I don’t really know many such lively and enthusiastic women as Erzsébet Forgács or as many in her profession call her, Böbe. She wasn’t sure if she should undertake the interview with me, – even though, if anyone, she should be proud of her career. Just highlighting some of the names of the actors and actresses she has worked with, we should name people like Helen Mirren, Michael Gambon, Jeremy Irons or William Hurt. Or if this wouldn’t be enough add Viggo Mortensen, Omar Sharif, Rachel Weisz and Maia Morgenstein to the list of people who were under the hands of this extraordinary, yet so harmoniously reserved Hungarian make-up artist. After more than 110 movies, and numerous other productions, Böbe’s passion just doesn’t seem to diminish.
Knowing that focusing and enjoying her work is far more important to her than being in the reflector light, I am thankful that she opened up to us and honored MCL with an in-depth interview. We’ve talked about what it’s like to be a movie make-up artists, whether being a woman has any impact on her career, or how she keeps herself up when challenges come up.
Dorka on behalf of MissCareer/less: When did you decide that you wanted to be a make-up artist?
Erzsébet Forgács: In high school. I was in a French class, so my language knowledge was really good. After graduating, I worked in export trades and also as a translator for some French movies at the Hungarian Film Factory. I really liked the atmosphere of the film production industry. And in the meantime, I applied to be a beautician, so soon I became a trainee, and after that an assistant make-up artist at the Film Factory. In about six years, I got my first, independent assignment as a make-up artist for a movie. Following the end of the MAFILM (Hungarian Film Studios were closed down – e.d.), I’ve turned to be a freelancer such as most of us.
MLC: You’ve started your career in an era when Hungary was under the Soviet Union. What kind of differences have you experienced in the field of moviemaking during and after the Soviet Union?
EF: The main difference as far as my work is concerned is that in the Film Factory, so during the Soviet times, beauticians, hairdressers were admitted to the industry as a trainee. They learned the profession with the help of the make-up artists. Hence, they learned by practice. Today, there are many courses and schools specialised for this profession. So the learning curve is very different.
MCL: Who are those people, who have helped and taught you the most during your career?
EF: My make-up artist master was András Tolnai. I learned a tremendous lot of things from him, and we also worked together on many TV shows. From the directors, I would highlight the Oscar-winning István Szabó. From his film, Hanussen, onwards I was his leading make-up artist in his movies. It was an outstanding experience. I could say many other names because I’ve had the pleasure to work with various excellent people during my career, but they two are the ones from whom I’ve learned most and to whom I certainly owe the most.
MCL: How does a filmmaking preparation look like for you?
EF: When I receive a request for a film, I read the script, and then I discuss the details with the director. I create ideas for the make-up and masks that will be part of the movie. Then I get immersed in the given characteristics and check a big collection of pictures – that we use as our image sources – from all ages and style. Of course, today we can get a lot of materials and inspirations from the Internet. In the end, we start the testing on the actors.
MCL: You’ve been working on motion pictures, theatre plays, advertisements for quite a time now. Do you feel tired or more energetic today?
EF: I don’t feel tired, all these just make me more energetic. After a time, certain things give you self-confidence and a so-called routine. The greatness of this job lies in that every movie is different, and you can’t be bored with it. There is a new challenge all the time; you simply can’t say that you know everything because there are always new actors, or you do the same actor in a very different style. All work is different, and this makes my job extremely enjoyable and varied.
MCL: What is your favourite thing from all the different mediums you have done in your life?
EF: I was the make-up artist for more than 110 films. I’ve made a minimum of twenty-five theatre plays, and I worked on countless advertisements. I love filmmaking the most, but I can’t really make differences between the works and I absolutely can’t pick a favorite thing; this job has to be done with passion. And that’s all that matters.
MCL: After all these exceptional experiences, now, you are also teaching. What is it exactly that you do as a teacher?
EF: I teach at the Hungarian University of Fine Arts (MKE), in the Department of Visual Education Department. My course is about make-up and mask-making for a set, costume, and puppet designer students. They have to work on a given script, design the costumes and the settings, and, of course, the make-ups as well. My aim is that they should have a picture in their mind, for example, how much work and time it takes to make a wig or a make-up. If you know the basics, then the creativity in designing is limitless. But you have to know the basics.
MCL: Your whole life is around movies. Tell us a memory you would highlight from your life that is not from the filmmaking niche?
EF: Well, it’s not film, but theater. One of my theatre work in Székesfehérvár (a major city in Hungary, e.d.) was the play Richard III. Based on my idea, we created an exhibition from the previous Hungarian performances of the same play with the photos of actors who are no longer with us. With the help of Tamás Gajdó, who is the Councillor of the Hungarian Theater Museum and Institue, we managed to organize this exhibition. I have fond memories of this time.
MCL: What are the moments you are the proudest of in your career?
EF: Perhaps one of them is the making of Sunshine, the Oscar-winning István Szabó’s movie. For this work, I was nominated for the ‘Paramount Classics for the Best Period Makeup Awards’. Then the other one would be when I was nominated among the best fives to the Italian David di Donatello award for the Best Make-Up, with the Memories of Anne Frank movie. And with this, I became a member of the Italian Film Academy and the member of the Donatello prize juries. Then in Hungary, I was awarded the Árvai Jolán prize, and that became the member of the Hungarian Film Academy. And as my latest pride, I need to mention the award-winning Son of Saul in which I was also the head of the make-up department.
MCL: What is your favourite movie where you worked as a make-up artist?
EF: Well, it is really hard to make an order from the movies. I simply see the beauty in the projects. But if I need to name some then my big favourites are the Sunshine, the Memories Anne Frank and the Being Julia. But then I quickly need to mention the Good, The Door, and the Son of Saul – and, of course, all the rest!
MCL: We hear that the filmmaking industry is rather competitive. Have you experienced any negativity from the actors because of the unsaid hierarchy?
EF: I think I got to know the friendly side of them. This work is based on trust, and the actors also see that we work for the sake of the movie. I don’t work under them; I work with them.
MCL: Do you have a preference when it comes to working with male of female actors?
EF: No, it doesn’t depend on the sex of the actor; I only see work, and the bigger is the challenge, the more I enjoy it. Doing the make-up itself is also great, but, for me, the preparation of let’s say an aging or making a wound is the icing on the cake.
MCL: Have you ever experienced that people would look down on you because of your job? Is it clearly a female profession?
EF: No, never! This is a profession – that in my experience -, everybody is interested in it. If they get to know what I do, they are just thrilled. And not just women, but men also; they both are very curious about how a make-up or mask is a made, what are the actors like, how tolerant they are, how long it takes a shooting etc. So, no it is clearly not a female profession.
MCL: As a woman, what is the hardest part in your work?
EF: Instead of hardest, I would use the phrase tasks to be solved. I think if you find hard difficulties in your work, it isn’t enjoyment anymore; shaky solutions lose the charm of your work, which, I think, are the best part of it. Instead of the “hardness of the job”, I always think about the uniqueness and the exciting things in the job. So, there is no such thing as hardest.
MCL: But you must have days when things get challenging. How do you motivate yourself on your harder days?
EF: In the difficult days I think back to the most distinct tasks where I could create a more than flawless work; those are when the fulfilment is above 100%. But my drive comes from the motto that ‘you always have to do better’. But of course, there are difficult shooting days, for example, because of the chosen location, the time of the day (nights, and dawns), or because of the large number of extra people. In those days, me and my colleagues think about that how good it will look on the screen. That keeps us motivated.
MCL: Would you recommend this job to others?
EF: Yes, for those who are good in handcraft, and who have humility and perseverance for the profession. You also have to be able to learn and develop constantly, be open and empathic, and, also, be physically capable.
MCL: What would be your advice for women and women who choose this profession in particular?
EF: I don’t think that you can give one advice for everyone because each and every person in unique. If somebody chooses this profession, I would advise to being absolutely committed to do it, and then you will be very happy with your career.