"Empire" makeup artist talks favorite products, character transformations and what to expect for season 2



As we sat glued to our TV sets during last night's "Empire" second season premiere, we were struck by the true-to-character makeup adorning each of the actors and actresses. From Anika's classic, sexy cat-eyes to Rhonda's subtle, neutral palette and even Jamal's fresh-faced look complete with a little more hair than last season's look, we were reminded of the brilliance of "Empire" key makeup artist, Karen Lynn Accattato.

Accattato handles the daily skincare and makeup regimes of the majority of "Empire" main characters. From cleansing to shaving and moisturizing to makeup application, she creates the characters' noteworthy looks from start to finish.

What makes Accattato so special, though, is her ability to portray stories through skin. As the characters evolve from the first season to the second and their stories change and grow, Accattato knows exactly how to shift their physical appearances to mirror the characters' particular times and places.

Accattato's experience spans across the country from her start working with the transgender community to doing the makeup for stars including Tom Hanks, Debra Messing, Robert Downey Jr. and even President Obama. Given her immense knowledge of products and applications, her strong experience and her seasoned professionalism, it's no wonder she was chosen to take on the "Empire" cast. We have no doubt that she'll flawlessly reflect the characters' inner workings as each one embarks on his or her own unique transformation throughout the season.

We were lucky enough to sit down and chat with Accattato as she walked us through her favorite products and how to apply them, explained the greatest style evolutions of each character and told us what changes we can expect to see throughout season two of "Empire."

How does the different makeup for each cast member reflect their characters?

So Lee Daniels is very specific about how he wants the characters and I think that's what makes the show so great because there's something in everybody that you can identify with. Cookie is the girl who came from the hood who never had any money or an education and didn't know how to be classy. Now, she comes into all this money and she just thinks she's the bomb so her character is over the top. You'll see a lot of over the top hairstyles, a lot of color in her wigs, and you can see she went from a little more classic makeup to being just outside the box.

Then we have Anika who's our classic, sexy and flawless beauty. Anika is always in control, she's very calculated, her hair is perfect, her makeup is perfect with the perfect cat-eye and perfect red lip. Flawless makeup. She's very natural but timeless.

For Rhonda, we're channeling a more modern 60s Shannon Tweed second season. You'll see her more casually dressed and she has bangs now. We're definitely channeling more 60s makeup with big lashes and very soft lips. She's more of a soft, neutral palette.

Which character has evolved the most over time and how does that show through their makeup?

I'd say Jamal. Here is someone who was born in privilege who has always wanted to be accepted by his father, but because he's gay Lucious will never accept him. You see Jamal going from privilege to living as a poor, struggling artist who wants nothing to do with the family. But who gets awarded the throne? Jamal.

So now you'll see a huge character arc going from the struggling, poor artist to a very powerful man coming into his own as one of the number one artists in the world. You'll see more facial hair, more hair on his head, more dope clothing and he's really on an uprise.

Is there a female character you think has evolved tremendously since the first season?

Anika. You're going to see a woman who has always been flawless and together go through something very traumatic. You'll see a huge breakdown for her character which will be reflected in her hair, makeup and clothing.

Which character has the most difficult or challenging look to style?

I can speak of Courtney Love because her character went through such dramatic shifts. It wasn't difficult at all and was actually really fun. She starts out as a heroin addict which she totally embraced. I love when an actor or actress wants to get dirty and go on camera with no makeup. It's awesome because as a makeup artist it gives me a place to take you to. So now we go from heroin addict to trying to cover it up and being the fabulous star she used to be. But she's still broken and compromised so her makeup is still a little off. She's aging and older and losing her position in the music industry so she does everything to try to keep it together. She's trying to be trendy with the lashes and glamorous makeup but her furs are old and tattered and she can't keep it together because she's still a struggling addict.

She then ends up going into rehab. When she comes out, we do a very soft woman who's been healed and trying to find her strength again. I find as a makeup artist the most challenging part is thinking how I can convey different looks to match what this woman is emotionally and physically going through.

Is there one scene you did the makeup for that was particularly memorable for you?

Well I had to do Bunkie, Lucious' best friend from the first season, who's dead and left in the river to rot. We had an effects artist come in and do an amazing job with the rotting flesh that's been in the water for weeks. Then, they decided they would do a flashback scene at the last minute. So they brought him in and I had to recreate that look without the gore. So here's a man that's decayed and decomposed and a bit of a ghost with the gunshot through his eye. I had to make him into this hallucination that Lucious has in season one. So that was very memorable because it was so outside the box for me as a makeup artist.

What's the weirdest grooming trick you've ever tried on the cast?

Hemorrhoid cream to reduce swelling under the eyes. You put it in a fancy jar and don't let them know what you're using! We'll use cold spoons or eye patches, but if you're really swollen, hemorrhoid cream reduces the swelling of tissue. It's kind of an old fashioned beauty trick that all of us have been using for years but we don't normally share it with the media!

What's one common makeup faux pas that bugs you the most?

Women wearing too much makeup and too much foundation. I want skin to look beautiful and radiant and natural. I don't want to see a mask. Usually when they're putting on that much makeup they're not matching their skin color correctly which is another big bummer for me. I want to see your natural beauty, I don't want to see the makeup walking into the room before you. The skin is everything for me.

So talk to me about skincare in general and how that ties into your practice. Is there a certain regime you use for all the characters?

If the skin doesn't look right, no makeup is going to look right. I have a three-step regime that I use on everybody. First thing is cleansing. I love the Dove Men + Care. I have a sensitive face wash and a moisturizing face wash. It's very gentle and will remove all dirt and bacteria to give you a clean surface. Second, shaving. Nobody is using the right shave products! All of these products are drying out people's skin so you must use a hydrating shave cream. Dove Men + Care has the best hydrating shave cream. Hydration is everything.

Guys with beards: You have to clean those beards! Please use that face wash and clean those beards! The third is to finish your face with a hydrating moisturizer. 48 percent of the guys in this country don't cleanse their faces let alone hydrate. To me, moisturizer is everything. I think a lot of guys don't wear moisturizer because they don't want to look shiny. A matte finish is ideal for skin and television. I don't want that shiny, distracting red carpet look.

Which do you prefer, bold lip or bold eye? Is it ever okay to do both?

It has to be one or the other for me. You need to pick one part of the face and make that a statement. You can be an eye statement, a bold lip statement or even very cheeky with a blushing bride look.

Have you figured out which characters on the show are "eye people" versus "lip people" and "cheek people?"

Yes. I can look at your face and decide what your best asset is. For example, Anika's eyes are everything. When she has a bold lip, I'll do a beautiful eyelash and a strong cat eye but leave everything else on her face neutral. If I do a smokey eye on her, then it's a neutral lip. It's never both.

Someone like Rhonda who has very fair skin with blonde hair can't wear a lot of makeup. It ages her and it's not becoming. She's already so beautiful so everything is done in a soft palette and we do a beautiful eyelash and a beautiful soft lip on her.

Cookie, on the other hand, can get away with anything. But you'll still find that she does either a bold lip or a bold colored eyeliner. There's always a balance.

What's your absolute favorite makeup trick?

Moisturizer! I use it for everything. It makes the skin look good, I use it to make the lips hydrated and I even use it in hair to give it shine or take away fly-aways. As makeup artists we're in charge of all the skin so we moisturize the whole body. That is one product I can't live without.

Do you ever put makeup on the actors' bodies?

Oh yes. If they're doing a sex scene I'll make up their whole bodies if they prefer that we do that. We'll do foundation, contouring, colored oils to give it a nice sheen and evenness. Most actors want a little help in certain areas.

If you could only use one product for the rest of your life, what would you choose?

Mascara. I love the Mac Fast Lash and the Lorac Pro. I do the primer first to protect and build the lashes and then do the mascara to get a false lash look. You can then go in and constantly keep your lashes lifted with a curler once the mascara is dry.

Take a look at the go-to products Accattato brought to show us:

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Originally published