There are lot of things we know about the Academy Awards. We know that at the Dolby Theatre — where the awards are normally held — the bar is located outside the actual venue, leading those seat fillers to work overtime. We know that plenty of stars prep months in advance for their red carpet moment (some prefer eye masks, others opt for fascia scraping or surgery). But we never knew that the night's biggest secret involves what's behind that velvet curtain, waiting in the wings to clean up the tears of Julia Roberts, Kate Winslet, and Lupita Nyong'o after they've just won that gold statue. The show's secret weapon: Bruce Grayson.
To his credit, the makeup artist does much more than dab the salty tears from celebrity cheeks. In fact, he runs a team of 20 makeup artists, all stationed backstage, at almost every award show — including the Oscars. That means one thing: Once the star's personal makeup artists leaves their client at the limo's door, their faded lipstick and patchy under-eyes are in his team's hands. Because for at least three hours, every performer, winner, and presenter that steps on stage is Grayson's responsibility.
If you weren't already jealous that Emma Stone might present with Laura Dern, or that Ansel Elgort and Timothée Chalamet are hanging out without you (again), then you probably don't want to talk to Grayson because, frankly, his seat is the best in the house. Luckily, Grayson let us live vicariously through him by telling Refinery29 everything we wanted to know ahead of Sunday's big night. Keep scrolling to read what the lead makeup artist for the Oscars keeps in his touch-up kit, the potential disaster that almost happened his first year, and how he handles the heaviest criers.
What you don't see: Celebrities turning from composed actors to puddles of tears backstage.
"When they come off stage [after winning], you get a little more time to touch up," Grayson explains of the tear cleanup that happens post-win. "But if they're emotional and crying about somebody else's speech and they're also the next presenter, I'm looking for them. I'm looking for the girl who cried at Reese Witherspoon's speech who presents next and we have to act now and we have to act fast."
But Bruce and his team aren't just concerned about the tears. They're also looking for the nervous presenters — because, yes, even actors get stage fright. "People get flustered before they go on [to present] and the redness in their natural complexion starts peeking through their makeup," Grayson explains. "That's the stuff I'm looking for. Those aren't the easiest things to correct, but we have had stage managers say they're pulling that person [onstage] in seconds. You got to work fast."
But even when Grayson is on his A-game, he doesn't always get the chance to touch-up everyone. Why? "They're centering themselves in those moments to walk out on stage," he tells us. "Some people go into that zen state and I know to step away and let my team know to let them go. It doesn't matter that they're shiny. If the bulk of them look great, I'm very happy."
Some of his most used kit essentials are straight from the pharmacy.
When we asked Grayson what's the most surprising thing he carries in his kit, he replied almost instantly, "Bandaids." Then, after a bit of thought, his list grew longer and longer to nearly include an entire aisle at the drugstore, specifically naming a Styptic pencil that stops bleeding instantly, contact solution for anyone who has a dry lens, tattoo cover-up just in case their ink is peeking through, and eye drops.
Beauty emergencies are real.
"It was the first year I did the show and... it was almost a potential disaster," Grayson explains. "Julia Roberts was still shedding tears after winning for Erin Brockovich and she was the next presenter up. I was told by a stage manager, 'Julia wants you around the other side of the stage — she hasn't stopped crying!'" (A little historical context to prep you for what came next: Roberts wore a vintage Valentino gown with a train attached to the upper part of her dress.) "I came around the corner too quickly and stepped on the back of her dress and I watched her head careen back, like someone getting whiplash in a car," he recalls. Now, in hindsight, Grayson laughs about the moment, "I thought [at the time], Oh god, I've taken out Julia Roberts. Today we still laugh about that moment."