Debbie Zoller has been working in television and film for over 30 years helping to create both the non-prosthetic and prosthetic makeup for some of the most known shows. Zoller has created looks from everything from Star Trek, Enterprise, Nip/Tuck, The Practice, Felicity, Gilmore Girls, Mad Men, House of Lies, Castle and Twin Peaks. Her work in film includes; The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and Mockingjay Part II and A Star is Born.
Zoller’s year started off on a high winning a Hollywood Makeup and Artist and Hair Stylist Guild Award for Best Contemporary Makeup – Feature-Length Motion Picture for A Star is Born. But, after nine previous Emmy losses Zoller’s luck might just be about to change thanks to her herculean efforts in creating the look of Fosse/Verdon for which she scored her 10th and 11th Emmy nominations: for Best Prosthetic Makeup for a Series, Limited Series, Movie or Special and Best Makeup for a Limited series or Movie (Non-Prosthetic).
AW: After receiving nine previous Emmy nominations, is it still exciting to be nominated?
DZ: Yes of course, it’s always such an honor to be singled out for my work by my peers, especially this year with so many amazing shows that submitted.
AW: You’ve been previously nominated for a wide range of projects from Star Trek: The Next Generation to Mad Men and last year, Twin Peaks. Do you have a favorite genre? And what challenges do each have?
DZ: I’m a fan of all genres really. I embrace that each show has its own unique challenges. I never create the same character twice. I always strive to create something new and different for each show. I think I’m happiest when I get to combine my love for special effects makeup with my love for beauty or character makeup.
AW: This year you’re nominated for Fosse/Verdon. How difficult was it to make Michelle Williams and Sam Rockwell resemble the people they’re portraying but still make them recognizable?
DZ: When I was first hired on Fosse/Verdon, I started researching like crazy. I was creating mood boards for both Bob (Fosse) and Gwen (Verdon), for each decade. I then began studying Sam and Michelle’s faces to see where I could bridge similarities between their characters. I then called on Vincent Van Dyke to help me create some photoshop renderings to show the producers and the director. That helped me narrow down what prosthetic pieces to create to bring out the essence of each character, to make it realistic and not overdone.
AW: You’re nominated in both Prosthetic and Non-Prosthetic makeup; how do you coordinate both and is it more difficult doing both or just one?
DZ: Coordinating this show with all of the period makeups, the age makeups, and matching actors to real people was a huge challenge. This show had so many layers to it – in the beginning it was hard to wrap my head around. I had to incorporate and balance the desires of the director, producers, Nicole Fosse, and the actors. It was a huge undertaking. I can now look back and be really proud of what we achieved. I was able to pull together an amazing group of makeup artists who supported me and welcomed the challenges we were about to face. I’m truly grateful for their dedication as well.
AW: What was your favorite aspect of designing the looks for Fosse/Verdon?
DZ: My most favorite moments was recreating the iconic Fosse musical numbers for “Sweet Charity,” “Cabaret,” “Damn Yankees,” “Pippin,” and “Chicago.” Being such a huge musical theater fan, my heart would just fill with such joy when I walked on set, heard the music start, and saw these amazing dancers (under the direction of Andy Blankenbeuhler and Susan Misher) come to life.
AW: How did you challenge yourself when having to recreate recognizable looks from movies such as Cabaret?
DZ: I spent the first couple weeks watching both Sweet Charity and Cabaret on repeat and researching each character. I compared my notes and photos with Christopher Fulton, the hair designer and Melissa Toth and Joseph LaCourte, the costume designers to make sure we were all on the same page. I then had fittings with each dancer to see what I needed to transform them. I pulled specific lashes, eye makeup, lip colors and glue sticks for eyebrow covers for each dancer and assigned a specific makeup artist to them with photos of the original. Not to mention all the tattoos we had to cover. For Kelli Barrett, I made prosthetic brow covers for her to transform her effortlessly into Liza Minnelli. She knocked it out of the park. We also spent a couple weeks trying every green nail polish trying to mix the perfect tone that Liza wore in the film. It’s important to cover every last detail. I didn’t cut any corners.
AW: These two Emmy nominations are a part of a great year after you previously worked on the Best Picture nominee A Star is Born. What was it like working with one of the biggest stars on the planet—Lady Gaga?
DZ: I have been truly blessed these past few years, work wise. A Star is Born was released while I was in prep for Fosse/Verdon. I would be walking in NYC and see billboards for the film everywhere and I just kept pinching myself to make sure I took it all in. Bradley Cooper is a brilliant director and an amazing actor. He and Stefani [Lady Gaga] had so much respect for each other, it was an honor to watch them create such a moving film. And not to mention their crazy on-screen chemistry.
AW: What is something you have yet to accomplish that you would still like to do?
DZ: I would love to design a Broadway musical. It’s been a huge goal of mine for 20 years. Be careful what you wish for, I was able to recreate five of them in Fosse/Verdon. And I would also love to do a superhero movie!
AW: Does it seem a little surreal that your first nomination was for Star Trek: The Next Generation and now you’re competing against Star Trek: Discovery?
DZ: What a great question! It never occurred to me until just now. Yes, it’s completely surreal and just reaffirms that I’m on the right path. I tell everyone that to have a successful career and longevity in this business, you need to keep the bar high. You just pointed out that I haven’t strayed from my own advice.
Debbie is a double-Emmy nominee this year for FX’s Fosse/Verdon in the categories of Outstanding Prosthetic Makeup for a Series, Limited Series, Movie or Special and Outstanding Makeup for a Limited Series or Movie (Non-Prosthetic). The Creative Arts Emmys will be held this weekend, September 14-15.