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‘Star Trek: Discovery’: What It Takes to Survive Hours In the Make-Up Chair, According to Doug Jones

Jones and co-star Mary Chieffo, as well as the men who make them unrecognizable, reveal the physical and emotional toll of becoming aliens on screen.

"The Vulcan Hello" -- Episode #101 -- Coverage of the CBS All Access series STAR TREK: DISCOVERY. Pictured (l-r): Doug Jones as Lieutenant Saru; Prosthetics Supervisor, James Mackinnon. Photo Cr: Jan Thijs/CBS © 2017 CBS Interactive. All Rights Reserved.

Doug Jones as Lieutenant Saru; Prosthetics Supervisor James MacKinnon.

Jan Thijs/CBS

“These Are So Not My Boobs”

Star Trek Discovery 110

Chieffo’s makeup was limited largely to her head and hands — with one major exception. One of the first things you see when you walk into the Alchemy workspace is a lifesize model of topless L’Rell (nipples and all), which fans will remember seeing in quick flashes across a few episodes of the first season.

Designed by Neville Page, the prosthetic features reptilian and avian influences, as well as a nod to H.R. Geiger (Page and Hetrick are huge fans of his aesthetic), and was created with a blend of 3-D printing and sections sculpted in clay, in the traditional way.

To create the prosthetic, Chieffo had to do a body cast. “I’m a theater gal, so I’m pretty free. I’m not walking around topless normally, but I’m very comfortable with whatever you need to do to get the job done. So once we got that cast and then once it was designed, I did actual feel quite comfortable once I had it on, to walk around that day.”

How comfortable? Once the prosthetic was applied, she said, “‘They gave me a shirt, but then I’m like, ‘These are so not my boobs.'”

Getting to show L’Rell as a sexual being was an empowering moment for Chieffo as an actor: “The thing that has been very important to me with L’Rell and her sensuality is the fact that she’s a Klingon, the fact that she is an alien… I think it’s a sort of serpentine, feline combo, which is the way that she conducts herself and the way in which she moves.”

In fact, while she was offered a body double for those scenes, she refused. “I move the way L’Rell moves. I don’t want somebody else doing a version of L’Rell,” she said. “I’m like, I need to find what this is for her and what that experience is. Particularly because Klingon sex is something that’s been eluded to for a very long time and it’s something that we’ve never seen on this level. To find out what it could be was just very important to me. I felt a tremendous amount of excitement and respect from everyone involved on all sides of the camera.”

According to Hetrick, the torso was created with six separate pieces then applied to Chieffo and blended together, on top of her normal face/hair/hands. It did require four hours in makeup, though — for scenes which maybe received only 30 seconds of screen time. That wasn’t an issue for Chieffo, ultimately, because the script had been clear about what might be expected.

“It would’ve been one thing if it had been described very differently in the script and I thought it was going to be different,” she said. “But I was kind of on board with that… Everybody has to just be willing to do a four-hour makeup for 30 seconds of film, because it’s about the larger story at hand. Being of service has always been my driving force when it comes to my art.”

“The Competition is Crazy”

"The Butcher's Knife Cares Not for the Lamb's Cry" -- Episode 104 -- Pictured: Doug Jones as Lieutenant Saru. Photo Cr: Jan Thijs/CBS © 2017 CBS Interactive. All Rights Reserved.

The Academy has been recognizing “Star Trek” series for their below-the-line qualities for years, but in an era when shows like “Game of Thrones” are awards contenders, could “Discovery” also break through? “It is nice to see the science fiction genre finding its way into the mainstream,” Jones said. “And that has been happening more and more every year. There’s something fantastical going on.”

And as MacKinnon said, “It’s great for us as makeup artists, because it’s challenging. This is what we want to do. We don’t just want to do a bald cap. We love doing bald caps, but write some cool alien that walks into the room so we can put it on them.”

The flood of genre shows means that the special effects makeup categories may now be a little more competitive, and MacKinnon doesn’t mind that. “I love competition. It’s great because it’s challenging all these other makeup artists to do better for themselves, to beat us, for me to beat whatever other show. In the last two years, the competition is crazy. A couple of years ago, we’re like, we’re gonna win! The last two years we’re like, ehh, maybe. ‘Game of Thrones’ and ‘Horror Story’ — and they’re all crazy good. It’s just showcasing brilliant artists.”

“It helps everybody’s game,” Jones added. “The bar has been raised.”

“Star Trek: Discovery” Season 1 is streaming now on CBS All Access in the U.S. and on Netflix internationally. 

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