POSTED ON MAY 23, 2012:
Native American makeup artist takes her talents to the big screen
She's tall, she's beautiful, she's got a bunch of tattoos, but they are somehow understated. And she talks a mile a minute.
Carmen Richardville-EagleChief has a lot to talk about, it turns out.
Most people in Tulsa who know Richardville-EagleChief professionally know her as a salon fixture -- she does waxing, skin care and makeup out of the Rick Craig Salon here in town. But people out of town are starting to take more and more notice of her as a makeup artist, as she has stepped into working on major Hollywood feature films.
And it was just luck that got her foot in the door. Well, that and her Native American heritage, of which she's pretty freaking proud.
"I was at the front desk at my last salon on 15th Street, and [film director] Sterlin Harjo and [Oklahoma film producer] Chad Burris walked in," she said. "They were like, 'Hi, we're doing a Native American film, and we've heard things about you.'"
She knew who these men were, but was flummoxed as to how on earth they had found her.
"They caught me off guard. They said that my cousin, Corey Tabor, had done hair on their last film Four Sheets to the Wind," she said. "And he said they should look into me. I said, 'Of course! Please don't go to someone else.'"
It was a short trip from that meeting to full production of Barking Water, a film that now sports the "award-winning" prefix, with Richardville-EagleChief learning a great deal along the way.
The film, it turns out, taught her a lot of things on and off the set -- things that have stayed with her professionally and personally.
"It's about this old man, Frankie, and he's dying of cancer. He goes back, [for] a Native American rite, to try to tie up loose ends with his children and whatnot," she said.
And here's where it gets personally tricky for her.
"I also had my own brush with cancer right before the shoot," she said. Diagnosed with ovarian cancer, Richardville-EagleChief was admonished by her doctors not to take the job, that she couldn't go that long without being treated, that the conditions would be hard on her -- you know, all that kind of stuff doctors tell you when they're trying to be all helpful or whatever.
She made it through, and credits the film with a lot of her wherewithal.
"It was strange, but it was a nice survival story. It was good to see someone else dealing with the possibility of death. Even if it wasn't a real person," she said.
As she is now six months cancer-free, Richardville-EagleChief doesn't spend much time talking about her brush with mortality, and to be honest, it's like pulling teeth to get her to say much more about it than, "Cancer-free. Woo!"
She'd much rather talk about the movie and the aforementioned learning. And it wasn't all personal. A great deal of her acquired knowledge came on the job. As it turns out, bikini waxes and wedding makeup aren't in great demand on the set of a film, especially one like Barking Water.
It's gritty, it ain't exactly a happy film, and it's shot out in the middle of nowhere. There wasn't much call for glamor.
"It was funny to be on set and see the locations on the call sheet be things like, 'Go past the two Indian houses to the left at the barn,' or 'Past the pecan grove' instead of, you know, 'Studio Six' or whatever," she said.
Then there's the actual work of being an on-set makup artist. And damn, it sounds exhausting.
"You work six days a week, and you're literally the first to be there and the last to leave. Literally," she said. Then added, "You know, people say that sometimes, but this here was real."
But past the physical demands of the job, Richardville-EagleChief addresses the pressure felt by everyone on a movie set.
"You can't sit at the screening of the finished movie and see something and go, 'Hey, can we redo that?' Going to the screening is the most nerve-wracking thing," she said. "You don't want people whispering and saying, 'Oh my gosh, look at that hair.'"
She went on to address a level of accountability for each and every member of a film's crew.
"Someone can go back and say, 'This was the work of this one person, and it was bad.' That's a lot of pressure. That can affect how the movies are seen at festivals," she said, and one gets the feeling that she's still -- three years after Barking Water wrapped principal photography -- a little stressed by the screening experience.
But since then, her work, and that of her cast and crewmates, has garnered praise. Barking Water premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, and was also screened at Cannes, and it scored mentions at both festivals.
Then again, the praise and the extra money pale in comparison to some of the more important things in life, she said.
"The cultural immersion and the Native American elders I got close to are the best payoff of all," she said. "I felt like I learned a lot about my own heritage and the Native American culture that's still very much alive here in Oklahoma."
Richardville-EagleChief also talks a lot about the pressure, the stress, the toll a job like this takes, but she clearly loves every second of it. She practically gushed about the trials she faced on the Barking Water set, and others since then.
"Sometimes you have to make someone look older, sometimes you have to make them look younger. Sometimes they need to look healthier than they are, or sicker," she said. "It's not about beautification, it's about characterization. That's the biggest difference between this and something like wedding makeup or runway makeup."
It's completely removed from something like waxing a cougar's bikini line. There's a lot more at stake.
"You have to have continuity, which involves taking pictures to be able to say, 'This is what this looked like on this day.' You don't want someone to say during the movie, 'Whoa, he's way more dead right there,'" she said.
Pressure, stress, brushes with death. Nothing a few words on screen can't fix.
"I can't express the elation that you feel at the end of the movie when the credits come up," she said. "I always hated having a long last name until I saw it roll up on the credits in the theater. My father jumped out of his chair."
Aside from the obvious thrill that would come from seeing one's name on the same screen as, say, Harrison Ford's (like, you know, the time you saw Raiders of the Lost Ark on the same screen those many years ago), Richardville-EagleChief got something else out of the whole project -- something more lasting, and something that helped her through her own encounter with cancer.
"During Barking Water, when I was sick, there was literally a moment where I thought, 'This is a way I can make my mark, and cement my name in the world, and say that this was something real that I did,' she said.
Thankfully, cancer isn't taking her from Tulsa or the film industry any time soon.
And for the record, she isn't a one-film wonder, either. Her follow-up project, The Rock 'n' Roll Dreams of Duncan Christopher, has earned kudos as well, as it has started making festival rounds, and it was recently screened at Circle Cinema. She has other projects in the works, but in typical Hollywood style, she referenced the secrecy of pending projects and left it at that. However, one gets the feeling that she's poised for the big-time.
"Once you get on IMDB [the Internet Movie Database], you start getting called for things," she said.
"The upstart of my career after that has been so dramatic. Being Native American and living in Tulsa has been a really fortunate thing for me," she added, almost off-handedly.
But she's not forsaking us for IMDB fame and fortune.
"I have my own private loft at the Rick Craig Salon, and I do a lot of waxing and makeup. I can't accept all the film offers I get, because I have a clientele here that, you know, can't just go hairy," she said. "They're my main prior commitment."
However, she has a goal in mind past ripping hair out by its roots.
"I'm trying to be a Midwest mogul, be bi-coastal, and still have a main base here in Tulsa," she said. And you get the feeling that she will do just that.
But even if she doesn't, Richardville-EagleChief seems content with her lot in life.
"It's been a really interesting ride," she said, surprisingly succinct for such an alive and verbose woman.
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