Thomas Denier Jr. interview: ‘Pose’ special makeup effects department head
Among the nine Emmy nominations FX’s “Pose” scooped up for its third and final season is the fourth career bid for Thomas Denier Jr., who is shortlisted in the Best Prosthetic Makeup category for his work as the special makeup effects department head on the series. “I feel greatly indebted to makeup department head Sherri [Berman] Laurence, [co-creator] Ryan Murphy and the whole production team over at ‘Pose’,” Denier Jr. says gratefully in regard to his individual recognition from the TV academy. In our exclusive video interview (watch above), the makeup artist discusses his collaboration with Laurence, his detailed work in his Emmy episode submission, and his meaningful experience of working on this series.
The series is set in New York City among the city’s Black and Latinx LGBTQ+ community, against the backdrop of the ballroom scene of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Amid systemic discrimination and the ongoing AIDS epidemic, newfound families of outcasts compete for personal pride and glory in the ballroom while navigating their lives in their quest for love, acceptance and purpose. A now 20-time Emmy nominee and one-time winner for star Billy Porter, the series bowed out with its best showing ever at the Emmys with nine noms, including first-time bids for writing, directing and leading lady Mj Rodriguez.
The episode that Denier Jr. submitted for Emmy consideration is the third season’s premiere, titled “On the Run.” For this installment, he, who makes up the show’s entire special makeup effects department, was asked to create a deathbed AIDS look for one of the series’ principal actors, Jeremy McClain, whose character, Cubby, tragically passes away at the end of the episode. The process of creating this look essentially commenced with the creation of a life cast covering McClain’s head, a procedure in which “you basically have to make a mould of a person and capture their features,” Denier Jr. explains. The makeup artist, who elaborates on the steps that ensue the initial life cast session, accentuates the importance of ensuring that the ultimate product does not prevent an actor from emoting. “I always say to an actor, ‘Let me know.’ I don’t want you to work around the makeup; I want my makeup to work with you or work around you,” Denier Jr. says. He highlights his collaboration with McClain, underlining that “makeup doesn’t mean anything unless you have a performer who can wear it, convey it and bring it to life.”
When reflecting on his experience of working on “Pose,” Denier Jr. praises the show for underscoring and making people realize that the struggles it depicts, namely those the LGBTQ+ community faced particularly during the AIDS epidemic, are not “make-believe” but reflect the severe reality of “what actually happened.” Having grown up in New York City in the 80s, Denier Jr. himself witnessed firsthand how friends of his lost their loved ones and friends to AIDS, which made working on this show a particularly personal experience. This experience was only reinforced by the fact that Denier Jr.’s father was in a months-long coma after contracting COVID-19, which, as he expounds, made the pain that was inflicted on his aforementioned friends even more tangible. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic being an unequivocally horrible, tragic situation, Denier Jr. believes it’s simultaneously an “eye-opener for people that never experienced a loved one or family member that is diagnosed with something that potentially killed them.”
Even though Denier Jr. took home his first and to date only Hollywood Makeup Artist and Hair Stylist Guild Award last year for “Saturday Night Live,” he has yet to reap gold at the Emmys, where all three of his preceding noms (2012-13, 2017) are for his work on “SNL.” If he takes home this year’s Best Prosthetic Makeup prize for “Pose,” it would be not only his career-first win but also the show’s inaugural victory in this category, in which it earned its first citation last year.