Michael Westmore Interview Part 1
It’s impossible to contemplate Halloween – Star Trek-style – without Michael Westmore springing instantaneously to mind. Westmore, he of the Westmore family makeup dynasty, spent nearly 20 years devising, supervising and, in many cases, personally applying the makeup and prosthetics that transformed human actors and extras alike into the wild and varied array of aliens that paraded so convincingly through The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise, as well as the four TNG feature films and side projects that included several Star Trek video games. StarTrek.com recently engaged Westmore in a long and entertaining interview that we’ll present in two parts. Come back tomorrow for the second half of our exclusive conversation.
Since we’ve got Halloween on our minds this week at StarTrek.com, let’s start with this: Have you ever had someone come up to you wearing a mask or makeup based on a design you created?
Westmore: You know, I have -- and not so much Halloween, but just from going to Star Trek conventions. When I go to the conventions, I see them everywhere. One time my wife Marion and I were at the Las Vegas Hilton, where I was at a convention, and there was this young girl who was about 15 years old. She had Dax (Terry Farrell) spots on her face. She was a couple of rows ahead of us as we were winding through the line to the buffet. I reached over and introduced myself to her and told her that I’d created that design. I said, “If you have a pencil in your hand I’ll show you how I did it.” So I showed her how I did Terry’s spots. Then, Marion and I got settled in our seats and this girl came running over and said, “Would you have lunch with us?” Marion and I sat down with this girl and her mother, and we chatted with them. They were from the Midwest. The mother was such a big fan and she brought her daughter so she could see what a convention was like. I’m sure I made her day by sitting there with them, and they were just lovely people. I’ve enjoyed doing that over the years, meeting the fans. And some people have managed to put together Borg suits that are as good – I can’t say they’re better – as what we were doing.
What do you remember of the day you first got the gig as makeup supervisor on TNG?
Westmore: I remember every detail about it. Gene Roddenberry, Rick Berman and David Livingston are the ones who signed off on me. David called me on a Wednesday and asked me if I’d come in for an interview at a studio. I went in, took my book with me and we went into a room. We sat down and talked. Strangely enough, I had an appointment with Whoopi Goldberg that same afternoon. She used to do a stage show with a character called Moms Mabley, which was an old black woman with no teeth. I’d made gums that covered up Whoopi’s teeth, and I had to see her in the afternoon to fit her gums to her. I was interested in TNG, but I wasn’t overwhelmed by it because I’d been doing movies and traveling around the world, literally. But I was getting a little tired of the traveling and actually wanted to stay home because my kids were still young. I thought, “If this Star Trek goes like the old one did, I can probably stay home for a year or two and it’ll be fine.” So, for me, it was another creative, different project that I thought could be interesting and also an opportunity to be home with wife and family.
You finished the meeting at Paramount, did the gums fitting with Goldberg and headed back to your house. And then…
Westmore: By the time I walked in the door at home there was a message on the machine. It said that they were interested in me to do Star Trek and that I should give them a call. Basically, the job was mine. I called David Livingston back and told him, “The job sounds really interesting, but could I have a few days to think about it?” I don’t remember now if I had a movie at the time, too, or not. David said, “Well, you don’t have a lot of time because it’s Friday and we want to start doing makeup tests on Data (Brent Spiner) on Monday.” What I found out was they had waited a long time. They’d called a number of makeup artists and had been interviewing them for quite a few weeks. But, in the conversations with these guys, all of whom were good makeup artists and good friends of mine, David and Gene and Rick realized that they didn’t do laboratory work. The question came up, to everyone, “If you get the job, who will you use to make your appliances?” My name came up so many times that David had the bright idea that, “Hey, if Westmore is going to make the appliances, why don’t we just call him and see if he’s interested in running the show?” That’s how it all worked out.
You ended up at Paramount for almost two decades, working on all the Trek shows and movies up until 2005. That kind of longevity couldn’t have been in your mind the day you said, “Yes,” right?
Westmore: No way. That’s not how you think. In fact, there was never any point along the way that I assumed there would be another series that would last. I remember that when Rick finally called and said, “Enterprise is ending. It’s over with,” I was sad, but I wasn’t really disappointed. We were supposed to go another three years, but I wasn’t shocked at it because I never really took it for granted that I’d be there forever. So every year that we were extended was something I considered a blessing, because it was a steady job and I didn’t have to traipse around the world, living out of a suitcase. Plus, look at what we got to do. I got to hire the best people available. We had the shows, the features, the traveling exhibits, the Las Vegas attraction, CD-ROMs and video games. And there was a small core of us – the makeup department, Herman Zimmerman and his (production design) team, Bob Blackman and his (costume design) crew – who were involved in everything that the franchised touched over the 18 years. It was a great run and probably something none of us will ever get to do again.