Meet Tami Lane, the Oscar-Nominated, Out Makeup Artist Behind 'The Hobbit'

While filling out those Oscar ballots for the big day be sure to place a check next to Tami Lane’s name as a shoo-in for Best Makeup for The Hobbit. Already an Oscar winner for her work on 2005’s The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, a year ago, Lane, an accomplished prosthetics artist, who also happens to be an out lesbian, was on set in New Zealand supervising the team of makeup artists who put their talents to work on creating hobbits, dwarves and other Middle Earth dwellers.
By: Tracy E. Gilchrist
February 22 2013 5:19 PM

While filling out those Oscar ballots for the big day be sure to place a check next to Tami Lane’s name as a shoo-in for Best Makeup for The Hobbit.  Already an Oscar winner for her work on 2005’s The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, a year ago, Lane, an accomplished prosthetics artist, who also happens to be out, was on set in New Zealand supervising the team of makeup artists who put their talents to work on creating hobbits, dwarves and other Middle Earth dwellers.

This Sunday, Lane is nominated for her work on The Hobbit up against her friend and mentor Howard Berger of K.N.B. EFX Group, who is nominated for Hitchcock, and the team from Les Miserables.

A real Hollywood success story, Lane met Berger in 1996 on a trip to visit the K.N.B. makeup studio. At his suggestion, she packed up her car and some friends and drove west to Los Angeles just weeks after her graduation from art school at Bradley University in Peoria, Ill. As Lane tells it, her persistence paid off, and eventually Berger returned her calls for a job. She got her start sweeping floors and stocking shelves for K.N.B. before she became a full-on makeup artist. A mere nine years later she and Berger were accepting the Oscar together for the Chronicles of Narnia.

Berger and Lane

While The Hobbit marks Lane’s first time supervising the team that would populate the world of J.R.R. Tolkien and Peter Jackson with just the right look, it wasn’t her first time in The Shire. She had worked on all three of the films in the originalLord of the Rings trilogy.

Just a few days before the Oscars, Lane talked with SheWired about her nomination, shopping for a dress, The Hobbit, and why --in a year with few nods for LGBT work-- she might just be the gayest thing about this year’s ceremony. 

SheWired: Congratulations on your nomination.  It’s really exciting.

Tami Lane: Thank you

Where were you when you heard about the nomination?

I was in England actually, visiting a friend, so the nominations came out at 5:30 in the morning there and it was 1:30 here, so I wasn't woken up this time.

Well that’s a pretty good wake-up call to get anyway. Do you get an official call?

Actually, my best friend Howard Berger, who is up for Hitchcock, was the one that called me and to let me know, and he was the one back in 2006 that called and let me know back then as well.

How did you fall into it this profession? It’s certainly not something you see everyday.

Yeah, “falling” is a good word. I was a senior in college studying art with graphic design and I discovered that I didn't really want to work at computers or graphic design.  I started to panic about what I was going to do after graduation, and then a friend of mine told me about this two-week interim class that went out to L.A. to learn about the entertainment industry. 

My friend knew that, as a hobby, I had been doing makeup for community theatre and houses for Halloween. One of the things she said was, “You know, if you’re into makeup, touring a make up effect studio is a part of the class.” I was really interested and applied. The professor could only take 10 students, and there were 60 applicants, or something like that. I was fortunate enough though to be able to come out to L.A. on that class trip.  The makeup effect studio that we toured was KNB EFX.

 

How did that trip parlay into your career?

When I walked into their studio I just fell in love. I talked to Howard Berger, one of the co-owners. We hit it off like a house on fire and he says, “Go back to Peoria, graduate and then move out to L.A. and call me.” And that’s kind of what happened. I graduated and two weeks after that and me and four of my friends, we drove out to L.A.  and all moved into a two-bedroom apartment in Hollywood. I basically had $1000 dollars to my name. I called him and I called him,  and finally my persistence worked and he gave me a job. I started sweeping the floors and stocking the shelves at his studio and that kind of is how it all started.

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So you’re a real Hollywood success story. Now you and Howard are nominated in the same category. How does that feel?

I am just happy for him.  Back in 2006 we won together for the Chronicles of Narnia, and now we are both experiencing the Oscar thing again. Neither one of us have, over the years, been close to it, so it’s kind of fun to be going through the experience again. It has a little twist now.

Exactly.

But, yeah, he’s happy. And proud, because, you know, it’s his fault that I do what I do.

I know you’ve been busily preparing, can I be the first writer to ask who you’ll be wearing?

Well I’m not really wearing…

Anything?

I’m wearing jeans and a Kiss t-shirt.

That would be awesome. 

I went to Bloomingdales and got a dress by the designer David Meister. It’s not like Valentino or anything like that. I don't think designers seek out the technical awards people. If I was Naomi Watts, I would probably have Valentino ringing my phone.

Is it nerve-wracking prepping an event of this magnitude?

It is nerve-wracking. Last time, Disney actually sent over make-up artists and hair artists so we didn't have to worry about that. But this time around I’ll be doing my own.

Is the process fun?

Once you’re dressed and there, it becomes amazingly fun. A friend of mine said to me, “It’s its kind of like a wedding. You plan for it, you go through all this preparation for it, and then when it happens, It’s five in the morning and your home and it’s’ all over with. And it just happens so quickly.”

I agree with that. You just have to relax and enjoy every minute of it. And with the Oscars it’s not just the ceremony they also have other events that happen throughout the week.  You get invited to these parties. Warner Brothers is throwing a party, Hollywood Reporter threw a party last week…  It’s nice to be included and getting such amazing recognition by all these people and your peers.  And when you’re nominated, you don't feel stupid going up to someone like Sally Field and going, “Hey, I’m a really big fan!”

Let’s talk about The Hobbit. How do you begin to prepare for such a massive job?

Well, I think my naivety was in my favor. Since I was returning back to New Zealand I had a good pool of artists to pull from. When I took the job, I hadn’t actually seen designs or even knew what I was getting into. I was really excited that, just being one of many on Rings, that they would accept me as somebody in an authority position for something as big as this. I only got nervous after landing in Wellington and going to a workshop, looking at all the designs and all the mock  sculpts they had,  and then realizing the intense nature of what was going to happen, and needed to happen.

 

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How many were on your crew?

There were 17 of us - 11 really good senior makeup artists and six assistants, which is a small team.

That sounds small.

That was just for the prosthetics. The hair department had about 18 people as well.

And how long was the shoot?

It was 18 months.

Were you going full throttle 16 hours a day for the entire time?

The shoot was broken up into three blocks. We had a few breaks in there but honestly, if we didn't have those breaks, I think everybody would be dead by now.

There’s a perception that Hollywood is such a boy’s club. Is that true for you?

That’s absolutely true, but how I deal with it is how I’ve always dealt with it. Starting out, I was the only female in the workshop at KNB that wasn’t working in the front office. The guys, at least to my face, treated me just like one of them. I never got any special treatment, or any kind of treatment different from what I witnessed everybody else got. Again, my naiveté worked in my favor. I ignored the fact that their men, and I ignored the fact that I’m a woman and got on with it. That’s just been my attitude for 17 years.

I’ve encountered that whole thing of producers being womanizers, or sexist. That exists, but I have a really good sense of humor about it, and I just ignore it as much as I can and don’t let it affect what I do. Knowing some crude jokes also help (laughs).

This year's Oscars feels like the straightest in recent history. We’ve recently had Milk, Brokeback Mountain, Penelope Cruz won for playing bisexual in Vicki Cristina Barcelona, but this one is really straight in terms of nominees.

I know. That’s why you’re talking to me!

Exactly. You may be the gayest thing about this Oscars.

That's hilarious.

Being in the business, can you shed light on why so few LGBT-themed films make it on the radar of the Oscars or even the Golden Globes?

Film, whether it’s gay or straight content, I think it's the quality of the film. And I think the quality of Brokeback and Milk was exceptional. I don't think it's a gay/ straight thing at all.  I don't think like the academy is suppressing anything. I’m sure there’s something out there (LGBT films) that just didn't get exposure.  That's the other thing -- exposure.

Other than your own film, what films/performances are you rooting for?

I think Hugh Jackman was amazing in Les Mis. I particularly didn't really like the film, but then again, I don't really like the story. I thought, production wise, it looked great, and the makeup and hair looked great. Costumes were great, but it’s such a sad story. I thought Hugh Jackman was amazing in it, but I tell you, my favorite movie, I have to say, was Silver Linings Playbook.

I’m with on that one. Did you have anything else you’d like to say about The Hobbit or the Oscars?

I’m just looking forward to it. I know it’s going to be over with the blink of an eye. I got the dress now so that's pressure off.

I think you’re going to win.

Fingers crossed. 

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