Toni Marlo and the Ideal Look
Cinematic making up is hard to do
Photo by Charlie Neuenschwander
Toni Marlo knows beauty. As founder and CEO of MarloHaus, she oversees a coterie of professional makeup artists and hair stylists that provide award-winning styles for brides, models, photographers and advertising agencies. But Marlo has another specialty: She’s also a seasoned movie veteran with more than 30 films under her belt. She has designed special effects for superhero movies, hand-drawn body tattoos for international thrillers and created authentic Oklahoma cowboys out of Oscar-nominated actors.
With a quick smile and calm demeanor, Marlo makes it all look effortless. But the reality is quite different.
“This morning, I did a wedding for an East African bride,” she says. “Those ceremonies start early and last all day. So I got up at 4 a.m., went to a hotel downtown to get everyone ready, then came back here in time for the interview. When you leave, I will spend the next six hours breaking down the script for a feature film job that starts next week.”
Marlo is used to hard work: She took her first paid job at 13, then sold Mary Kay on the side. Now, she juggles the demands of a full-service beauty agency and a feature film career by being superbly organized, knowing how to effectively manage a team and understanding the different approaches required of each type of job.
“In the makeup you do for weddings, modeling shoots and even Instagram posts, the goal is to showcase your talent and really make the beauty pop,” Marlo says.
“When you’re working on a feature film, the goal is to make your work invisible. It’s not about you at all. It’s about serving the story.
“When I design the looks for a movie, I am creating looks that the characters would give themselves. I have to figure out what each character is thinking and trying to accomplish each morning when they get ready, so that the actor looks like a real person making real decisions.”
This depth of understanding about each character does not come easy. It takes hours of research and a willingness to collaborate.
“Working on a film requires as much research, organization and management as actual makeup skills,” she says. “I start by doing a breakdown of the script. I find out everything I can about each character, so I can create a visual look and map how the look evolves throughout the movie. Scenes are never filmed in order, so the map helps you keep track of how each character appears at any given moment in the script.
“Once I have the breakdown, I meet with the director to go over everything, get their input and make adjustments. Then, I meet with each of the actors and rebuild the characters based on their looks and expectations. Each character becomes a collaboration between the director, the actor and me.”
Marlo’s extensive film work has allowed her to work with hundreds of local actors and an impressive list of celebrities, including Oscar winner Cloris Leachman and Oscar nominee Dennis Quaid. Inside the makeup trailer, Marlo creates an environment that makes everyone feel relaxed, regardless of fame or experience. It is the first place an actor goes when they arrive on set, so the makeup team sets the mood for the day.
“When they walk into the makeup trailer, they are no longer a celebrity,” Marlo says. “They relax and return to being a regular drama geek. When Dennis Quaid arrived, he had just driven for hours after seeing his mom in Texas. He wasn’t interested in being treated like he was famous. He was just a person doing a job.”
Despite all of this well-earned success, Marlo has no plans to slow down.
“My husband Dustin and I have been together 18 years,” she says. “He works at Dell, but spends his spare time building out our studio and doing creative projects that help my career. We both want to be a part of this great creative community in Oklahoma. We both want to help others find their path and grow the Oklahoma film industry. The fact that we get to do all of this together in a place we love, that’s beautiful.”