Joel Harlow is a man of a thousand faces, but almost none of them are his. The veteran makeup artist has worked on TV's "Mad Men" and the feature film "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl." In 2009, Harlow won the Academy Award for Best Makeup and Hairstyling for his work in JJ Abrams' "Star Trek" reboot. This year, Harlow is nominated again, this time for his work on Johnny Depp in "The Lone Ranger." KPCC's Patt Morrison talked with Harlow about how he became one of the industry's most beloved makeup artists.
Harlow began his film work in animation, but was captivated by movies at a young age. "I was first inspired to do something connected with motion pictures when my father showed me the original King Kong," he said. "And I knew, watching that kind of magic, that I wanted to be involved in the creation of that kind of magic."
Growing up, Harlow took to making elaborate costumes at a young age — often at the peril of his parents' home. "I destroyed my mom's stove, I destroyed my dad's sort of library carpet," he said. "Just playing around with plaster and latex."
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Harlow's worked in makeup for more than 20 years and with hundreds of actors. But perhaps more than any other performer, Harlow's worked closest with Johnny Depp. In films like "Dark Shadows" and "Pirates of the Caribbean," Harlow established a working relationship with the actor. In "The Lone Ranger," Harlow would spend as many as eight hours applying the makeup on Depp.
You'd think after eight hours, the two would run out topics of conversation. Not so, said Harlow. "We talk a lot," he said. "I've been with Johnny for quite a while now. So more than just actor/makeup artist, we have a friendship. So, you know, we'll talk about anything. Very rarely is it just about makeup."
When Harlow goes to the Academy Awards this year, it'll be his second trip. When he won his first award, Joel said he felt lucky to be able to bring his parents along to the ceremony. "They got to see their son actually take home an Oscar, which I gave to them," said Harlow. "I had it in my possession one night, and I gave it to them. I haven't had it since."