When the producers came to me and asked me,
hey, by the way, in a few months
we’re gonna do this other job and make sure you’re available
And then when I found out it was the Joker,
I was like, oh my God, the Joker,
How the hell am I gonna do that?
I approach it like painting to make people interesting
rather than beautiful.
Hi, this is Nicki Lederman.
And this is the timeline of my career.
I wanted to be an opera singer,
and I went to a performing high school
of the arts in Germany, in Munich.
And I truly thought I would become a musician.
When I saw the exorcist, that was really my turning point,
because, when I saw just Linda Blair’s head turn,
and I was like, how the hell did they do that?
Or American Werewolf in London,
like this whole incredible rig that Rick Baker built
and got an Oscar for, with that wolf,
coming out of the guy’s mouth.
It was just so magical to me that I was like,
how did they do that?
The artistry in it,
the emotions that it makes you feel, all that stuff,
that’s all created by makeup,
I thought it was so fascinating,
And I couldn’t stop thinking about these,
scenes in all these cool movies that I saw
when I was, in my teens.
I thought like, they don’t make movies here like that,
I would have to go to America.
I was 20 years old, and I left my home
to live the American dream.
My boyfriend at the time had this great idea,
why don’t you just go to NYU, put fliers out,
for the film students offering your services,
doing makeup on their thesis films.
And that’s exactly what I did,
and the kids were so excited,
and we all kind of rose up together.
My very first paid job, I shall say,
was on a small TV show, that was shot in Boston,
called Against the Law.
That show ran for I think only a season,
and we came back to New York.
It was such great timing because, early 90s then,
we had this amazing, independent movie scene in New York.
So my friend Derek, he called me up and said,
listen, my buddy from NYU,
he’s directing this really amazing movie,
it’s called Palookaville.
And he said, you have to work on this film,
the script is amazing.
So I met with the director,
and it’s funny because I walked in,
we met at Bobby’s in Tribeca,
and I saw him sitting at this little corner booth,
and I looked at him and I’m like,
I’m gonna marry that guy.
Turns out, we did get married,
and we did have three kids together.
So working on Palookaville was like,
my first experience of like, a real movie.
The movie was a beautiful movie
that we were all really proud of.
It won awards, it was like,
my first movie that I’ve done,
that I really was very proud of.
That little movie not only was a stepping stone
into a really amazing career,
but having three beautiful children.
When I heard that Todd Solondz,
who previously directed Welcome to the Dollhouse,
was doing another movie, I thought like,
oh, this is great, I would love to work on it,
he’s such a funny, quirky, smart, talented guy.
So they sent me the script,
[laughs] and when I was reading the script,
I was like, oh, my God, I thought it was so ballsy,
so brave, I need to be part of it.
That was like a wild experience that I’m grateful I had.
My taste in the contributions,
that I am giving to in my work,
is I wanna show the beauty,
in what people don’t wanna recognize
or people don’t wanna deal with or people look down upon.
It’s that maternal instinct
that I had even before having children
to help make the underdog shine.
I just broke up with my fiance, which trust me,
is traumatic enough.
And now I have 25 days,
to either find the money to buy my place,
or I am out on the street.
When I started Sex and the City.
It was a complete shift of working in the gritty reality
and turning everything into the high fashion world,
that is special, that is art,
because fashion, if you think about it, is art.
And that really helped me and my team
to come up with really pretty beauty looks,
for our girls that are not as conventional.
What our goal was, to be the trendsetters
and not being the followers of the trendsetters.
What we try to do, to try not to keep it as superficial,
as fashion sometimes seems to be,
is that the looks that we created
are not looks that are unachievable.
You have magazines where people are airbrushed
and nothing is really real that you see.
What we did was trying to create cool looks for everybody.
It doesn’t matter if you pretty,
it doesn’t matter if you’re supermodel,
everybody can have those looks.
And we put the emphasis of uniqueness rather than beauty,
which I thought was very interesting and very important,
because, even the clothes, the hair, the makeup,
it wasn’t always like gorgeous,
but it certainly was unique.
And that was really the thing that kept us
from like dropping into that superficialness,
because the uniqueness is an expression of personality,
it’s an expression of character, and anybody can do that,
anybody, and I have to say,
working with all my friends on that show,
we all kinda grew up on that show.
We all had children on that show.
It was like an incredible, incredible run.
And that was really my breaking point,
when I thought to myself, I made it as a makeup artist,
because of Sex and the City.
Do you have any other income besides the column?
No, but I was chosen as New York Magazine’s,
best pick for city columnist,
Good, now can be saucy.
When we were filming Bettie Page,
as a makeup artist, I had a few challenges.
We were shooting most of it in black and white,
and some of it in color.
And when you shoot black and white,
your application of makeup in terms of colors
are very different.
When you shoot color,
and you put like a really pretty red lipstick on,
But when you put a red lipstick on, on black and white,
it doesn’t look like sometimes anything
or sometimes it looks black.
You have to really test all the colors
that you’re going to be using,
and shoot it on black and white,
so you know, what it’s going to look like.
So you really had to experiment and practice a lot
in terms of color application, to get the shade right.
What is really important is that,
you research what people actually really look like,
Great Bettie, great.
When we did, Devil Wears Prada,
Anne Hathaway character, Andrea,
had a really lovely evolution, from the frumpy, normal,
not caring about fashion kinda look,
into this high fashion vogue girl.
And that was really fun, because you get to play,
you get to try different things,
you really change a look of a person,
but the trick is really,
that you have to keep the essence the same.
You can’t just make somebody look completely different,
because no matter how much a person changes,
the essence has to still be there.
And in creating a makeup look,
I felt the essence that I tried to keep in her,
is a little bit of that innocence in her,
by not overdoing it.
So you kinda have to find the essence of that character,
and try to keep that throughout the whole movie,
otherwise, the change of the character is not believable.
That movie was really fun, because we had Valentino there
and we created one of Valentino’s fashion shows,
and that was really fun.
That was a really great movie
about fashion, and makeup, and hair.
And at the same time, there was a lesson in this,
and we wanted to make sure that,
that lesson is not lessened by overdoing it.
I couldn’t do what you did to Nigel, Miranda,
I couldn’t do something like that.
When we worked on Enchanted,
we had this amazing scene,
that was taking place in the ballroom.
Where Amy Adams had this gorgeous purply dress on,
and I was so excited, I thought like,
oh, I’m gonna make you look so gorgeous.
I was so excited, this is the ballroom scene,
like Cinderella’s ballroom scene.
And so I did my thing and we went down to set,
and I realized, oh my God, what is this lighting?
And oh my God, I should have checked first,
because you know what, lighting is so incredibly important
to my work as a makeup artist
because it can break everything.
And when Amy arrived on set,
my gorgeous makeup was completely washed out and erased.
I didn’t recognize the colors in her face.
She looked like she had like, nothing on her face.
And I’m like, we can’t shoot her like that,
she looks like a washed out little girl.
I have to take her back into the makeup room.
And so I had to adjust her makeup,
with colors that I would never put on her normally.
But I had to adjust the colors,
so they can register in the light
that they were using for that ballroom scene.
So I put like this crazy color,
weird kinda purply pink on her lips,
and like gave her this strange blush,
that looked ridiculous in real life,
but on set it looked beautiful.
And that was my big lesson,
and I should have known better
because I’m trained for that, right?
That I need to make sure,
that I know exactly what the lighting is on set
because the makeup can really look horrendous,
if I don’t compliment the lighting or vice versa too.
I’m gonna talk to Nucky.
I don’t know, two years killing Jerries
doesn’t exactly prepare you for a whole lot else.
I love period projects, because you can really paint,
you can really like, evoke a different era, different time,
it’s like time traveling, it’s so exciting to me.
When I was called in to interview for Boardwalk Empire,
for the pilot that Martin Scorsese was directing,
I was like, oh my God, I wanna do this so bad,
I wanna work with Martin Scorsese, God.
I did research like I’ve never done before.
When I was called in, to come in for an interview,
I had pages and pages and pages of research
of my suffragettes about the time period,
about the politicians at that time.
So I went in for the interview,
and, you know I nailed it,
because I guess, I just had the best research.
Martin is an incredible collaborator,
that was the first time I worked with him.
I mean, he was so serious about every little detail.
And that’s what makes him really such a great filmmaker.
In the case of Boardwalk Empire,
he showed us Splendor in the Grass.
I wasn’t quite sure, why he would show us,
Splendor in the Grass,
because it wasn’t really the right period.
What he came down to, is that he said,
see this big scenes, see all these background people,
the one very back in that corner,
the person looks great, the person looks perfect,
and I wanna make sure, that on Boardwalk Empire,
that every single background person
is treated like a principal actor,
because they have to look perfect,
because if they don’t look perfect,
the whole picture won’t look perfect.
And that really taught me a huge lesson,
when you do a big period movie,
you really have to make sure,
that every single detail is perfect.
Y’all remember Jimmy Darmody,
Gave him handsel I heard, sure did.
You do realize if you choose to join us,
the work will be hard and the hours long,
the results slow and agonizing,
and we will see no shortage of [indistinct]
When I started prepping for The Knick,
I pulled together photographs of paintings
from American realists like Sargent and Eakins,
who was really famous for these beautiful paintings
of hospital theaters where all the doctors would sit
in arena like settings where the surgeries would take place.
So I collected all these paintings,
and I invited my core team,
and for a week we tried to copy these portraits,
to learn about color, tones, highlights, lowlights,
the mood, so we can take that and translate it
onto our actors, by making them up,
just like a painter would on the portrait.
The tools that we used on The Knick and the makeup,
we try to really replicate products
that women use back then, we got beeswax,
we had a juicer, we made our own mascara.
So we try to keep everything as natural toned as possible,
no crazy colors, just really colors and hues
that were available back then and in nature.
When the blast of war blows in our ears,
then imitate the action of the tiger,
[Movie actor] Your majesty, Mr. Phineas T. Barnum,
and his oddities from America!
When we started on The Greatest Showman,
which was my most favorite job ever.
Personally, I’m still depressed that I’m not working on it,
that it couldn’t go on forever, but I gotta let that go.
When we started on The Greatest Showman,
I started doing a lot of research about that time period,
about all the oddities,
and I put a great research book together.
And then when Jerry Popolis, the hair designer and I,
went to have our meeting with Michael Gracey,
love him director, the best, oh my God!
We were like ready to show him,
all this great research we had, and he’s like,
we’re not gonna do period.
And we’re like, oh, we’re not?
So he basically told us, what I want for this movie,
I want it to be period inspired,
but I want it to be like a crazy fashion show.
And Jerry and I were like, oh my God, this is amazing,
cause that’s our strength,
we can do period, we can do fashion.
And this is like the perfect marriage,
of two things that we’re really good at,
that really excites us, it’s super challenging,
but it’s also so creative, it was amazing.
So rather than doing a lot of prosthetics
to make it authentic,
we wanted to show the beauty in them,
rather than the sad ugliness.
And some of these looks were really challenging,
for example, Dog Boy,
we had to build like all these hair pieces,
and then glue in his face,
and incorporate them with a wig and everything.
For example, the tattooed guy,
which we all know what he really looked like,
because he did exist, Prince Constantine, as he was called,
we had to make a suit for him,
because we couldn’t put transfers on him everyday,
because his skin couldn’t have handled it,
and besides, it would have taken us hours and hours,
just to cover his body in tattoos.
Everything we did was like, handmade,
Michael gave us such an amazing freedom to create,
which I so appreciated and was incredible.
Did I tell you guys,
that I really loved working on that job.
Do I look like the kinda clown that could start a movement?
I killed those guys because they were awful.
Everybody is awful these days.
It’s enough to make anyone crazy.
Joker was a really challenging job,
we met with Todd, and we were talking about Joaquin,
not only what the look is going to be like,
but how to best deal with Joaquin,
cause he’s gonna have a really hard role to play.
And so Todd showed us a photo of what they came up with,
they thought Joker should look like.
And it was basically the working clown look,
which is a very simple look.
And from that, look, we need to evolve him into Joker,
which is like a version of that working clown look,
but a very kind of distraught, messy, wilder version of it.
And it’s a little different to take a photograph
and trying to replicate a design on a picture onto a person,
because sometimes certain colors may not work
or the sizing may not work.
So you really have to play and work out,
what the final design will be,
and so what we did is like we had Joaquin,
coming for a couple of weeks,
to basically just play with the makeup,
until we got where we all felt like,
this is the right look.
Again, this was a really amazing collaboration project,
Todd, Joaquin and I, coming up with this really cool look,
you starred him as Arthur fleck, the working clown,
and then slowly throughout the movie,
he gets degraded, degraded, degraded,
and then turns into the Joker,
which is the final mad makeup look,
which in itself had a lot of different stages as well,
like being smeared, running away from the cops,
arriving in Murray Franklin Show, killing Murray Franklin,
then being taken away in the police car, having car crash,
and then, the resurrection.
So these are all different stages within the same look.
And that was really hard in terms of like continuity,
because when you shoot a film,
you don’t really shoot scene one,
and then you shoot scene two, three,
we always shoot totally out of sequence.
That means one day,
we actually started with the working look,
and then we did a Joker look,
in the middle of the Joker script,
where we hadn’t had shot anything yet,
we weren’t quite sure,
we’re gonna do it like that,
and it’s really hard when you work that way,
because you have to be incredibly organized,
you have to match everything you’re doing,
you have to go backwards forwards,
you need to know what’s gonna come,
even though you haven’t done it yet,
so it was really challenging.
Joaquin was really incredible, and the strategic way
of keeping his makeup messy,
throughout the filming processes is that,
I had to use different products
that look the same when you put them on
but have a different life on the skin,
meaning sometimes I needed the makeup,
to be able to smear, when he touches it would smear,
and sometimes I needed it to be staying put
that even if he brushes up against something,
or touches it, that it won’t move.
And I needed that because of continuity reasons,
so I wouldn’t have to constantly reset it.
There’s this one scene,
the bathroom scene when after he kills this subway guys,
he runs into this bathroom and he does this incredible dance
and he’s all smeared, so I had to match that smeared thing,
from when he shoots the subway guys,
but we shot this subway scene,
after we did the bathroom scene
so I kinda had to make sure that I take a lot of pictures,
so I can recreate something
that we haven’t done yet, basically, right?
But in that bathroom scene,
he not only dances but the scene goes on,
which was cut out later from the movie,
where he goes to the sink and washes off his face,
and it was all one shot,
so I had to redo it, like I think 16 times,
comes in, does the dance, washes his face, cut,
okay, reset, I had five minutes to do it.
Do the makeup again, watching my pictures that I took
to make sure that I copied exactly the same
and then doing it over and over and over.
So I had to use makeup that is really easy to wipe off
or wash off, so I could reset it,
but there’s other times when he’s in the subway,
I had to use makeup that had to look smeared,
but it had to be waterproof,
so I wouldn’t have to reset it all the time
because it would just take too long.
If I had to go in between every single take
to fix things differently,
it would have taken too long.
Joaquin would have never let me do it in the first place,
so I had to be really creative with the materials I used.
It was a really wild experience I had,
working on a job like that, creating such an iconic look,
Yeah, it was really wild and difficult
and interesting and exciting.
I’m really blessed with the projects that I worked on.
When you find a crew that is very good in collaborating,
a kind of is infectious,
I find it also incredibly exciting,
and I’m really looking forward
to see what will come next.