Douglas Noe has been in Hollywood for three decades. An award-winning makeup artist, he’s worked on projects such as World War Z, Planet of the Apes, Spider-Man 3, I Saw the Light, and Birth of a Nation. On top of these impressive credits, he’s also been Tom Hiddleston’s personal makeup artist since joining the MCU in The Avengers, designing all of the looks for Loki’s subsequent appearances.
Noe has been nominated for three Emmys with one win, and five Makeup Artist and Hairstylist (MUAHS) Awards resulting in two MUAHS awards. His skills include creating making natural and period looks, prosthetics, hair, and tattoos.
Along with being the head of the makeup department for the most recent Disney+ series Loki, Noe is also creating looks for the new Netflix comedy series True Story starring Kevin Hart and Wesley Snipes.
We had a chance to chat with Douglas Noe about his work on Loki, The Avengers, the incomparable value of teamwork on set, and most importantly, Richard E. Grant.
Nerds and Beyond: So you started your Marvel journey with The Avengers, but what drew you to your field in the first place? And how did you get your start?
Douglas Noe: Star Wars was a huge influence to me as a young boy, both sketching and drawing, and a little bit of sculpting but not much. Cut to 1983, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” comes out and I find a magazine called Fangoria on the newsstands where I can order blood and wax and pencils and fake hair. So, I started playing with these things. I was also taken with the horror movie craze that was happening in the early 80s — Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th, and others, obviously.
In High School, in 1984, I joined choir thinking I would get an easy credit, but my voice had not changed. So the choral instructor had been waiting for a boy soprano to do a theatrical opera presentation. So with that I sang the lead, I quit choir after that, because my peers were merciless, but, I learned the world of theatrical makeup which I hadn’t been introduced to.
I did years of theater. I went to a performing arts high school — it’s called Fort Hayes School for the Performing Arts in Columbus, Ohio — graduated, went to beauty school, and continued working in Ohio doing industrial, commercial, theater, and opera [makeup]. Worked for Maybelline and Revlon, got restless, worked in Cincinnati on my first film in the summer of 1990, it was July so 31 years ago, A Rage in Harlem. And my boss said you come to Los Angeles, I’ll make sure you get on your feet.
Nerds and Beyond: So you mentioned that it’s been about 31 years since your career started, what’s changed over the course of those 30 years in your field?
Douglas: How much time do we have? I’d say the biggest, biggest change would probably be the way we make these things now. Although another large change, more specific, would be the materials that we use. There’s a constant evolution and reinvention of almost all aspects of the materials that a makeup artist uses. That said, I have to shine a light on the way we do things now with the onset of digital and digital cameras. Shooting on film now has almost completely fallen by the wayside. Film was very forgiving, quite frankly, and now it’s not so forgiving. And because of that, the bar has been raised. The wonderful thing about this journey is watching my peers just get better and better and better, my colleagues rising to meet the challenge of not having anything to hide from with this new way we make films.
Nerds and Beyond: So, sometimes you kind of throw prosthetics to the wayside in favor of a more traditional makeup. How do you make that decision on which one to go with?
Douglas: That’s an excellent question. The decision is based purely on what are we going to see. That’s where I start, what is the lighting? I have a conversation with the director of photography and I find out what is the dynamic. Obviously, I know from the script whether it’s an interior or exterior, or if we’re exterior but we’re going to be on a stage, if it’s day or night. These variables all play into my decision as to whether or not I should rely on my theatrical experience and ability to paint 2D to appear 3D, or go ahead and make small prosthetics and put them where I need to put them and use actual prosthetics in lieu of paint.
That has everything to do with lighting, locations, logistics, and because most of his [Loki’s] wounds appear on his arm and some on his face in the Void, it’s all very moody and very dark. And again, the theatrical quality of the paint is not going to be altered by the changing light, it’s just going to react the same way the rest of the face is going to react. It’s purple light, it’s going to make everything have a purple hue. There was no accounting for any correction that didn’t need to be done. There wasn’t anything wrong with that. It’s real.
Nerds and Beyond: So, you did make up for not only Tom on Loki, but you helped plan out the looks for everybody?
Douglas: Yes, what I do is I surround myself with strong talent. It’s all about team. I designed Wunmi Mosaku, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Sophia DiMartino, and Tom [Hiddleston]. Regarding the rest of it, Neil Ellis, both Dennis Liddiard and I, added to the elements of his scars and wounds, which you would only see in close-ups.
The rest of it, the parameters are set — Blade Runner to Mad Men — and stay in those confines. And obviously, I choose color palettes for the women and there are parameters set for the men, but then it’s about team. I’m one person on a big team and not putting my thumbprints on other people’s work, but rather build other people up so they feel like they own what they’re doing.
My team consists of artists that also have stronger resumes and quite frankly, skills that exceed mine. It’s the mutual trust that allows us to keep a high level of artistic integrity in every aspect of the job. It also means I get the very best from my team, and it shows on the screen.
So, I didn’t have every look in my hand. Dennis Liddiard designed the Mobius character and I had Ned Neidhardt run with Gugu and turn up the volume on some of the elements that she already possesses that we can play with. Her eyes and lips, I think Ned turned the volume on both. And because we’re shooting in order, it’s a progression in the makeup you did.
Nerds and Beyond: When it came to Sylvie and Loki, when you’re doing those, did you try to kind of plan them both to have any similar things to give them a Loki look?
Douglas: It’s a fair question, but the answer is no. So again, I think the characteristics and traits that were going to be similar among them, aside from wardrobe and costume hints, were all character driven. And I did nothing with the makeup and hair to try to make them look or even closely resemble each other.
Nerds and Beyond: I want to kind of back up a little bit to Tom in the first Avengers film. That was by far one of his most standout looks. Can you tell me anything about what went into the creation of that absolutely tormented, haunted look that he had throughout that entire movie?
Douglas: Yeah, and that’s probably one of the elements that, because the character has evolved, we kind of left with Avengers because by the end of Avengers, and we carried it into Endgame, he does have a bit of an edgier look in Avengers, and not many people pick up on it. But the reality is he’s a little sculpted in Avengers.
I remember sculpting his cheekbones and temples, and doing a little play on his forehead for when he’s in the cell on the Helicarrier carrier with all that overhead lighting. I did like a little devil horn shadow, which is so subtle. The only person who’s going to notice is anybody who looks back at it and having read this and knows what to look for, but it is so nuanced and so subtle. And that’s the only place I think we did that. But the rest of him is very much chiseled and sculpted, but it’s a light touch.
And I think, again, as he evolved through the Marvel Universe and into the other movies that was something that was easy to leave behind, because I think that look played directly into his evil desire to rule over Earth. We rested that design element with that storyline.
Nerds and Beyond: It’s very clear too and I’ve always loved looking at that, because I’m a huge fan of the character. I’ve always loved kind of comparing how he looked in that movie to the rest of them.
Douglas: You’re on to me!
Nerds and Beyond: I’m not! I swear [laughs] So, what’s your best method for making the actors comfortable in the makeup chair? And with the final outcome?
Douglas: It’s dialogue; listening, talking to them, talking to their representation, whether it be an agent or a manager, and doing my homework and doing my due diligence to find out what’s going to make them comfortable the moment they walk through the door. I do my homework on them. It’s not just IMDb, it’s an internet search. So, I spend some time on the web and find out who these folks are, and if I find out, for example, they’re not one that likes to talk a lot, well, the writing’s on the wall, we’re not going to talk a lot, we’ll cut to the chase and get to the point. But also, it’s about building a rapport and building a relationship. Also, knowing that, I’ve said this in previous discussions, knowing it’s necessary to get out of the way.
Like if, for example, I’m not a proper fit for somebody, I have to be plugged in, I have to be aware enough to understand that it may not be working before somebody says to me, “Hey, this isn’t gonna work.” So it’s just about being open, especially as Tom’s personal on these projects and running the department, knowing that I don’t get to do everybody. I don’t get to put my thumbprint on other people’s work. Because not only is that disrespectful, it’s very often unnecessary, because I hire good people. I hire contemporaries and peers. Truly, you’re only as good as your weakest crew member. I surround myself with good people.
So, take Owen Wilson, for example, it would have been wonderful to do Owen’s makeup, but there were times when he was not going to be shooting with Tom and I was going to need to be ready for Tom or available to Tom, so it didn’t make sense. So I never touched Owen, I had Dennis Liddiard design that look and run with it. And then Ned Neidhardt took over that look when Dennis had to depart. That’s just one example of not trying to do everything.
Another one was the Classic Loki. I wanted to do Richard E. Grant’s [makeup] so bad, I can’t even tell you. I’ve been a huge fan since 1987. I wanted so badly to bring that full circle, didn’t make sense. It just didn’t make sense. So again, I never touched him. It wasn’t necessary. Ned was always there. And I think the same thing happened to me on Ragnarok reshoots, which I ran in Atlanta again with Dennis Liddiard. I wanted so badly to do Sir Anthony Hopkins’ makeup, but it didn’t make sense. So I was happy to hand it off to Bill Myer.
Nerds and Beyond: Oh man, I loved Richard E. Grant in this show so much.
Douglas: He’s amazing.
Nerds and Beyond: He’s so good!
Douglas: He really is. And he’s that good in person. He’s just so fun and interesting and alluring and attractive. He’s such a wonderful, wonderful person and, of course, a phenomenal actor.
Nerds and Beyond: I was watching little videos that he posted and he just seems like the warmest person.
Douglas: You know, just one last tidbit about Richard Grant is he’s got wonderful stories and as he’s telling them he’ll often stop and pause and just laugh. Just laugh, not for the sake of the stories or for anybody that he’s telling the story to, but because recounting the story brings him true joy. So he’ll stop and embrace that joy. Oh, it’s so wonderful.
Nerds and Beyond: That’s so amazing to hear. What is the most memorable job that you’ve done?
Douglas: The most memorable … That’s a tough one because I have so many fond memories of so many projects. The first Avengers film was memorable because there was a buzz, there was a vibration, a frequency, that was in the air when we were shooting that. We kind of knew we were making something big and something special. I don’t think any of us knew how big or how special it would be, but that certainly is one of the most memorable and most special projects.
I’m pretty good about focusing on the positive aspects of all these things, regardless of how difficult the project may be for whatever reason. The pros always, always heavily outweigh the cons, but I have a lot of wonderful, memorable experiences. Another one, it’s the polar opposite only because of the conditions in which we shot, but The Birth of the Nation was one of the most memorable and exceptional experiences of my career. I was on the wrong side of 40, had 25 years of experience, and had still never worked so hard in my entire life. We did a 50-day shoot in 27 days. So proud of the work we did.
It was 100 degrees with 99 percent humidity, we shot it in the summer in Georgia, in Savannah, so it was hot, humid, and just getting the makeup necessary to be on individuals to stay put was its own challenge. And then the other challenges only added to that. But Nate Parker, the director, writer, producer, and lead actor, he is a special human being. And he was inspiring from start to finish. Usually, the first people in are the teamsters, transport department, and usually I’m second. He beat me in almost every single day. He’s in three hours before he needs to be. That was a very special experience.
Nerds and Beyond: Finally, are you excited about the news of Loki Season 2?
Douglas: I’m beyond thrilled! I invite being in the dark a little bit, I kind of like surprises and I like not knowing, so I suspected, but hearing the news confirmed, I was thrilled, naturally. What are they going to dream up? This is amazing. How do you top season 1 of Loki? That’s the burning question.
Look back at all of our Loki coverage including episodic recaps, our review, and some analyses of the twists and turns the series took. Stay tuned for more news on Loki season 2, Marvel, and beyond!
Watch all of Loki season 1 on Disney+ now!