“The pressure is always there from day one, because of those tight close-ups. The pressure is on!” admits Emmy-nominated makeup department head Burton LeBlanc about the specific challenges of working on a show like “The Handmaid’s Tale,” in which characters’ bruised and bloodied faces are frequently on display in harsh over-saturated light or in unforgiving closeups that require the makeup work to be believable and flawless.
“I’m better at it now and I take it as a challenge, but you’ve got to be right there, doing little tweaks,” he says, explaining how the makeup team on this show have to deliver perfection with every shot, all day, every day. Watch our exclusive video interview with LeBlanc above.
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The Emmy award-winning dystopian drama recently premiered its anticipated fourth season on Hulu. Based on the 1985 novel by Margaret Atwood, it stars Emmy winner Elisabeth Moss as June, one of thousands of enslaved handmaids in the authoritarian theocracy of Gilead, who is now a fugitive on the run from the powerful misogynists intent on silencing her for good. As the fourth season unfolds, June’s quest for justice and revenge sees her leading a group of rebel handmaids as they continue their efforts to burn Gilead to the ground. Meanwhile in Canada, Moira (Samira Wiley), Emily (Alexis Bledel) and Luke (O-T Fagbenle) deal with the traumatized children who have escaped the oppressive regime, thanks to June’s clandestine efforts to smuggle them to safety across the border last season.
While this season of “The Handmaid’s Tale” is its darkest and most confronting to date, it also promises a number of anticipated pay-off moments that have building over three pressure-cooker seasons. For LeBlanc and his team, the directive from showrunner Bruce Miller was to up the ante. “We’re intensifying the looks that were already there. The intense eyes, the darkness, the shadowing … dirt on the hands, dirt under fingernails,” he explains.
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LeBlanc has led the makeup department from the pilot episode, which has enabled him to adapt and refine his original makeup designs from season to season with nuanced departures that emphasize what the characters are suffering through in this fictional authoritarian society. For Season 4, LeBlanc was tasked with emphasizing the worn and broken faces of these downtrodden women on the run from the authorities. “June has been on the run, so she’s got the sweat, the paleness, she’s dirty and bloody, with blood splatter everywhere. It’s more accentuated from previous seasons,” he explains.
Throughout his tenure on the show, LeBlanc’s work has relied heavily on practical effects makeup to create and accentuate the worn and weathered faces of each of the characters, as well as the many horrifying injuries that the handmaids endure, like gunshot wounds, amputations, cuts and bruises. The realistic looks showcased on this show have to date earned LeBlanc Emmy nominations for the show’s first and third seasons.
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