Lisa Collins is an entertainment makeup artist known for her work on productions such as “Stargate,” and “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,” for which she received an Emmy nomination. Many thanks to Gary Palmer, a founding member of Stargate Command, for recommending and facilitating the interview.
Welcome! Before we begin, would you tell us a little bit about yourself and the work you have done in the entertainment industry?
I was born in Illinois, the oldest of three. I’m the only girl. Talk about a daddy’s girl! Honestly, I was so involved with my odd Jobs growing up to pay for art supplies, classes for drawing in the summer(that I’d take after work, I never misbehaved really. My dear cousin Nancy can tell you.
I started out drawing when I could hold a pencil at two. I hear that said a lot by artists or make up artists. I remember watching “That Girl” with Marlon Thomas thinking, “Those false lashes are too overwhelming for her delicate features. If I could only get my hands on them and very lightly thin them out, I could watch the show in peace.”
This went on for years. Of course I went to movies when I was little with my parents, then my friends. After years went by-here would always be a seat empty on each side of me with my friends on each side, they just didn’t want to hear my critiques. Looking back, I don’t blame them.
I grew up in such a small town, everybody new every bodies business. I HATED that. At the grocery story, me and my dad would get stopped several times (“Oh, Mike, Lisa is getting so big? How are her clarinet and piano lessons going? Is she still drawing? She still works at your in-laws tavern and corn detassles? When does she sleep?”) UGH!!! I loved going everywhere with my dad but I’m sure a lot of you can relate. I’m a more private person
My other grandparents owned a tavern business. I was thrown in the kitchen at four to dry dishes and moved on to salad making.
Every salad had to be perfect along with the way I topped the salad dressing. I’d go somewhere with my parents or at picnics, holidays at relatives and I would get a salad topped what looked to be a gravy ladle of salad dressing dumped in the middle. Not the ones I made. For folks eating at the tavern or carrying out their food. I practiced with every utensil available to me and found a regular long handled slotted spoon worked the best.
My grandmother was not nice to me and she’d say, “Pick up the pace, Lisa, we don’t have all day.” Those salads had more dressing than before, the CORRECT amount,and they were aesthetically pleasing to the eye. (dark red French, I called it Russian dressing). Customers would top army the kitchen door to compliment me, not my grandmother(maternal) I was never told, good job, it looks lice, anything) This was my mother’s mother. Their last name was Benvenuti. Leonard, my grandpa was always known as Mooney.
He made a red sauce for warehouse made frozen tortellini that wasn’t the right color or taste to me. I watched him make it and nothing fresh went in it! This was a shock compared to me dads parents who CAME FROM Italy and in my head knew a lot more then the other side of the family.
So here’s me. By age nine, I had been working in my grandparents tavern, taking music and drawing lessons, and corn detasseling. I was beat as a kid. I worked on the yearbook committee and wrote sports scores for the local newspaper.
All this time I’m buying art items here and there with my own money and wanted to go to art school so bad in Chicago. but my family never had set up college funds for us.
What are some of the shows you have worked on?
When I was in my very early 20’s a woman named Robin Goldman took me under her wing because she knew how badly I wanted to wife as one. I had been doing photo shoots and weddings-but it was time for the next big step. She got me in a little film called “The Light of Day,” with Michael J. Fox, a TV show called “Father Jim,” played by Roger Daltry. A really nice man. Several movies followed, a TV series called “Crime Story,” with Denise Farina, “Mad Dog and Glory,” “When Harry met Sally,” “Prelude to a Kiss.” I just wanted to go higher. I told a man who was a Chicago makeup artist that I wanted to go to Hollywood and get into the Union 706 and work out there.
Some of the shows I worked on were “Homeboys In Outer Space,” (so fun and made lifelong friends), “In Living Color,” “Ellen,” “Life’s Work,” “Melrose Place,” “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.” I got nominated for an Emmy for that, but didn’t win.
How did you find out about and receive the job working on “Stargate”?
Well a month after I got to Hollywood, I got my first big credited movie, “Stargate,” with Kurt Russell. The movie started out non-union and went Union.
What is one of the first memories that comes to mind when someone asks you about your time on “Stargate”?
When anyone asks me about “Stargate,” I think about drinking water. Not a few bottles, but gallons and gallons of water! You would use the restroom in the morning when it was dark out and drink water all day long in the blazing sun and not have to go again until after work when it was dark out again. It was a beautiful thing.
Plus and most importantly, I think about how many friends I have made from that one film. It’s a very special bond you make when you put a large group of talented people together to do their very best on a project they truly believe in and can’t wait to see it come to fruition.
I have so many friends in my life to this day all over the globe from that one very special film. To get the opportunity to work for Mario Kassar, Joel Michaels, Roland (Emmerich), Ute (Emmerich), Dean Devlin and the many others was indeed a dream come true!
Back in July you talked with some of the people from the “Stargate” days and were filled with nostalgia. Who did you meet with, what did you talk about, and what made you yearn for more “Stargate”?
I haven’t had the chance to meet up with any of my friends from “Stargate” other than Andy Armstrong a few years ago, but we talk as often as we can on social media , email and on the phone. We like to catch up on each other’s lives and what and if they are working on something. Actor David Pressman is a very dear friend. His social media posts are so hilarious I often tell him he should be writing scripts! If you have Instagram, he certainly is one to follow!
What is the range of time you have spent working on actors in a single day (e.g., shortest to longest)?
The shortest day was probably a Brady thing I worked on on The Travel Channel with Christopher Knight.
Is there a unique relationship between actors and makeup artists—especially when there is a daily hours-long process involved?
There most definitely is a special bond between makeup artists and actors. Some of us form very tight relationships and share life stories with each other. It’s a kind of “dance.” You feel out that person, where they’re coming from. Some people are very open and others keep to themselves.
I bonded quickly with Mili Avital, Leon Rippy (he and his wife had my son Frank and I over to there home for dinner several times. Kurt Russell was really great and I got that chance to catch up with him backstage at The Tonight Show. Jon Moors and I remain very close as well as Joie Garrity, Mike McNally, Paige Pooler, The Winther Brothers and Eric Avary.
What do you think actors like in good makeup artists—and what do you think they dislike about bad makeup artists?
I think what actors like about makeup artists is the sense of trust they put into us. Sometimes it feels like your a bartender listening to your customer. You sometimes get very involved with an actors home life because of the amount of time you are putting into a project. They have family members visiting them and it gives an actor a great feeling of trust when they know they are able to “let their hair down” around you and you’re not going to turn around and tell someone. They look for that confidence.
At times you’ll be working with an actor that just got married, like Patricia Arquette on “Flirting with Disaster.” On a Monday morning she walked in and just announced,” I married Nick Cage yesterday.” Actor John Diehl was staying at my hotel and one day I was in the hot tub out by the pool. He was riding his bike up on the 3rd floor and yelled down, “Collins, I’m going to the grocery store. Need anything?” A really great guy.
Are there any significant differences in your job between TV and movies?
TV and movies are very different. You always have to be done ”five minutes ago,” but with TV it is a very fast pace. If you’re working a three camera sitcom, you’re running back and forth between the stages, taking care of your actors. Film work-although quick paced, is a little more relaxed. Carpenters, painters, production assistants, sound, lighting and directors are very busy getting ready-while costumers, makeup artists, props are all getting the actors ready.
It’s amazing to see it all come together. The next day after working on a film, you can go very early in front of your call time, when the director and assistant directors and producers meet up and watch dailies, or rushes, the scenes that were shot the following day, to look for any kind of flaws.
One of the hardest working people on the sets are the script supervisor. They are constantly listening to the actors to make sure they are following the scripts and get their dialog right.
Do you have any stories from “Stargate” you could share with readers?
I’m really thankful I was given this opportunity to share some background about the movie “Stargate” with all of the millions of fans around the world. If it wasn’t for Roland, Dean, Ute, Joel, Don, Mario and Greg Nelson. I wouldn’t be writing this.
I would like everyone to know that my closest friends to this day are Don Haggerty, John Moores, Mike McNally, David Pressman, Joie Garrity ,Andy Armstrong, Paige Pooler, French Stewart, David Arnold, Lars Winther, Ken Fix and the one and only. Trevor Wood. Mili has traveled three times to come visit me in Arizona. I moved back out here to Scottsdale from Chicago with my 2 dogs. Andy Armstrong let me stay at a condo he had up for sale while I was working on “C.S.I; N.Y. ” A story I will share with the fans was when I had to do a burn make up on actor Gianin Loffler and his stunt double. I was going as fast as I could, yet wanted it to live up to my level of perfection.
The scene towards the end when the crew is running down the ramp and Nabeh gets blown up was getting too dangerous for Gianin, so Andy Armstrong walked into the trailer to inform me that the stunt was too dangerous for the actor and he wanted me, at the last minute to copy the burn on his stunt doubles face. Applying it quickly, Armstrong was being his usual cheery self (not) and said over the radio, “Is my gut ready yet?” I told Lars Winther who was standing next to me, tapping his toe that I was about four minutes away. Now remember, we’re not just shooting with the principal actors, we are also responsible for ‘B’ roll shooting. That’s more camera’s rolling on other scenes, establishing photography, helicopter shots, scenes that will have computer generated action or sets-you’re just moving in fast forward. Well, Andy wasn’t having it and when he’s ready, he wants and expects everyone else to be-no matter what. As everyone knows, if a stunt man’s face is seen, that footage is unusable. I was finishing up on the stunt double when all of the sudden, the radio in Lars’s hand screeched at an ear bleeding level, Andy SCREAMING AT THE TOP OF HIS VOICE, and over every departments radio, a very large cast and crew of around 300 or more in the building that housed Howard Hughes’s Spruce Goose airplane because it was so huge, that the producers and location picked as a sound stage, adjacent to the Queen Mary, screamed “YOU TELL COLLINS TO GET THAT F-ING STUNTMAN’S MAKE UP DONE RIGHT NOW OR I’LL COME IN THERE (the makeup trailer) AND DO THAT F-ING BURN MY SELF!” I finished in about 45 seconds and was ushered into the soundstage by Lars and Paige with the stuntman and a hairdresser and wardrobe , that were working on him the same time as I was.
ALL EYES WERE ON ME and the silence was deafening. You could have heard a pin drop as I walked over to Andy and handed him a black and a red Sharpie. I said, “You’re not using my makeup so here you go, next time, to do it.” After what seemed like 10 minutes, but in actuality was seconds, Andy with a bullhorn in one hand and a radio and the Sharpies I handed him in the other, with everyone waiting for him to exploded, had a great big smile on his face and said, “Very good, thank you, Lisa”. My heart was pounding as I didn’t know what was coming and then broke into laughter along with everyone. The next day on the call sheet under makeup, it said Andy (Sharpie) Armstrong.
That was the best movie ever to have worked on. Things like that happened all the time on the call sheets. You never knew what one was going to say. It was totally hilarious. One day, I was telling Kurt Russell that I thought that Sam Neill, (Dr. Grant in “Jurassic Park”) was a really good looking actor and the next day on the call sheet, it said Makeup Dept. Lisa (Sydney) Collins although I knew Sam was from New Zealand. This stuff went on all the time with everyone on the crew. The office people even printed out a weekly newspaper, called the Star Gazer, I believe. It was filled with events from the week when we spent a few months in Yuma and then in Long Beach. You have to have fun while remaining professional at all times and we all did it like a well tuned orchestra.
When we first arrived in Yuma, after like about the first Saturday night after shooting, we all went out for a night of cocktails and let me tell you, the Germans and the Brits in the crew would amaze me by what they could drink at night and then show up on time all bright-eyed within about five hours after. In that heat. Our very first day in Yuma.