The Power of Politeness

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Photo Source: Clay Rodery

I worked a few days on a film recently, and while my time on set was short but sweet, I got to know the crew pretty quickly. One of the best parts of being on a set is the immediate sense of camaraderie. I’ve always found the hustle and bustle invigorating. That energy acts as an antidote to the many solitary days spent waiting for the next job to fall into place. From the transportation department carting crew and talent from one place to another to the first AD keeping everyone on track to stand-ins taking on the monotonous but invaluable task of helping the DP and director figure out how to shoot each scene, everyone is working in tandem to make the best possible film they can make.

As an actor, you spend a lot of time with the wardrobe department, and, of course, hair and makeup. They tend to be the first people you interact with on set, and the people you will spend the most time with before, during, and after the shoot. It was hair and makeup that helped ease my jitters during my first movie role when I was sitting nervously in a chair until Ronnie teased my hair and, in a faux Southern accent, shouted, “The higher the hair, the closer to God.”

Her sense of humor helped me stomach the rest of the day, and I realized I wasn’t the only one after I saw one of the stars of the movie eating lunch with Ronnie and the rest of the hair and makeup department at the craft services table. Turns out said star had worked with them over 30 years ago and was delighted to have a minireunion. I’ve always taken that image to heart because it just seemed fun. How great to be able to develop working relationships like that over time. Not to mention the quick intimacy that develops between you while someone applies false eyelashes to your face.

So on this recent set, it was disconcerting to me when the hair and makeup team expressed gratitude toward me for simply being “nice.” Apparently they’ve had some recent experiences with other actors being difficult or rude. I guess I could find this believable if we were in the era of big Hollywood divas—but even they knew their most valuable allies were the ones making them look their best.

I understand you can feel uncomfortable with the way you’re being shaped to look for a role. I’ve had some hair burned off by hairstylists who shouldn’t have used that hot iron after I told them it was a bad idea. I’ve had makeup artists come at me with lipsticks or eyeliners that definitely hadn’t been disinfected after being used on multiple cast members. So I get it, and sometimes you have to stand up for yourself if choices are being made that simply aren’t a good idea. But you can do it nicely. No one is actively out to get you. There’s a chance that the makeup artist didn’t clean that lipstick simply because you’ve been doing night shoots all week and she’s just a little sleepy. But more important, it’s essential to be kind because everyone is working toward the ultimate goal—and that goal involves getting your face up on the silver screen (or stage, or laptop screen for that matter). It’s better to trust them to make it look its best.

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