Where did you grow up and go to school?
I grew up in Pelahatchie, Mississippi, where I still live. I’m actually still in the house I’ve been in since I was three. I went to East Rankin Academy for High School and I teach part time there now. Then I went to Mississippi State for undergrad.
How did you discover your interest in working in film?
From the time I was probably a toddler, I just I loved movies and loved storytelling. I started as a child in theater. And that was kind of my background. And then went to college for theater too. And I mean, I’ve just always wanted to work in the film industry. I wanted to act initially, but then it just sort of evolved into a career in makeup.
At what point did you realize you could pursue your dream from Mississippi?
It’s so funny because it just sort of happened that way after I graduated from Mississippi State. A friend and I were thinking about moving to either California or New Mexico to pursue acting. And then things just kept happening to keep me home for the longest time. Like she decided not to go. She went into another career, has a family now and ended up staying here. And then later on, my dad’s health was poor. So I stayed here.
Any time I’ve thought about moving, something would keep me in Mississippi and then I just started getting jobs in film little by little. I went to college with some guys who wanted to be filmmakers and who are now. Right after I graduated, they were making zombie movies in their backyard and I started doing make up for those. One of them (Johnson Thomasson) got into USC’s film program. So to get in, he made this short film and I did the makeup for that. He ended up in that program, and now he does visual effects for The Mandalorian and all kinds of different stuff. So he’s pretty amazing.
So I just started with this group of 20 something year old guys and then from word of mouth, Michael Williams got me a few of my first jobs doing makeup, and it kept going from there. I feel really blessed because it kind of happened to me more than anything. The longer I stayed home, the more film came to the state. Two years ago we did The System here and you know, I live in Pelahatchie, so I was driving 10 minutes to the Rankin County Jail to work on that. It was just so bizarre to be driving 10 minutes from my home to work on that film with an Academy Award nominee like Terrence Howard in it.
What kind of formal training have you had and where?
Initially when I went to Mississippi State, my goal was to go into medicine. But I just loved acting. We didn’t have a film program at State then, the closest thing we had to film was theater. I double majored in theater and pre-med for a while until I finally decided it was going to be all theater for me. I got my degree in communications with an emphasis on theater. While I was there I did study abroad in London for theater at King’s College. I also did a six week summer course at Guildhall School of Music and Drama for acting. But as far as my hair and makeup training, I took a course at Mississippi State with Melanie Harris for makeup and costuming. That’s it. Everything else I’ve learned from being on set, working under better makeup artists or just learning from doing and there’s so much on YouTube and Tik Tok, now you can learn anything you want to know from the internet.
What was your first film job?
My first feature film was The Dynamiter that filmed around Glen Allan and Greenville in 2009. I was really kind of a P.A., as a swing between hair and makeup and wardrobe. I actually totaled my car on the last day of shooting, flipped my car. So that was not the most pleasant experience, but I think people liked the movie and I actually had a small part in it and got to learn under a makeup artist. So that was a good one.
What are some of your current and recent projects?
The System was released late last year. One that I’m really proud of that has been released in the past year is Mysterious Circumstance: The Death of Meriwether Lewis. We shot that all around Tishomingo County in Mississippi in early spring. It’s been lexactly two years now since we filmed it. It was a great experience. Everybody on it was wonderful. The story we had to tell was a really interesting one, too. And we recently wrapped on Sunday Kinda Love in Canton, I was the only hair and makeup person on it, except for a few times when I had an assistant. It was great. I think it’s got a great story to tell as well.
What has been the most surprising thing about working in the film industry?
So many things. I have been doing it on and off for 13 years now. So many people who don’t work in the film industry view it as a glamorous, fun industry. And I’m not trying to say it’s not, and it is fun in a lot of ways, but the days are hard. When you’re working 12 or more hours a day, sometimes night shoots, sometimes driving a lot. Like on Sunday Kinda Love, we worked for 12 hours every day. But I drove some days an hour each way to get to set. It’s grueling, it’s rewarding, but the three or four weeks or more, you’re sort of living to work. You’re working, eating, sleeping, and repeat, you know? A lot of work goes into it and everybody has to be really focused and know what they’re supposed to be doing each day. But the bond you create with the people you work with, that’s the most rewarding part. It’s all about becoming that sort of dysfunctional family unit that I really love and that’s what’s hard to say goodbye to once you finish.
Who has been an influence on your career and why?
There are so many people, especially as far as acting goes, so many people I look up to. But I think one of the greatest influences on my career has been Michael Williams. We met 13 years ago, and his career has taken off and he’s so talented, but to be sort of by his side and get to work with him and be friends with him, and he’s always used me as a part of his crew whenever he does anything. I just feel very secure in knowing that we’ll always have a good working relationship.
How does being from Mississippi help you stand out in the industry?
I feel pretty blessed because the timing was right for me with our film industry growing from the time I graduated from college, for me to become somehow one of the premier makeup artists in the state. I feel like a big fish in a little pond sometimes. You know, the Mississippi film community is pretty small, really. We have a lot of great people and a lot of other talented makeup artists, but it is such a small community. I feel like I do get called repeatedly based on just the relationships I have built with people over the years. And I’m not having to compete with thousands of other actors or makeup artists in California or New York or somewhere like that.
When I studied acting in London, I was in a class that was pretty diverse. We had Italians and people from Spain and Denmark and all over. But for some reason my Southern accent was the one everybody was obsessed with and liked to copy and they thought it was hilarious.
I got to work on a feature in Utah in the fall, and it was because of a relationship I had formed years ago with someone who came to Mississippi to produce a film who is not from here. When they had the chance and they were filming somewhere else, they called me to work on it. And I think that’s great too, because we have productions come in from other places and work with our local crew. And that leads to some of our local crew getting to branch out and work in other places. Just because we’re from Mississippi doesn’t mean we don’t know what we’re doing and we’re skilled and pleasant to work with. So it was great to have that opportunity.
If you could create a scene built around a location in Mississippi, where would that be and why?
I’ve been to so many places in Mississippi. For the past couple years, I’ve worked with the Mississippi Development Authority and the ad agency Maris, West and Baker on the Visit Mississippi campaigns. I’ve seen some of the coolest places that I didn’t even know existed in my home state. And I love that.
But this is a strange one, though. Did you know that Bessie Smith got in a car accident in Clarksdale, Mississippi? And she was so badly injured, but the closest hospital to her was a white hospital. At the time, things were segregated so they took her to the black hospital instead that was farther away and she died. There’s that question of could she have lived if they had just taken her straight to whatever the nearest hospital was and gotten her medical attention? I don’t know. But that’s a really interesting story to me.
What about your hometown of Pelahatchie for a location?
Yeah. It’s a funny little town. We have a quaint, quintessential looking little Main Street area and have one flashing four-way stoplight, so there’s not a whole lot going on. But I would love that. I mean, to get to actually stay in town and work would be great.
Do you have a favorite moment on set or with a project?
The one that comes to mind is, I got to work on a Copper Fit commercial a few years ago with Jerry Rice. Who is arguably the greatest football player of all time. They had him do a little segment where he was dancing to Justin Timberlake. And he came over and danced with me for a little while, so I got to dance with Jerry Rice. So that one was fun.
What would you say to convince or encourage a producer to bring their project to Mississippi?
You’re going to find great crew, great people, usually great food. Our rebate program is good. I just think we make it easier to shoot here, not the weather, necessarily, that can be difficult, but I think we make it a lot easier to shoot a movie than in some of the bigger cities. We were shooting on the square in Canton for Sunday Kinda Love, and someone was talking about all the permits and red tape they’d have to get through just to shoot that little bit on a city street in Los Angeles or anywhere else. And how it was pretty easy for us to shut it down and get those shots. It makes sense. Productions filmed here save time on things, save on bureaucracy and paperwork. And we have a pretty diverse landscape, too, from our coast to the Pine Belt, to the hills of the north. We have a lot to offer right here.
What are you hopes be for the future of the film industry in the state?
I hope it continues to grow. Our colleges and universities have a lot more true film programs now, even Mississippi State does now, which I wish I’d been a part of. It’s great to see us grow in that way. I would love to see our infrastructure grow. For us to be able to utilize more studio spaces and to have more places for equipment rental, truck rental and from my perspective, my department, places where I can get hair and beauty supplies without having to go online or go out of state to buy some of the things I need. I just wish we had more supply for the resources that you need to shoot a film instead of always having to rent out of Atlanta and New Orleans and places like that. I wish we had more of it at our disposal here.
What’s your advice to someone who wants to get into the film industry?
I mean, of course, if you want to get a college degree, which I think is still a good thing but not always necessary (especially for this industry), look into one of our programsand go to school for it. At least Hinds, you know, because that’s such a practical program, they’re really learning what they’re going to be doing on set. And there’s so many Facebook groups now that even people just making short films or one or two day shoots will post about it, so I’d also say connecting with the people online who are making films in the state and working as a background actor a time or two or a P.A. just to see what the machine of a film set runs like. Start learning the terminology and some of the etiquette on set and just how things go. I’d say you need to spend a good few days on a 12 hour shoot to decide if it’s something you’re even interested in. It is not for everybody but if you have that disposition and you’re into it, I think then you can continue to grow. It’s about the people you meet and the skills you gain along the way. And I think being willing to fail and learn from that and not quit. I worked on a couple of things early on in my career where I was in a little over my head and thought about quitting then, but I’m glad I didn’t, because I did get better at it.
What do you like to do when you’re not working on film?
Everything. I love animals. I’m trying to be a gardener, I built a greenhouse a while back and I’m growing some plants, but I’ll learn through failing over and over in that too. I love to travel more than anything. So next week I’m going to Niagara Falls. I’m excited about that. I love to watch movies a lot, still, always will, and I love to read. And I think some of the best movies come from literature. And there’s so many great stories that haven’t been told yet. And I like to paint. So, you know, just everything fun. And I love the outdoors too, because Mississippi is such a great place for it.
How can people reach you?
I am on Facebook, Instagram, and Tik Tok. My Instagram is @heflechef. My email is email@example.com.