Five Minutes With: OITNB Makeup Artist Michal Bigger

Meet the woman with the toughest job in Litchfield: de-prettying the gorgeous cast of Orange Is the New Black

Photo: David M. Benett/Getty

Photo: David M. Benett/Getty

“I look worse when I come out of makeup than when I go in”—thus declared one actress on the set of the Netflix cult hit Orange is the New Black. The makeup team took it as a compliment. Here, head beautifier Michal Bigger tells FLARE about the challenges of doing time on OITNB.

The show is set mainly in prison—what types of limitations does this pose in terms of makeup?
“Litchfield Penitentiary has a commissary that sells makeup. Colours are limited, usually decades behind fashion, and appropriate use is dictated by prison policy. That’s why contraband makeup, skin care, hair products and nail polish are treasured items.”

What kind of research did you do to prepare for the job?
“I read Piper Kerman’s book, of course, and I researched photos of various prison systems. During the first episode of season one, we shot in an actual prison in upstate New York, so I was able to see firsthand how the women looked. I rode the subway a lot, taking notes on interesting faces and makeup techniques. I conferred with the actors themselves, since they always have a good idea of who they are portraying. And, most importantly, I listened to creator Jenji Kohan, who apparently knows everything in the world, and most certainly in terms of the world she has created for Orange Is the New Black.”

What’s the most challenging aspect of the job?
“Individuating each person from one another, while they’re all wearing the same drab costume. Keeping the makeup minimal while still giving a character expression required a lot of thought and backstory—in terms of their ethnic group, who they were before they were incarcerated, how they are helped financially from the outside, and their proximity to contraband inside. This all helps to shape a character’s look.”

What surprises people most about your work on OITNB?
“Often makeup is required to transform these beautiful actresses into something ordinary. The cast should be applauded for allowing us to mess them up on a regular basis.”

What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned on set?
“I’ve formed sympathy for the outcasts in society, and I now relate to everyone I bump into on the subway in a way that I never thought possible. I hope everyone watching the show has the same learning curve.”