Amanda Seyfried Without Makeup

When Dear White People premiered earlier this year, I was immediately smitten. The show follows students at Winchester University — which they affectionately call “Winchester” — whose lives are complicated by race, classism, gender identity, mental health, body image issues, etc., all while trying to maintain some semblance of normalcy amidst social unrest.

Its lead, Amandla Stenberg, plays Jordan Peele’s daughter Sam — so naturally she doesn’t wear makeup. But other than a few stray eyelashes here and there when needed, Amanda Seyfried isn’t exactly going full Marilyn Monroe either. So how can these two seemingly opposite actresses pull off such convincing performances? It helps that both of them are incredibly talented actors (Seyfried won Best Actress for Into the Woods), but also because they’re able to portray their characters authentically, allowing viewers to see themselves within those roles. And ultimately, I believe that authenticity will continue to drive their success over the next decade.

Here are 7 things we learned from our conversation…

1. What do you think it means to be a female actor?

AS: Well, what I want most is to make people laugh. That’s really my goal. To me, comedy is everything! If something makes somebody smile, then I know I’ve done my job. As long as I give people something funny to watch, then I’m happy.

I didn’t grow up watching movies where girls were played by boys and guys were played by girls. There weren’t many options for me. So I had to find ways to figure out how to play these parts myself. My favorite part of acting is when you get to create different versions of yourself. In terms of playing a role, I always try to go deeper with whatever character I choose. Whether it’s a male or a female character, I’m just looking to bring more depth to whoever gets cast.

Andrea Nissen, Director Of Photography On Shooting Actresses Like Amanda & Lily [Interview]: “If you’re talking about doing physical stunts, yes, it would be hard to shoot somebody who hasn’t put on any kind of foundation. But if you’re talking about creating emotional scenes — especially in film school — I actually found that having no make up allowed us to explore a lot more emotions and feelings and vulnerabilities.”

2. You’ve said that you don’t like makeup very much — why is this true?

AS: First of all, I love makeup artists! They’re amazing. Every once in awhile I’ll put on a little bit of lip gloss, but generally speaking I hate putting makeup on. I’m allergic to latex, and I used to break out whenever I wore it, even though it wasn’t super visible. But now that I am older, I’m grateful that I don’t need to put on makeup every day to appear in public. Because otherwise I wouldn’t be able to act.

On set, however, I definitely felt the pressure to conform to certain beauty standards. Especially during the early days of shooting films. For instance, I shot The Dark Knight Rises back in 2012. One scene required me to run into a room naked and throw open the window. No one told me anything about this before I got on set, nor after I finished filming. All anyone kept saying was, ‘You need to lose weight.’ I couldn’t tell if they meant physically or figuratively. Ultimately, I decided to take matters into my own hands and lost 20 pounds through exercise. But when I saw the footage, I looked pretty damn awful.

So yeah, I guess I’ve never been comfortable with traditional beauty ideals. Nowadays I usually stick to minimal makeup and I keep a clean palette throughout each project. Also, I use a toner instead of moisturizer. I recently heard a dermatologist say that using a toner should help prevent moisture buildups and breakouts. I still apply sunscreen religiously though.

3. When did you first realize that you could play someone without wearing makeup?

AS: I started studying theater in college. We rehearsed on campus and performed outside of school, so I remember noticing that everyone else seemed to wear tons of makeup. Our stage manager at the time encouraged us to experiment with less makeup too, so that’s probably around 2003-2004ish. I liked the idea of being unadorned. Although I certainly wanted to look good on camera, I wanted to avoid becoming overly Photoshopped.

It took me a while to get comfortable enough to let go of my desire to look perfect. But now, I’m OK if I forget to reapply mascara between takes or maybe skip applying concealer altogether. I’ll sometimes draw eyebrows on with pencil, or add a dab of color with blush. Other times, I might decide to leave my face bare.

4. How has your relationship with makeup changed since starting work as an adult?

AS: Honestly, I haven’t spent a dime on cosmetics in years. Partially due to budget constraints, partially due to environmental concerns. I stopped buying foundations three years ago, and I’ve only bought mascara twice in the past five years.

But honestly, I can live perfectly fine without makeup. Some folks may cringe upon hearing this statement, but trust me. I look great without makeup. Most importantly, I feel confident in my ability to perform without it.

Also, I personally prefer natural lighting for photography. So unless it’s a photo session, I rarely ever wear makeup outdoors.

5. Are there any particular looks or styles of hair/make-up that have influenced the way you look on screen?

AS: Definitely. A good friend introduced me to Tarte Cosmetics, and I became obsessed with their liquid liners. I applied mine to my eyes, brow bone, lips, cheeks, and contour. Then I added fake lashes and colored my eyebrows. It made my dark brown eyes pop. Unfortunately, I stopped using them last summer.

At the moment, my style changes depending on whether I’m working on indie projects or larger studio films. With smaller ones, I’ll typically go more dramatic with my appearance. With bigger productions, I tend to tone down my overall look. Generally, I try to stay away from bold colors and big patterns, although black nail polish is something I’m constantly experimenting with.

For example, in Season 2 of Dear White People, I sported bright pink nails. After seeing photos of myself, several friends asked me what happened to my nails. I ended up painting them red again. 🙂

6. Do you feel empowered by playing characters who are not traditionally associated with women?

AS: Yes. While I’m sure I’ve encountered some negative reactions to appearing shirtless and nude onscreen, I can confidently say that I enjoy feeling free to express myself artistically. It feels incredible to be given permission to be imperfect.

There’s nothing better than walking into wardrobe knowing that you’re not going to have to worry about finding matching bra tops. Or worrying about choosing cute outfits to match your tattoo. This freedom allows me to focus solely on my performance, rather than trying to fit in with society’s expectations of what I should look like.

My personal aesthetic tends to lean towards grunge rock aesthetics, so nudity suits me quite well.

7. Why does culture often associate white skin with purity?

AS: I have no idea. My theory is that it stems from Puritan values and European colonialism. Europeans came across indigenous populations in America who had darker complexions, and assumed that they must inherently be inferior. Consequently, whiteness became synonymous with purity.

In 2015, Beyonce released Lemonade, a visual album that explored themes like racism, sexism, self esteem, and police brutality. Her music video for single Formation depicts a group of Black dancers dressed in white, representing the pureness of white supremacy.

That same concept applies today. When I read scripts, I notice that writers tend to write lighter-skinned characters as almost universally beautiful. Even though they’re supposed to be flawed. It seems that whitewashing comes hand in hand with objectification.

As a result, I refuse to allow Hollywood to define my worth based on my complexion. Instead, I strive to embody more diverse characteristics.

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