Michele Burke – Makeup Designer

Episode 38: We speak with Makeup Designer Michele Burke, Michele has designed some of the most iconic characters in film, from Quest for Fire to Bram Stokers Dracula to multiple characters for Tom Cruise including Lestat from Interview with the vampire. Michele chats about how she came up in the business in Canada, how her career has taken her to wonderful locations around the world and the incredible challenges and pressures our line of work can create.


How does a country girl from a small town in Ireland wind up as a Makeup Designer based
in Hollywood? We all have experienced unique life paths.
I’m from a family of 10. I had 6 brothers. Little did I know at the time how key this would be
as I learned to navigate the mostly male dominated world of SPFX Makeup at that time
The situation in Ireland in the 1970’s was dire economically. By necessity I was forced to
emigrate. I put in applications to Canada and Australia. I was going to wherever they took
me. Canada won.
For real… I knew no one in Canada when I landed and seriously… I had about $35.00, I had an interest in Art and then I encountered a Makeup Artist and saw his portfolio. I had no idea
that being a Makeup Artist was actually a profession. A course was offered by the Canadian Gov’t. Nothing like the courses of today. I was off and running. Started to do fashion shoots/shows. I also worked as a demonstrator in Dept. stores, I then heard about a well-known Makeup Artist for films. Showed up at her door. Presented my portfolio and asked for work. I was hired. No pay, slept on her floor. Worked with her for 3 films and I was launched. I worked a series of low budget horror films in Canada at the time. I learned as I went. What I didn’t know, I figured out…. That’s always been my approach and it has stood by me.

A call comes in one day for a film called, “Quest for Fire” as Makeup Dept. Head. Shooting in Africa and the Scottish Highlands. I had to leave in three days….. The film was turned down by everyone. I immediately said yes. I didn’t even have a finalized deal, It worked out. I won my first Academy Award. I was one of the first women to win one, I have been fortunate to have been nominated for six Academy Awards and have won twice, I have also won two British Academy Awards, a Saturn Award, an Emmy Award, IATSE Guild Award, Oscar Wilde Award, and voted top 100 Irish the year I am most proud of my achievements on: “Quest For Fire”, Bram Stoker’s Dracula”, Interview with the Vampire”, Austin Powers Films” and “The Cell”, “Rock of Ages”, Vanilla Sky”, amongst others.

I have been fortunate to have been asked to work with : Tom Cruise Brad Pitt, Anthony Hopkins, Gary Oldman, Anthony Banderas, Renée Zellweger, Penelope Cruz, Sharon Stone, Kirsten Dunst, Beyoncé, Carrie Russell amongst others. I have also been blessed to work with many extraordinary Directors, Producers, Hairdressers, Directors of Photography, Costume and Productions Designers.
I was the beneficiary of generous amounts of support and guidance from many of the Icons of makeup… You all know their names. I am eternally grateful.
On most of my films, I will act as the Makeup Designer and Dept. Head as well as doing one or more of the leads. In some cases, I will run my own lab create the designs, or work with an outside lab, I am very hands on and involved, I do the budget line by line, I am possibly one of the first women to have her own Makeup Lab.
I have been most fortunate to have always been allowed to hire the best crew for each position based on their creative and technical abilities, It absolutely takes a group/team effort to achieve results, I always acknowledge my crew’s contributions and I make sure that my team’s efforts are promoted and supported, I believe in giving my crew free reign with some guidance in order to develop their skills and career.

I have been one of the first members of the A.M.P.A.S. Make-Up Branch committee since 1985 and am currently on the Executive Committee. I am also a member of the Irish Makeup Academy, I was a spokesperson for Max Factor Cosmetics for many years. My role was part of the team for the development and testing, also the promotion of new products. I was part of a group within the A.M.P.A.S. that lobbied endlessly and successfully for inclusion of the Hairdresser as part of the nominated team for each film when appropriate. I have made my best attempt to give back and support the next wave of Makeup Artists worldwide.
I am currently a Mentor to many makeup and hair artists all over the world to include: Japan, Germany, Australia, Uzbekistan, Ireland, England, France, Canada, USA, South America, and Australia. I personally answer emails and phone calls and offer advice on careers and makeup problems, I also offer referrals to other Make Up artists in order to support their employment. Many of these Makeup Artists have gone on to have full-blown very successful careers!

I’ve conducted lectures and workshops in Los Angeles, New York, Canada, Ireland, France and England as well as a workshop lecture for the Gold students of the Academy
I authored a course at the University of Shanghai China to the film students and was awarded an honorary professorship.

In addition to Makeup: I paint on canvas with oil and water paints. Mostly faces … women
surreal and otherworldly, with a very unusual approach to color. I also created a line of unique shaped flocked makeup applicator tips, which are used by many different make up lines for lip, cheek and other cosmetic uses.
I’ve partnered with a German company that manufactures them for sale to such Make Up lines as: LVMH, Clarins, Coty, Makeup up forever, and Smashbox.
And of course, … my husband gets a mention for his support. LOL… and my doggies

To see other projects Michele has worked on visit:  IMDB or Instagram