Meet the Makeup Artist Who Won Gilmore Girls' Only Emmy
Although "Gilmore Girls" is beloved by countless fans, the show has only received just one Emmy: best makeup, for an episode in season four. We spoke to the mastermind behind the award-winning looks.
Photo courtesy of Netflix
A few months ago, Marie Del Prete's husband was browsing the Internet when he stumbled across a blog post about his wife that pissed him off so much, he fired off an email in response.
"The guy was saying that the Emmys snubbed Gilmore Girls, so they gave me the best makeup award as a consolation prize!" Del Prete snorts derisively down the phone from her L.A base. In the background, I'm pretty sure I hear cats mew their accord. "If you know anything—anything!—about this industry, you know they don't hand out consolation prizes." I venture that the author of this blog post probably internalized some misogynistic bullshit about makeup artistry not being as valid a discipline as, say, production or camera work. Del Prete voices enthusiastic assent.
"Exactly! It was totally macho. I literally wanted to punch him in the vagina, I was so mad."
As a result of this toxic online bitching, Del Prete's wary of the press. "I kind of avoided talking to anybody. I didn't want them to run down my achievement." An achievement it certainly was: Del Prete's team of three makeup artists won cult TV show Gilmore Girls' only Emmy. Del Prete received the award for her work on Season Four episode "The Festival of Living Art," in 2002. In it, the residents of Stars Hollow physically inhabit famous paintings. Lorelai (Lauren Graham) fights for her role as a Renoir beauty; Kirk (Sean Gunn) is Jesus in Da Vinci's The Last Supper. Del Prete was responsible for all these makeup looks, and more—creating a makeup aesthetic that resembled that of Renaissance oil portraiture.
Despite her success, Del Prete left Gilmore Girls after two years to do the makeup on sitcoms. She wanted to regain a work-life balance: Gilmore Girls was exhausting, all-consuming work ("Once we worked a 22-hour-day!") and she'd just remarried and wanted to start a family. Del Prete continues to work as a makeup artist, but has embarked on a secondary career as a stand-up comic and actress: "I appeared on The King of Queens as a crippled stripper! That was fun."
With a day to go until the release of Netflix's rebooted Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, Del Prete caught up with Broadly for an exclusive, one-off interview.
Hi Marie! Thanks for talking to us. How did you get the Gilmore Girls gig?
Marie Del Prete: It always just starts with a phone call with a producer. They get your name from somebody, and you go through an interview process. They really wanted to make sure the person was up to the task, because it was really long hours and a bunch of moving around. They weren't kidding me. One time I was on set for 22 hours. It was exhausting. That show was not easy to produce.
What were the stars of the show—Lauren (Graham) and Alexis (Bledel)—like to work with?
They're sweet people. Obviously they didn't like the hours, no one did. But we made it fun. Lauren, she didn't want a lot of fuss. Makeup wise, she wanted to look pretty, but not too glamorous. Maybe every once in a while Lorelai would go on a date, and we'd do a little something. But Lauren really didn't want to sit in the chair for too long, Sometimes I'd finish her makeup on set when they were rehearsing, because she didn't want to sit in the chair before rehearsal—we already had to get up so early in the morning as it was.
Alexis was playing a little younger than she was, so we didn't want to load the makeup up on her either. She's so fresh and pretty-looking, I didn't want to make her look done up—it would have been out of character.
What about other characters, like Kelly Bishop's Emily Gilmore?
Lorelai and Rory—they're a mother-daughter team, and they don't come from riches. But Emily was the opposite. She wanted the best for them, she wanted them to be all Ivy League like her, and so—definitely—she loved makeup. She had some time in the chair.
How does it feel to have won the show's only Emmy?
I'm definitely happy about that, that I brought them the Emmy. I don't necessarily know if they're happy it's the only Emmy they have!
The producer and director came up to me and said, "You're going to win an Emmy."
Talk me through that episode.
They came to me and said, "We're doing this thing in the town," and normally when they did these little shows it kind of irritated me, like, "urgh, another dumb thing." But this time I was really excited, because I started out as an artist and a painter: I never planned to be a makeup artist, not by any means. So I dove in, researched this thing they hold in California called Pageant of the Masters, and had about two weeks to put it all together. There was a lot of trial and error, a lot of tests on models and Styrofoam heads. I had this special paint made at Nigel's Beauty Supply.
Were you nervous it wouldn't work?
Definitely the one with Alexis, I was worried it wouldn't work. We did the test the day before, and they'd spent so much money creating this black lighting so that the makeup would look flat when they opened the curtains. We tested Alexis, and it's not easy to get a 21-year-old to sit for two hours for a test shot. But when she went into the black lighting everyone just stopped and went, "Whoah." She looked completely flat, like a two-dimensional painting. All of the work I put into it really just came alive. At that point the producer and director came up to me and said, "You're going to win an Emmy." And when we shot the episode, that moment when the curtain opened—everyone went quiet and gasped. You don't get to do things like that very often, especially in this business. It's my finest moment as an artist.
Why did you leave?
The hours had really gotten to me. I was like, "I don't want to do this anymore." I wanted to start a family.
Do you ever miss the show?
There's a real camaraderie on the one-hour shows. You're in the trenches together, so you really bond as a crew. You feel like you're a family: You're at war, you're exhausted, you get silly—that's when the magic happens. We had some great times. I think when the cast finished filming Season 7, they were glad it was over. It was exhausting, especially for the actors. Those girls had to talk so fast with that dialogue because if they didn't, they'd never get the show down to an hour—those scripts were really long. But I ran into Sean (Gunn) recently, and he was saying the filming of the new Netflix season went really well.
Did you watch Gilmore Girls after you left?
Not really, because I like garbage! I like reality shows. I don't watch many scripted shows. I cannot sit through an hour of a scripted show. With reality shows it's fine, you don't care about the people.