Alma Izquierdo was attending Columbia College, majoring in photography, when she decided to take a makeup class. The instructor, Sam Mayer, asked Izquierdo during the class if she'd be interested in training to be a substitute makeup artist for the NBC-5 News.
She accepted the offer and was trained to do TV news makeup, which led her to the makeup departments at CBS, WGN, PBS, the Lyric Opera and elsewhere. She's done makeup for TV, film, video, photography, theater, and fashion shows.
"My intentions were to become a photographer like my father, but life took me in a different direction and I couldn't be happier," she said.
Izquierdo is a North Side native who now lives in Chicago's East Lake View neighborhood and is a multitalented lesbian in a committed relationship with Michelle Figueroa. Izquierdo is a self-employed business owner ( Art & Soul Bodyworks, Inc. ), a massage therapist and freelance makeup artist. She is the makeup department head on the TV show Chicago PD.
She has been doing makeup since 1982.
"With technology, social media and our current culture being as [it is], there aren't too many people [who] don't have an idea of what being on [a television show] set may be like," she said. "However, most cast and crew members reflect the true experience of it when you ask them 'How's it going?' and they reply 'Oh, living the dream' or 'Living the glamorous life,' with a light tone of sarcasm.
"Working on set is an intense experience: it's exhilarating, exhausting, demanding, fun, educational, and stressful to name a few [adjectives]."
As a makeup artist on set, Izquierdo is responsible to keep an eye on the television monitors to make sure that the actors look as they should for that scene, she said. "It also requires one to be prepared for any changes that the director may ask for, to have your set bag stocked in order to be able to supply the actors with anything they might need like lotion, eye drops [or] floss," she said. "You'd be surprised what we're asked for and how much we carry in our set bags. My set bag easily weighs 45 pounds.
"Most importantly a makeup artist is responsible for continuity. That means, one needs to be mentally aware of the sequence of scenes, how the actor is supposed to continue to look in each one and when there should be a change. Since all scenes are [not] shot in order, it can be a challenge. For this reason you're always on, always watching the actors and the monitors, always ready to jump in when necessary."
Izquierdo said her experience working with celebrities has been, for the most part, "an incredible experience." She said she's worked with some "wonderful, gracious, down-to-earth, talented celebrities," including Leonard Nemoy, Mike Ditka, Raquel Welch, David Carradine, Oprah Winfrey, John C. Reilly, Rosie O'Donnell, Jane Lynch, Cheech Marin, Quincy Jones, Placido Domingo, Daryl Hannah, Kristin Chenoweth, Ernie Banks, Deepak Chopra, Blair Underwood and others.
"I've had the opportunity to have conversations with some of these talented people. It's really one of the most fulfilling parts of my job," she said. "What amazed me most in the beginning of my career is how 'regular' they are. For the most part, they're just like you and me."
Izquierdo's resume is impressive, as she's worked on such shows/productions as Boss, Playboy Club, Mob Doctor, Shameless, Chicago Fire, Chicago PD, The Dark Knight, Public Enemies, Contagion, Divergent, Man of Steel, CBS News, NBC News, WGN News, Telemundo ( news ), Lyric Opera, Wicked and Easy Abby. Naturally, she has fond memories, such as:
Doing makeup on Jesse Jackson during the Democratic Convention while he spoke to a dozen of his advisors at the head of a conference table. "He didn't blink an eye or pause for even a moment," she said.
"I watched as Rachel Welch took off her sweater and skirt in front of me without a word of warning in a small makeup room."
Placido Domingo gave her a private performance and sang an old romantic Spanish song when he learned she is Mexican.
"I did makeup on Rosie O'Donnell [during] one of her R Family cruises when the ship was rocking back and forth on turbulent waters. All I could think to myself the whole time was 'Don't throw up on Rosie … don't throw up on Rosie.'
While doing makeup on David Carradine, he rolled a cigarette and put it in his mouth. Carradine was told that smoking was not allowed in the building, to which he replied, "Who is going to stop me?" He never lit up, Izquierdo said.
So what's the key to making someone look incredible for TV?
Experience, and a fairly large bag of tricks, she said, laughing.
"Not all celebrities are naturally beautiful and flawless," Izquierdo said. "Over the years, I've been fortunate to work with some very talented makeup artists who've shared their secrets. Sometimes, like in any profession, you learn through trial and error or when flying by the seat of your pants.
"The media and our culture continuously promote the notion that people in the limelight should be flawless when the truth is that very few people, compared to the majority, actually are and then of course it doesn't lasts forever. I can't say there's any particular product or technique that makes everyone look incredible. It's different for everyone. However, I take it upon myself to find the beauty in each person and accentuate it, then camouflage and downplay any flaws."
Izquierdo said the main difference between getting ready for TV and getting ready to go out on, say, a Friday night, is lighting. "The lighting on set varies of course and colors translate differently through the lens and onto the TV," she said.
For example, some shades of red lipstick translate more blue than how they actually look.
Izquierdo said the time in her makeup chair for each actor/actress varies greatly, depending on the person and the situation. An actor can take as little as 10 minutes or as long as several hours. On average a female actress with regular beauty makeup takes about 45 minutes.
Izquierdo's specialty is corrective and beauty makeup. "I'm a stickler for corrective makeup and making the bare face look its absolute best before applying color, [such as lipstick, eye shadow or blush]," she said.
"Being the makeup department head of a TV show or movie is extremely challenging. The hours are long and the work is challenging, physically and mentally. My longest workday on Chicago PD was 17 hours; my longest workday was 23 hours on Public Enemies. On a daily basis, I'm responsible for making sure we're adequately staffed and supplied, that the actors are done on time, that everything goes well on set, and that we keep within budget.
"Additionally, before each episode I read the next script, take notes on any FX makeup that goes into play, pre-plan to schedule my staff, order supplies, and meet with my key makeup artist ( FX specialist ) and [the] director. My mind is always working and I'm constantly communicating via text with my staff, the crew, the assistant director and the production office. As part of keeping track of continuity, all of the makeup artists are responsible for taking pics of every actor with each makeup change and filing them in a continuity book. There are other not-so-glamorous tasks as well like washing the facial towels and sanitizing the makeup brushes. There's always something to do."
But still, "I love helping people look their best," she said. "I love interacting and working with talented people. It's a dream job."