The Defenders makeup department head Sarit Klein shares behind-the-scenes stories and discusses crafting the look of Marvel for Netflix.
Klein’s integral work took her from the first days of Daredevil to the drama of Jessica Jones, from the streetwise grit of Luke Cage to the glamor of Iron Fist. Now her powers quite literally combine on Marvel’s The Defenders, as Manhattan’s superheroes come together at last.
Interview with Sarit Klein
So how did you find yourself working on The Defenders?
I got hired three years ago to establish the first shows. So when I got hired to do Daredevil season 1, they already told me back then that it’s going to be all five shows. Even though we needed to interview with the showrunner of each show, we pretty much, it was just all logistics things. We pretty much were told that it was going to be a nice, three year adventure!
Wow! And what was that experience like for you?
It’s great. I mean, I’ve never had this before, I’ve obviously never worked with Marvel before, so coming to a project — projects — knowing that it’s going to be three years, is like a good thing, knowing you have stability. It’s also kind of an adjustment period to know, okay, this is going to be my life. I’m not going to have any breaks for three years! [laughs] I started meditating! I did, really!
I can imagine it must be very pressurized environment to shoot an effects-heavy show in New York, on a TV schedule.
It is, and I think especially superhero shows, particularly these [kind of] superheroes. Many of them work at night, which means night shoots for the crew.
Part of designing these shows entails me going to meetings, being part of multiple discussions, preforming makeup tests prior to going to set for the night . There is alot of prep for the day, for the future episode and even for the future show. Marvel really likes to be prepared so they plan everything in advance.
Even the smallest detail, like the color of blood on Daredevil, requires a great deal of preparation. You have to consider the lighting, the filters and the camera you’re using. Everything is prepped as far in advance as possible, so that when we actually get to the shoot day, it’s going to be executed as seamlessly as possible.
What would you say was the most challenging show to work on?
I mean, it has to do with the actual show, and the character too. I mean, the biggest one, obviously, was the The Defenders because you have the superheroes themselves, and you have the stunts. And then you have the villains and you have their stunts. So whatever I’m doing to the superheroes, I have to do to the stunts and match them, so it’s double the amount of special effects.
I was in charge of the non-prosthetic special effects and Josh Turi who’s my prosthetic designer… he was in charge of the Iron Fist tattoo. Because there was so much involved in that, there was like 25 tests, and I have so much going on on my end in multiple facets — you know, schedule, designing, doing wound maps, hiring people, man-power for the team. There’s just a lot going on all the time. So I decided that it’s best for him to handle that, so that he could be, you know, fully attentive to that.
So he does the prosthetic things, and I do all the non-prosthetic things. Madam Gao, for instance! She’s a non-prosthetic aging character. She sits in the chair every time for about an hour and a half, two people, we age — every skin particle that you see on camera is all aged.
Oh yeah! It’s like, latex. There’s two people, it’s called stretch-and-stipple. One person, my assistant will stretch the skin, and I’ll stipple the old age latex. And after the drying process and everything, we’ll do multiple layers and we hand-paint age spots and different marks on her. So it’s her hands, her arms, her neck, her face — everything.
Wow. That’s amazing.
That, for instance, is something that people sometimes think are prosthetics. No, no, it’s not prosthetics!
Each of the Defenders series are pretty violent shows. What would percentage of your work is doing “mess-up” on the characters, as opposed to makeup?
I love that question. I would say it could be, sixty-forty. I think that my job as head of makeup and designer entails not only doing makeup. There is also prep, designing, character sheets and wound maps. This is incredibly important for characters such as Daredevil – to maintain the continuity and the evolution of everything that he gets. Especially knowing that he has healing powers.
There are meetings about that too, of course! [laughs] Before every episode we discuss how many days have passed since the previous episode. Would Matt Murdock have a bruise that’s more yellow and green, because he has healing powers and it’s been three days? Or would it still be purple? There are so many details that you wouldn’t imagine. It’s amazing.
So there’s meetings about that too, of course! [laughs] Every episode we come in, we’re like, okay, so how many days have passed? Would Matt Murdock have a bruise that’s more yellow and green, because he has healing powers and it’s been three days? Or would it still be purple? I mean, the details that you wouldn’t imagine. It’s amazing.
Do you have a distinctive makeup feature for each of the Defenders?
Yes! I think the design process of all these shows is to do makeup that is more invisible. Even though there will be some makeup on, what I mean by invisible is that you won’t really notice it as it is part of the character. To me it just enhances the storyline rather than having someone say, “Ooh, what is this weird lipstick that Jessica Jones is wearing?”
Jessica Jones doesn’t care what she looks like. She’ll wake up in the morning, if she even sleeps, she’ll get out of the house and doesn’t look in the mirror. Krysten Ritter has such nice, pigmented lips, so all we did is put cherry chapstick on just to enhance that color, to give her an edgy look and just smudge a little bit of eyeliner. Don’t get me wrong, she has a full face of makeup on but you won’t really see that on camera. It kind of looks like she’s all messy and edgy, but that was pretty distinctive for her.
I feel in general for the guys, less is more. I don’t want anybody to say, “his face doesn’t match his neck.” These shows are mainly for the fans. I want them to get into the story, relate to these characters and their issues, especially on the personal shows.
So that’s pretty distinctive to me. We also had to figure out Danny Rand’s beard.
Yep, he had the homeless beard for the first two episodes. coming into [episode] three, it was also a discussion that involved Finn Jones himself — what length of beard makes him comfortable to portray his character accurately?
I gave my two cents, then Marvel/Netflix and the showrunner had to approve. A lot of chefs! But it just makes things go smoothly.
With so much going on in these four series, what role do you have in preserving the continuity between series?
A huge, huge role! Oh my God, [I knew] that I was coming into a three year ride, so at the end of each show I collected notes about wounds, about facial hair length, what tools and products I used. I took pictures of actor bags not even knowing who’s going to be in The Defenders! I only knew who was going to be in The Defenders after I got hired to do that show. To help myself I had to be very organized because I technically have about a week off in between each show.
Oh my gosh!
Yep! That’s what I’m saying. I worked for three years straight. I got married on Daredevil and I took my honeymoon just before we started Iron Fist! [laughs] That was about a year and half later!
I needed to be really organized. I knew I was going to hit the ground running because there are so many characters in The Defenders. So at the end of each show, I compiled notes into a folder that just kept on growing. By the time I got to The Defenders, I had pictures of actor bags and products, knowing what I will be using, in order to keep consistency and continuity of the characters.
And the other thing is, I tried to keep the same makeup team. I knew that The Defenders was going to be huge and I wanted, maybe because of the chaos I’m going to get into, the [makeup] trailer to be as fun as possible, knowing the challenges we have, including night shoots and tandem units.
My team continued with me from Iron Fist to The Defenders. That way everybody knows everybody and they don’t need to re-learn [the process]. That was a huge benefit. I’m nothing without my team, so it’s great.
Do you have a memorable makeup moment from your work on The Defenders or the original series?
Yes, I totally do! On Iron Fist, after we groomed his beard I episode 3, I told the producer, “Just so you know, once I groom his beard, it’s going to be really hard to re-shoot anything from the first two episodes, where he has a huge, bushy beard.” Two months later we needed to add some scenes to the first 2 episodes. Fortunately the producer gave me about ten days to prepare!
I needed to get a full, bushy beard [and] we had to color, curl and texturize it. We had to do two makeup tests to put it on top of his existing beard, which I have not done before because that’s a big challenge. Applying facial hair on skin is different than applying facial hair on top of facial hair and masking the beard’s lace.
It took us a while to get to the right amount of glue and mask everything. It’s a delicate job and we did it! You won’t even notice but there are a couple of scenes where Danny doesn’t even have his real, bushy beard on. It’s fake.
That was a huge challenge I never thought I’d have to do. A full beard on top of a full beard, oh my God. Fortunately nobody noticed! That was a moment I’ll never forget.
What do you view as your contribution to the rich world of Marvel and Netflix?
Well, I’m really proud to establish these first shows, and to create some characters that weren’t even in the Marvel comics, Like Madame Gao. Furthermore, this is all an homage for the fans. Everything we’re doing is for them. So, for instance, I’m so excited when I see a piece of art that someone does of Jessica Jones, and [it] shows her cuts from the beginning of The show. There are two cuts that she has, near her brow and near her cheek on the left side. I see those cuts in all the fan art and on people who do cosplay at Comic Cons.
Marvel is a shared universe and I’m grateful to have this opportunity. Obviously it’s all based on the comic books, but we are creating our own stories and the backstory of each character, especially on the individual shows. Just to create those characters and have them live forever is very special.
Another thing that I’m taking from The Defenders is that it was the biggest show I’ve ever done, and I feel like I could do anything after this, because I’m now more prepared for huge shows. We’ve had days where we had about 30 cast and stunt members, and we had to match skin tones and put beards on in 15 minutes. We had to do bruises and blood and dirt, all on the fly. There are also changes that happen daily. Every day is not like the other.
Sometimes you’d start the day thinking that it’s going to be a certain way but then the day changes due to weather, scene order change or someone gets hurt, which has happened. For instance, on The Defenders, Krysten [Ritter] punched a stunt guy and her hand got all bruised. Things like that happen, so I suddenly have to cover it.
There are days that can be challenging yet exciting and I feel like I’m really prepared for anything, knowing that this was the kind of a schedule we worked with.
So to me it’s like, Marvel is such a huge universe. It’s a shared universe, so to me it’s just, I mean, I’m grateful to have this opportunity. And I mean, obviously it’s all based on the comic books, but we are creating our own stories and the backstory of each one, especially on the individual shows. So just to create those characters and have them live forever.
Another thing that I think [I’m] taking from The Defenders is that it was the biggest show I’ve ever done, and I kind of feel like I could do anything after this, because I’m now more prepared for huge shows. I mean, we’ve had days where we had about 30 cast and stunt members, and we had to match skin tones… put beards on in 15 minutes. We had to do bruises and blood and dirt, all on the fly. And the changes that happen daily, every day is not like the other.
And sometimes you’d come to the day thinking it’s going to be a certain way, and then weather dependent, actor availability, scene change, someone maybe gets hurt, which has happened. For instance, on The Defenders, Krysten [Ritter] punched a stunt guy and her hand got all bruised. Things like that, so I suddenly have to cover it… There’s unimaginable things that happen, and it makes it challenging but exciting, and I feel like I’m really prepared for anything knowing that this was that kind of a schedule.
Finally, I’m going to make you chose between your babies! Which is your favorite series and hero?
Oh no! I’m really connected to Jessica Jones, I think, for a few reasons. I mean, all the other shows. This is a very female driven show, obviously. We’re very close, Krysten Ritter and I, we’re actually shooting Jessica Jones season 2 right now. So it’s our third show together… and I just relate to many stories there, and we have all female directors on season 2. It’s really exciting just to see the storylines develop and to get other character’s storylines developed… so as much as I love all the boys, I love the girls more! [laughs]
Marvel’s The Defenders hits Netflix this Friday.