It’s that subtle approach that former Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, resident Burton LeBlanc loves about his job.
Like the cast whose movements, dialogue and nuances set the mood and tone, as a makeup department head on the series, LeBlanc and those he works with are also responsible for what you see. Or, perhaps, what you don’t see.
“It’s kind of like a no-makeup look, but every single person is wearing makeup,” LeBlanc says.
Lead actress Elisabeth Moss portrays the defiant baby-making handmaid slave Offred in this adaption of Margaret Atwood’s novel. LeBlanc’s job is to give Moss the right look at any given point in time.
“She’d come in, maybe looking like she had too much sleep,” he says. In other words, looking too well rested. “I’d have to make her look worse. But then the next day she’s in a scene and maybe it’s the opposite.
“When there’s a tight camera shot it has to be exact. There might be a pickup from that scene a month down the road and you have to match her to that day,” he says. “And when she has the flashbacks to her normal, pretty life, we get to do nice, soft makeup.”
LeBlanc, the son of Mel and Eva, grew up in Brooklyn, Yarmouth County. In 1998 he moved to Toronto, where much of his career’s work has been, although it has also taken him to other cities and countries.
LeBlanc says the first day back on the set on Sept. 21 for filming of season two of The Handmaid’s Tale was an exciting day, given that it was just days after the show won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series, in addition to seven other Emmy wins for outstanding lead actress, supporting actress, guest actress, directing, writing, cinematography and production design. The series, which had received 13 Emmy nominations, made history as Hulu became the first streaming service to ever win a primetime Emmy in the best series category.
“It’s all fantastic and amazing to be a part of it,” LeBlanc says. “When you have all of these amazing people around you it just makes you up your game.”
As a kid growing up in Yarmouth, LeBlanc always saw himself as artistic. His parents put him and his sister in after-school art classes with local artists and sisters Trudy and Paula Garson. He views that as the start of developing his artistic talent.
In between graduating from Yarmouth Consolidated Memorial High School and moving to Toronto, it was at the Joe Blasco Make-Up Centre in Orlando, Florida, where LeBlanc says he received his training specifically for film and television, in addition to other education he pursued. Throughout the years on projects he worked his way from the bottom to the top and for the past eight years has been a makeup department head on projects.
Asked about favourite projects in his career, quickly coming to mind is My Big Fat Greek Wedding, for which he won a Hollywood Makeup Artist Guild Award in 2003 for Best Contemporary Makeup for a feature film.
“Even though a lot of comedies on the set aren’t laughing all day behind the scenes, that one was. You just laughed and carried on and we had a great time all day,” he says. “The Incredible Hulk, that was another great one. Cinderella Man. Those kind of stand out.”
Another highlight was working with actor Mickey Rourke in 2005 for the movie Killshot. Some other television series, feature films and TV pilot credits include American Gothic, 12 Monkeys, Poltergeist, Warehouse 13, Resident Evil: Afterlife 3D, Skins, Covert Affairs and Pompeii.
“That was a down and dirty movie production,” he says about Pompeii, the story of a slave-turned-gladiator who races to save his love during the massive eruption of Mount Vesuvius as Pompeii crumbles.
“It was so dirty and grimy. The studio was full of ash and people were wearing masks over their faces,” LeBlanc says. “So much of the work is not glamorous. You you go through a lot to get that finished product.”
Days on the set can be very long, sometimes lasting 15 or 16 hours.
“We’re on location here, there and everywhere. We’re not always in the same place,” he says, inviting people to follow him on Instagram to follow his work. You can also follow his work through IMDb - International Movie Data base.
Asked how he came to work on The Handmaid’s Tale, LeBlanc says he got a call from friend and producer Joe Boccia.
“He said ‘I’ve got this project, I don’t know if you’ve heard of Handmaid’s Tale.’ I’m like wow, of course I’ve heard of it. He said ‘I think you’d be really good with Elisabeth Moss.’”
Boccia arranged a phone call between the pair.
“Within a couple of hours she calls me and we chat for about five minutes about what her expectations were for her and the makeup and the look of the show and what I would do and what my thoughts were,” LeBlanc says.
A few hours later he called Boccia to ask about the next step. Would he be coming in for an interview?
“He said, ‘No, that was your interview, you’re hired, you’re on the show,’” LeBlanc says.
Not only is Moss the lead actress of the show, she’s also a producer.
Meanwhile, depending on the project he’s working on, sometimes LeBlanc's makeup work will be obvious to viewers and sometimes not.
He likes it both ways.
He’s thrilled to be heading into season two of The Handmaid’s Tale given its success, to which everyone, on and off the camera, contributes.
“It’s like anywhere in life,” he says. “You have a great team and the project shows in the end.”
Not only is there a Yarmouth connection to The Handmaid's Tale. There's a Digby connection too. READ HERE.
ABOUT: The Handmaid’s Tale
Adapted from the classic novel by Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale is the story of life in the dystopia of Gilead, a totalitarian society in what was formerly the United States. Facing environmental disasters and a plunging birthrate, Gilead is ruled by a twisted fundamentalism in its militarized “return to traditional values.” In this terrifying society, handmaids are forced into sexual servitude as a last desperate attempt to repopulate the world.
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