On NBC’s new crime drama, The Irrational, world-renowned behavioral scientist Alec Mercer (Jesse L. Martin, Law & Order) lends his expertise to an array of high-stakes cases involving governments, using his unique insight into human nature to solve the cases. While Martin owns the screen there is one quality of his character that immediately demands attention, his facial burn scar.
The scar is the result of a tragic church bombing nearly 20 years ago that did more than leave him permanently scarred it kept him driven to bring those behind the trauma to justice. With the scar playing an integral role in defining aspects of Alec, it was crucial that it looked realistic and not interfere with Martin’s performance.
To accomplish this important task, the producers turned to Makeup Designer, Candice Stafford-Bridge, to head the series makeup department. Stafford-Bridge spoke with Awards Radar about creating Alec’s scar, working with Martin again, and other ways her talents are used to tell characters’ stories.
Awards Radar: How did you become a makeup artist?
Candice Stafford-Bridge: I originally went to school for fine arts but I thought I may not be able to make a living doing this unless I was dead. My mother told me about makeup school and being a makeup artist, I didn’t believe people got paid to do such a fun and creative job. I graduated from makeup school in 1998.
Awards Radar: Each Film and series you work on must present its own set of experiences. What drew you to work on The Irrational?
Candice Stafford-Bridgee: Jesse L. Martin. We worked together on The Flash and he called me about this project; the storyline alone had me intrigued, and when he told me about the scar, I was sold. That type of character trait is such a wonderful bonus for the makeup department, speaking creatively. The fact that I got to work with Jesse and Arika to create this look for TV was an honor. I am very proud of the outcome.
Awards Radar: When I first saw the scar on his face I was not certain if it was real.
Candice Stafford-Bridge: This is a huge compliment. As a makeup artist it is hard sometimes to accept a compliment like that because I watch with such a critical eye, but I’ll take it!! Thank you.
Awards Radar: What research do you do to make sure the burn scars look authentic?
Candice Stafford-Bridge: Well this character is fashioned after a real man, so I looked at his images and emailed with him. Then I did a lot of internet research. You have to take into account: the age of the scar, the age of the person when they got burned, their skin tone (burns look different on different skin tones), was there a skin graft, what is the persons lifestyle, what caused the burn (chemical, electrical, etc.) and many more…
Awards Radar: How long did it take you to settle on the right look?
Candice Stafford-Bridge: So once you answer all those questions above, then there is a few digital images done using Jesse’s face. Discussions are had and changes are made. There are so many things to factor in, such as: how long to apply, will the piece interfere with the actor talking and moving, how will the wardrobe affect it, temperature, lighting and cost.
Once we agreed on a rendering, then we did a makeup and camera test and after the pilot we altered it again. What you see now is our final version. The wonderful thing with makeup is that we are always adjusting and making it better. What worked on Monday morning at 5 am in the studio may not be what works on Friday at 11pm on the dock! Never a dull moment. Pilots are tests not just for the network and audience but for all departments. Sometimes great concepts and ideas don’t work the way you think, so you have to adjust and make it better!
Awards Radar: Does having your work at the forefront make it more challenging/stressful?
Candice Stafford-Bridge: Challenging, yes. But I don’t want to be bored at work, so I accept the challenge with gratitude. Honestly, the stress is more situational, and I have an amazing team that works with me so we get it done. But there are days where I say “work in film they said, it will be fun they said” as we stand in a dark alley with a rat running by trying to glue a prosthetic on in the pouring rain at 2am. But I am surrounded by epic people and we all laugh. I’m lucky I love this film life.
So I don’t take that lightly that I’m being given this job, I mean, given this responsibility, that Jesse trusts me to no end and my team. So yeah, it’s stressful, but not in a negative way. And like I said, the last thing I wanna do is go to work and be bored. That’s not why, you know, I’m in film. I think I can probably speak for most people. We’re here because it’s crazy and wild and changing and all the things, and I’m not a nine to five or I’m not an office person.
Awards Radar: Do you see that transformation in the actors when they look in the mirror the first time and see this new version of themselves? Do you actually witness if affecting their performance?
Candice Stafford-Bridge: Yeah, there’s like, there’s a lot of things that Jesse has put into the character with regards to the burn. You know, there’s certain ways that he will wear his suit or wear his hat because he’s, you know, the character is more conscious or self-conscious of this, like little things like that.
I think honestly, sometimes one of the best and biggest compliments is when Jesse says, “I forgot I had it on.” Which is really good because that means, A) it’s comfortable, B) I’m not in his business every five seconds and C) he’s used to it and he’s staying in character. Definitely in the beginning when we first applied the scar, it was nice to see him go look in the mirror and be like, ‘right!’ and enjoy it and change.
Awards Radar: How much time does it take to transform Jesse into Alec?
Candice Stafford-Bridge: We block an hour and a half in the morning. So, it’s not bad. Depending on the day, we can get it a bit less than that, but we always block an hour and a half because sometimes, you know, prosthetics are, they’re not math, they’re art. So, the same pieces, we get the same pieces made, but some days something doesn’t stick right and we got to use the second one.
So, we have that buffer so that nobody’s ever waiting more than an hour and a half. So, and then we do have to take it off at the end of the night too. And that takes, give or take 20 to 30 minutes.
Awards Radar: Then do you use the same piece several times?
Candice Stafford-Bridge: Oh no. New piece every day. I have a fridge full of prosthetics because we keep them in the fridge because the trailer’s temperature can go a bit up and down because they’re a trailer, they’re not a building. So, I have a fridge that I keep them in to make sure they don’t get too malleable.
Awards Radar: And going beyond Jesse’s character, the character Jesse, are there other characters that you see your storytelling through, you know, through your work?
Candice Stafford-Bridge: Yeah, definitely, Marisa (Maahra Hill) and Kylie (Travina Springer.) Travina’s character has been really, really fun. We’ve had a lot of leeway with her and she’s a great collaborator and her costumes are super fun. That’s a great character for us to be able to play with and develop and change. Her character, there’s a scene later this season where she’s at a protest and we totally changed the look because her look is very playful and at the same time we wanted to make sure that we respected her character and what she’s going through.
That’s been a lot of fun. Maahra is great. What a face! I mean, let me tell you, it is not hard to do makeup on her. She makes makeup look great. But also a lot of it too is getting to know the actors and what’s comfortable and the characters change and develop. We have a great relationship, the trailer with all of our actors. So, we, you know, adapt every episode depending on who’s this story about. The story is not always about Jesse.
The story is not always about the Jesse-Maahra relationship. There’s new characters being brought in and that changes how our main characters look. So, every episode is collaborative and fun and we change and develop and things we started in the beginning may not be how we do them near the end.
Awards Radar: Do you draw inspiration from the actors themselves? Like for the character of Kylie, she has a very wonderful look. Does the actress’s personal style factor into the makeup design or do you start with a blank slate?
Candice Stafford-Bridge: Well, no, in the beginning, we had, Kylie had her nails done and Trevina, like, it just, we were like, we can’t continue this. We actually changed them to press ons so that we could change them every episode. And if we had to do reshoots, we didn’t have to send her to a salon. And she also has a real life, so we are still working with that.
Her character with her artist, one of my partners in the trailer, does her makeup. So they text photos and inspiration and they have Pinterest boards going on. And then once we get the pictures from costumes, we work with that. And then again, the nails often have to do with maybe what’s going on in that episode. We kind of, you know, we’ll slip those little Easter eggs in there, those kinds of things. And the same with Maahra, when she’s at home is a very different look than the FBI office.
Then out on the field too, we change her look when she’s, you know, out in the field working. So we’re always talking to the cast and making sure that they’re comfortable and happy. We have a great relationship and nine times out of ten, they sit in the chair and they go do whatever you want. So we’re very grateful for that, but we don’t go crazy. Yeah. Well, I’m enjoying the series.
Awards Radar: I’m enjoying the series and looking forward to seeing more of your work on it. Thank you for taking the time to discuss it.
Candice Stafford-Bridge: My pleasure.
See Candice’s work when new episodes of Irrational air each Monday on NBC and stream the next day on Peacock.