The Power of Baring Your Face

December 22, 2013

sandra-bullock-no-makeup-gravity.jpgAlfonso Cuaron’s vision for Gravity was for the actors to wear no (or minimal) makeup. It’s a logical decision being that the movie was to take place in outer space, and Sandra Bullock’s character is consumed with survival amidst shooting space debris–and applying glamorous eye-shadow and lipstick doesn’t quite fit into the scenario. Cuaron’s decision wasn’t intended to make the characters appear unattractive compared with standard movie stars we’re used to seeing onscreen; rather, it was made for the sake of realism. When in production, Bullock said, “God help us all when my face comes rushing at you with no makeup on. I’m going to apologize now, but Alfonso, in a brilliant move, said, ‘No makeup.'” George Clooney likewise was required to go sans makeup, and he wasn’t so thrilled with the prospect either. “Our vain little heads are going to be some massive 17-foot image. You are going to see details because it’s shot on this digital film that shows everything. It’s so scary. There are scenes where you say, ‘This is where you have to let go and let God.’ And, thank God, there are no nude scenes.” Well, when the movie was all said and done, it’s clear that Cuaron’s cosmetic ban was one of the masterful ingredients he poured into the project. Not only did it add to the verisimilitude of the story, but it also managed to draw the audience in by accentuating the humanity and vulnerability of the characters.

Bullock and Clooney are certainly not alone for feeling trepidation at the thought of acting with little or no makeup. But it’s fair to say that modern actors who are required to play sans cosmetics are venturing into new territory due to the high-def craze in theaters and home-movie systems alike. As much as our culture is crazy over beauty products, the truth is we all know what we look like without makeup whether we’re brave enough to step outside without it or not. But for an actor, the simple act of not wearing makeup can be quite compelling.

Drea de Matteo, the sexy siren who played Christopher Moltisanti’s girlfriend, Adriana, in the HBO juggernaut, The Sopranos, was often seen on the show with little or no makeup. These scenes took place when she was at home ironing or just hanging out, and it lended an authenticity to the show as well as making her character more relateable than the typical gun moll. Adriana got whacked in season five, and there was an outpouring of sympathy by Sopranos fans who felt like they knew her intimately, and could relate to her struggles. The fact that she laid her face bare in the show may have played a part in the audience empathizing with her plight. Likewise, Anne Hathaway singing I Dreamed a Dream with minimal-to-no makeup in Tom Hooper’s musical, Les Miserables, renders such pathos and empathy, one is left wondering if makeup would have been a barrier to the integrity of the performance.

And so here’s to you, brave actors, for daring to venture into the land of taboo exposing your bare face on enormous high-def screens for the sake of art!