Thanks to its sunny climate and other factors, the Tampa Bay area has become a popular location for movie makers. That’s meant a big demand for the talents of hair and makeup artist Monique McLaughlin. In the past five years, she has worked on 26 movies, mostly for the Lifetime cable channel but also for Hallmark and feature films shown in theaters. When not on movie sets, she does styling for other clients (including Bay magazine) and has traveled to California, Las Vegas and the Virgin Islands.
McLaughlin, who grew up in Tampa, spent years in the insurance field before styling hair and makeup full time. She took a break on her most recent set to talk about her work and offer some beauty tips. The interview has been edited for length and clarity. — Susan Taylor Martin
How did you get started in this field?
I was a drama kid in high school, and throughout the productions I just started toying around with makeup and hair. A lot of girls would let me cut their hair and it was just natural to me. I ended up in a corporate job and did (styling) part time, events and weddings and things like that. At the end of 2004 I finally had enough of the corporate world and decided to do this full time. They said cosmetology school would take a year. I did it in seven or eight months, then I was was managing salons.
In 2010 I started getting requests for commercial work. I was doing a lot of on-set stuff for Home Shopping (Network) and print magazines. I did my first film in 2013, in Jacksonville, and then in 2017 I got more requests for film work and it’s been kind of nonstop since then.
What is it like working on a Lifetime movie?
Those are the quickest shooting films I’ve worked on. They film them in 13 days. They’ve got a formula figured out. It’s a run-and-gun style where basically you get the shot you need and not waste time. It’s funny, after working on those for the last 10 films and coming back to features, it seems like everything moves so much slower.
What’s a typical day on set? How long does it take to do the hair and makeup for each actor?
A standard day is 12 hours. The Lifetime ones don’t go into overtime at all so it’s usually 12 hours with a half-hour for lunch. The quickest (styling) is probably 20 minutes, whereas on one film the lead would take two hours to make up.
Why so long?
You have people that are very protective of their brand so they have an image they have to maintain. One of the actresses I worked with said — and it always stuck in my head — that you’re only as good as you looked in your last film. They have a career and when they sit with me in my chair I have a huge responsibility to make sure they look good so the final product looks good.
You’ve worked on so many movies. Do any particularly stand out?
“The Plus One.” It was a feature film with (actor and singer) Ashanti, who finds out her best friend is bringing some girl she doesn’t like to her wedding, and chaos ensues. Cedric the Entertainer was in that film, and in the very middle of filming Dennis Rodman showed up and started singing in one of the breaks. It’s never a dull day. This current movie, “Spider & Jessie,” is about the children of the opioid crisis. There are two girls in the story and you want to know how they’re going to survive and deal with these problems. Our leads are 16 and 11. These two girls nailed it. I cried on this set more than any other film I’ve worked on.
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What is the biggest makeup mistake people make?
It’s everybody trying to make everything social media worthy. The trends you see on TikTok, Instagram, any of those platforms, people think that translates into real life. We have gotten too much into influencer culture and we see a lot of people wearing a lot more makeup than they should.
What is your single most important beauty tip?
If I could talk to my younger self and younger actors, it’s take care of your skin — that’s where it all starts. Stay out of the sun and use sunscreen. People spend a lot of money to try to reverse that (sun) damage. Also hydration. Beauty starts from within so the more water you drink the more hydration. Florida, as much as we hate the humidity, is fantastic for our skin.
Is there a beauty product you can’t do without?
The one thing I was happy I invested in was eyelash extensions. It’s not makeup but it’s a game changer as far as walking out of the house and not putting makeup on. Lipstick is probably the main thing to put on. It makes you look awake.
Your hair is very striking — I can’t think of many people who have purple hair!
My original hair color is black. When I first colored it, J.Lo (actor Jennifer Lopez) was popular so I did honey caramel highlights like hers. The first time I changed it to a less traditional color, I made it Crayola red but the sun and water were harsh so it turned orange. I found purple ended up staying best in my hair. It’s become kind of my trademark. Everyone knows me as the purple-haired makeup artist.
For many people, doing hair and makeup full time seems like a dream job. Is it hard to be really successful in it?
You have to be willing to put in the work. The biggest problem people have when they come into the industry is that they think jobs are just going to come to them. I’m glad I had a corporate background because I was able to use that to treat my business as a business. Ninety percent of the people I went to cosmetology school with no longer do makeup and hair because they didn’t treat it as a business. It’s just constant work, making sure the website is updated and doing social media. I’m an introvert but I push myself to go to networking events. It’s a combination of everything and that’s why I’ve been able to do all the things I’ve done.