her under there that it all still moves when she smiles. I want her to have expression in her face yet the edges of the pieces have to blend seamlessly into her own skin so that you can’t see them on the camera.

How long does it take to transform Mandy into older Rebecca?
We have it down to about a three-and-a-half-hour process total for hair and makeup. We’ve gotten it down to about two-and-a-half for the makeup and 45 minutes to an hour for hair. We manage to get her dressed and out the door in three and a half hours, sometimes a little less. It was three and a half, four hours in the beginning for just the makeup. As a crew, you learn stuff that you can do together to create a way of being efficient. Another artist, Liz Hoel-Chang, assists me because it takes two of us to do the makeup. We’ve developed this body language where we know where we’re going and what we’re doing and now our hands move together. It enables us to execute the whole thing much faster.

I imagine there is a creepy drawer or shelf somewhere on the set that holds little pieces of Rebecca’s face, or just has Milo’s mustache and beard.
Yes, pretty much. It’s in a cupboard up behind my station.

How did Mandy react when she saw herself aged up the first time?
Mandy is totally game for all of it. She never acted like she’s shocked by it. She’s always taking photos and we laugh about it a lot. At every age she does, she’s really into the whole process and embraces it. She enjoys the transformation. It makes it a lot easier to do. It’s definitely hard to sit in the chair for that long. She’s always taking photos, and we laugh about it a lot. She’s just very involved in the process. She actually helps us do the makeup. She’s given a job. She has to blow-dry it all for us.

Photo: Ron Batzdorff/NBC

How does Rebecca’s makeup change as the decades change from the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s to the present?
For every age, there’s some little transformation that we’re making. I use different length eyelashes or add some in to create different looks and shapes for her eyes. We changed the shape of her eyebrows very, very, very slightly. We use shadow and highlighter to create age. Sometimes in the ’90s, I just line her eyes differently. Just little bits to bring down a corner or lift a corner up, depending on what we need. We laugh that she doesn’t get any concealer under her eyes after the kids are 5 and older.

What kind of research do you do to create the makeup looks for the different decades?
I moved to America in the early ’80s and remember the makeup being very different than it was where I was in London. The teenagers looked very different. I always sort of go back to that. I tried to find a lot of real photos of people from that time period as well as makeup ads. I researched nail polish colors, some of which are still available. There’s certain lipsticks that are still available from the ’50s. A lot of MAC makeup colors which were huge in the ’90s still exist. It’s great, because we can literally go out and buy the same color [for ’90s scenes]. We have different color palettes for each of the time periods for our principals and for all of our background players so that we can really keep it looking authentic. The key is that our show looks very real. It takes place in the past in Pittsburgh. So it has to feel like Pittsburgh. It can’t feel like New York or L.A. during that time.

Photo: NBC

Were there any makeup/hair emergencies or funny moments that you recall from last season? 
Not so much from when we were in actual production, but [there’s] a funny story from early on. Milo [Ventimiglia, who plays Jack Pearson] had a beautiful beard for the pilot. We were talking about what we were going to do with him going forward, and [how] I would make facial hair. I suggested that we shave him and leave his mustache [because] Milo wanted to keep something that was his. I said, “We can remake the beard and it will look just like his real beard.” Then we can give him a goatee, sideburns, different beard lengths to make these little transformations that will change the look of his face and really help to age him. We can add a little bit of grey in it for texture. Everybody was in agreement.

We were at the special effects house to shave his beard off and take a cast of his face. We had shaved half of his face and some assistant came running in. Somebody had called from the production office. He was like, “Stop! They’re not sure!” We were like, “We can’t stop. He has half a beard. And that is definitely not the look you want.” There was this big discussion above us. “Are people going to like it? Are they going to be okay with Jack in a mustache? Will a goatee be weird?” I assured them that if we test the makeup and everybody hates it, he’ll grow it back. As we went forward and created the different looks for him, everybody was very happy with it and it gives us a lot of flexibility to really change how we see him in each of the decades. But it was pretty funny because it was like, “Too late — unless you want to only shoot him from the left all season.”

This Is Us airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on NBC.

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