Emmys: How Sarah Paulson Transformed From Hypodermic Sally to Marcia Clark (Often in the Same Day)

Courtesy of Prashant Gupta / FX Networks; Byron Cohen /FX
Sarah Paulson in 'American Horror Story' (left) and 'The People v. O.J. Simpson' (right)

Makeup designer Eryn Krueger Mekash relied on basic resources to transform the Ryan Murphy's leading lady from the prosecutor in 'People v. O.J. Simpson' to 'American Horror Story’s' unstable ghost.

Because of the overlapping production schedules of FX's limited series The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story (which started filming in May 2015) and American Horror Story: Hotel (July 2015), Sarah Paulson would go from playing prosecutor Marcia Clark to the unstable Hypodermic Sally, often in the same day.

"It was an organizational feat for both productions," says Eryn Krueger Mekash, makeup designer for both shows, who was tasked with Paulson's full face and nail switcheroos. Krueger Mekash was aided by the fact that both series were shot on the Fox lot, with makeup trailers in close proximity: "Sarah is amazing to work with — being able to do a monologue in court and then turning around and doing this incredibly different character."

For Paulson's transformation into Clark, Krueger Mekash did what's called an "out-of-kit makeup," meaning no prosthetics were used (the series' large cast didn't allow for them); she instead relied on the actress' subtle resemblance to the prosecutor as well as many photographs that charted Clark's famous metamorphosis during the Trial of the Century. "I took away Sarah's actual mole and put in Marcia Clark's mole," she says. "I changed Sarah's lip line, cheekbone line, eye shape, her eyebrow shape. I gave her as many little nuances of Marcia as I could without using prosthetics. And then there were the 1990s makeup colors, which were very brown and maroon. Marcia's makeup at the time was a little harder and not as blended. That, on top of the beautiful wigs made by Chris Clark, [completed the look]. Marcia has a lot of transformation that went on during the trial, and she got a lot of attention for her looks, so we used photographs as references. There were four wig changes, which were made in order because we shot the show that way, and basically two makeup changes."

Clark’s hair during the trial was the focus of frequent and cruel media scrutiny. Four wigs were used to reflect Clark’s coif changes.

Paulson's AHS character, Sally, presented a 180-degree shift. "[Marcia Clark] is a very moral, centered person who is always wanting to do right by everyone," says Krueger Mekash. "Then you flip to Sally, who's an addict with very strange morals and very self-centered." For Sally, the makeup designer relied on a different iconic '90s look: grunge. "I wanted her lipstick to be very hard. It was a play on the Chanel Vamp color — a very deep purple, the same as her nail polish. The contrast between her pale skin and dark lips gave her an eerie look. Then I used opalescent purple eye shadow to give a bruised look to her eyes. I made her eyebrows thin as an homage to the time period — everyone had a kind of '20s eyebrow in the early '90s — so I blocked out some of Sarah's eyebrow and did hollow cheeks and no blush, since blush wasn't quite as popular at the time. Sally's background was fashion, so I wanted her to look stylish but also scary.

"I've worked with Sarah for almost 13 years on many different characters," adds Krueger Mekash. "She knows what she can do with makeup and hair and throws ideas at me for tricks all the time. She loves characters and is very particular about getting everything just right." 

This story first appeared in a special Emmy issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.