For some, a lipstick is just a lipstick. But for others, it's a source of strength, creativity, and expression. In our series Power Faces, we'll explore the relationship between strong women and the makeup they choose to wear — or not. Our fifth subject is Academy Award-nominated actress Maggie Gyllenhaal, who stars in The Deuce on HBO.
I think I have a different relationship to makeup than most people do. To be honest, it just wasn’t ever on my mind until I started to work in film. My mom doesn’t wear any — she’s very much a kind of 'scrub yourself clean, comb your hair, and go' woman — so there weren’t a lot of products around my house to begin with.
When I was 13 or 14, I had an older friend down the street who had some makeup, and one day, I came home with a bunch of light blue eyeshadow on that I’d gotten from her. I remember my parents talking about it with me, but I don’t think I wasn’t allowed to wear it… I just didn’t have much of an interest. I’ve always been much more experimental with my hair, dyeing it pink and blue and red, bleaching it and dyeing it black in college, but in terms of makeup, I inherited the less-is-more thing from my mom.
I’m really curious to see what my daughters are drawn to and what their style will be like. I used to draw a little star on my daughter’s cheek or make a little sparkly line coming off of her eyes if we were going to see The Nutcracker or something, but I don’t think that young kids should wear makeup or dye their hair. I’ll see some of the older kids at their school with their faces just covered in makeup and I want to say, “You have such beautiful skin and eyebrows and lashes — you look so great without anything on!” But I have to check myself and say, that’s just my style.
In my personal life, I wear almost no makeup. I tell myself I should put on concealer, that a little under the eyes really helps, and sometimes I manage to do it if I’m going to dinner with my husband or dressing up for something, but it’s a lot of effort. I do really take care of my skin — my facialist Joanna Vargas is the reason I don’t feel the need to ever wear too much makeup.
If nothing else, though, I always wear lipstick — even just to drop my kids off at school. I remember old pictures of my grandmother and her sisters in that kind of 1940s dark lipstick looking very glamorous; I like doing a modern version of that vintage strong matte red lip, where it isn’t absolutely perfectly applied. A bright lipstick just lights me up and makes me feel good. I always have five in my bag at all times.
I absentmindedly put it on so often that I’ll be working out and look in the mirror and be like, “Oh my god, I have lipstick on right now!” [At the Women’s March], they said you shouldn’t bring a bag, so I just took my wallet, my phone, and a bright lipstick. It isn’t an intellectual choice, and I don’t believe it’s a statement not to wear lipstick, either. That’s just me — or at least it was last January. This year, I’ve been moving toward something subtler. It used to be that there was no red too red for me.
I think it takes so much effort for me to put on makeup because so much of my work involves it. That’s why when I got married, nobody did my makeup or hair. I just did the bare minimum and got a good haircut before I left. Going into hair and makeup feels like work to me, like I’m getting ready to put armor on in some way, but I can totally understand how people who don’t have to do that for work would find it really exciting and luxurious to have someone come over and do all that.
In terms of playing a role, I always find I feel much better about the hair and makeup in a movie when it’s different from what I would wear in my daily life. I feel like it frees me a bit from vanity when there’s a separation between how the person I’m playing looks and how I look. The most difficult transformations are the ones that are most like me.
My husband always jokes that every time I play a character, I say, “She’s got great style,” but it’s true — I think most people in the world are trying to look good every day and I’ve never played someone who doesn’t care what she looks like. I’m getting to explore all these different style ideas from such different perspectives.
I always try to choose characters that I can get behind and believe in, but I remember being very, very young on one of my first professional jobs where I had to wear a half wig in this television movie that took place in the ’50s. They insisted that I cut my bangs in this weird way to accommodate the wig and I did not want to do it, but I didn’t know how to say no at the time. So I did it and it was awful — I looked terrible. I love a wig, though, and the most exciting version is the one Candy wears in The Deuce, where we don’t have to pretend it’s not one.
Candy obviously has a really different look from me, especially when she’s working, and that allowed me to try out things that were so opposite from my own aesthetic. I was so inspired by playing her, I was walking around in short-shorts all last summer, which is not something I usually wear.
I used to take clothes from set when they’d ask if I wanted the dress or the shoes, but after The Honorable Woman, I stopped because none of that is me. It’s a very complicated line, because all of my characters come from me and the things that are most successful come from something very deep and personal inside, but I’d find myself thinking, I can’t wear this, this is Nessa’s suit, not mine. I like keeping the separation. I like the fiction.