The Mary Sue Interviews McKenzie Westmore & Gigi Edgley Of Syfy’s Face Off & Jim Henson’s Creature Shop!
Syfy found a hit in Face Off, the movie makeup reality competition hosted by McKenzie Westmore, the daughter of famed makeup designer Michael Westmore. After several seasons, the network decided it was time to try their luck again with Jim Henson’s Creature Shop Challenge, hosted by Farscape actress, Gigi Edgley. As you can imagine, we were pretty excited for it. With the “Final Five” episode (no, not a BSG challenge!) of Face Off Season 6 set to air tonight at 9/8c, and a new episode of Jim Henson’s Creature Shop Challenge to follow, we were happy to get the chance to speak with both hosts to discuss their highly-enviable jobs.
The Mary Sue: Congratulations on the show, Gigi! When it was first announced I couldn’t help think that it was the logical extension of Syfy’s Face Off, and certainly a concept I was personally interested in. How did you first get involved and was it an immediate “yes” for you?
Gigi Edgley: Absolutely without a moment of hesitation it was a gigantic yes for me!!! I have been involved with the Jim Henson Company for over fifteen years. We have become quite a close family. One of my first jobs in the industry was playing Chiana on the fan favorite cult Syfy series Farscape. I was cast as a guest role for one episode and thankfully the gods were shining on me and I ended up starring on the series until it wrapped over five years later.
I received a random email from my agent in the US. I have been working in Australia for many years on several different television series. My rep told me that a casting agent was trying to get in contact with me to host something for a Syfy job. I contacted them via skype and she said that Brian Henson would love me to host Jim Henson’s Creature Shop Challenge for the SyFy Channel. She asked me where I was and I told her Australia. I heard hesitation in her voice and immediately I said, “I can fly there tomorrow if you need me.” She said she would let Brian and Syfy know that I was interested and she told me she would get back to me.
That weekend I had an autograph signing in New Zealand. The agent contacted me and she told me she needed me to do a screen test immediately. I was in New Zealand and I had to act fast. Within a few hours and with the amazing help of some locals we organized a studio. I learnt the 18 page script in both my Australian accent and my American accent as requested. We filmed the test and emailed it to L.A. The next morning I awoke with an email from Brian saying, “Call me in the office kiddo.” He asked me if I was ready to come over and be a part of the show. I said Brain. If you told me the job was mine I will jump in the ocean and swim over immediately. They flew me directly from New Zealand so I didn’t have a chance to go home and pack a bag or kiss my Husband goodbye so I literally relocated my life to L.A with a bag the was packed for only a few days. Ha haaaa. So glamorous ;)
A day later I was on set in L.A filming the introduction to Jim Henson’s Creature Shop Challenge. It has been a sensational adventure. I have adored every heartbeat of it.
TMS: Jim Henson’s work and legacy has obviously influenced countless people over the years, whether for a career path like many of the show’s contestants or just great memories. What’s one of your favorite memories of Henson’s works?
Edgley: Farscape is definitely one of my favorite Henson productions…but I may be a little biased…he haaa……I adored Farscape as they allowed me to create a character that had no limitations. I lived on a space ship for five years under three and a half hours of make up every day…and got to meet the most wonderful aliens, I had the opportunity to tell amazing stories and the adventures that we all went on through the uncharted territories where some of the best adventures that I have ever been on in my entire life.
I am also a massive fan of Jim, Brian and the Jim Henson Company’s countless other productions. They are phenomenal directors, puppeteers and visionaries. They created countless works that all of us connect with as an integral part of growing up. Sesame Street, The Muppets, The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth, Fraggle Rock, The Story Teller the list goes on. The Jim Henson Company created two of my most favorite films in the entire universe which are The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth. I feel truly blessed to work with them. It’s amazing to think when I was a little girl and totally entranced by these phenomenal films that one day I would be working with this brilliant team. It’s an absolute dream come true. They have invented beautiful characters. When I was asked to play Chiana I sat myself down and had a very serious conversation with myself. I reminded ‘me’ that I had to concoct a character that fitted seamlessly into the majestic world of Henson. She needed to be unique, daring and out of of this world unbelievably believable.
TMS: What’s been your favorite part of working on the show so far?
Edgley: Everything. I LOVE everything about Jim Henson’s Creature Shop Challenge.
The competitors are brilliant, talented, and completely in love with creature designing. I have found it quite challenging to get through elimination rounds as I know in my heart they have all worked tirelessly to get to this point. We set extremely difficult challenges for them and without a doubt they create the most intricately designed creatures in such a short amount of time. I have a lot of respect for them. I love seeing the creatures perform and hearing the comments and advice of the extremely brilliant judges.
While the creature designers are busy creating the Henson crew are also making magic as well. Every time I walk into the Henson sound stage I am completely mesmerized by the wonderful sets the crew have constructed. I always come early to go over scripts and to sneak a peak at the brilliant sets. I am reminded how wonderful it is to be working with such amazing people. I go over my script and walk around the set gazing at it and taking it all in. It’s very magical. It’s a beautiful preparation for me before the screen tests and judging begin.
TMS: Besides seeing the creatures come to life, my favorite part has been seeing the performers work. As a performer who’s done a lot of physical work and method acting, what advice would you give to those looking to follow that path?
Edgley: My Mum has always said to me that if I work tirelessly at my passion the universe has no choice but to coincide events in life to make it happen. I have held these words extremely close to my heart. The business is only as tough as you make it. Everything in life can be challenging but if you truly love with your heart and soul the dream that keeps you going then nothing can get in the way of you making it come true. My Dad has always told me to work, work, work until I drop…then get up and work some more!!! So with a combination of Mum and Dad’s words inspiring me I live every day of my life.
TMS: Which panel of judges do you feel is the hardest to please, Face Off or Creature Shop?
Edgley: The judges on Jim Henson’s Creature Shop Challenge are some of the most honored creature fabricators, designers, directors and puppeteers in the industry. I believe getting an opportunity to show any of the judges on our show or Face Off would be an absolute delight.
Brian Henson is our Head Judge and of course Chairman of the Henson Company. Brian is a constant inspiration to me and a very dear friend. He is one of the most talented puppeteers I have ever met. He performed Hoggle in the Labyrinth, Jack Pumpkin Head in Return to Oz the wonderful Storyteller’s loyal companion. He is also an incredible director and producer…. Jack and The Beanstalk, The Muppet’s Christmas Carol and of course Farscape. If I were to sit here and list all his credits we would be here for weeks. Beth Hathaway is an awesome creature fabricator her credits include the Chronicles of Narnia, Batman Returns, Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Beth and I have big ‘deep and meaning fulls’ in our dressing room about life, career moves, dreams and the delicious show we are both a part of. Kirk Thatcher is an extremely respected Creature Designer and Director. He was on the team responsible for one of our most loved aliens of all time Steven Spielberg’s ET. He also worked on many other productions such as Star Wars Return of The Jedi, Dinosaurs, Muppets and Gremlins.
TMS: Do you have a favorite Muppet?
Edgley: Hands down Pepe the King Prawn. My brother and I have watched Muppets in Space easily over 50 times…still do this day we will call each other up and quote random Pepe lines to each other. [Editor’s Note: He’s my favorite too!]
TMS: What can you tell us about the upcoming season? Any cameos we should look forward to, human or otherwise?
Edgley: The audience are going to adore Jim Henson’s Creature Shop Challenge I am certain…. just a much as I do. They can expect to see a show that will entice them into the world of a creature designer. The passion, intelligence and enthusiasm the Creature Designers have for their craft is so sensational. The viewers will see these talented genius be put to the test challenge after challenge. They are working against time to create the perfect creatures specific to the task at hand. The judges who are second to none will determine which Creature Designer will win the cash prize and the dream job of a lifetime working for the remarkable Jim Henson Company.
Expect the unexpected. Brace yourselves….you will LOVE it!!!
The Mary Sue: The finale of Face Off Season 6 is soon upon us. What did you think of this one compared to the others?
McKenzie Westmore: This finale is a spectacular lights & dance rave with the amazing DJ Rusko. It’s really going to be a dazzling finale, very reminiscent of the season 2 finale!
I think the audience will be very happy with who it comes down to! ;)
TMS: One of the things I really enjoy about Face Off, besides the creative work of course, is the lack of the kind of fictionalized drama we normally see on reality TV. Was it a purposeful choice to focus more on the work or did that happen naturally?
Westmore: With Face Off it’s on purpose to steer away from the scripted & non scripted drama. It’s just not us! We are a show and network about the true talent these contestants bring forth. We focus on the artistry, not manufactured drama.
TMS: I always see you interacting with fans on twitter, what’s been your favorite fan interaction since hosting Face Off?
Westmore: I have so many wonderful interactions with fans! I feel the fans are what keep us going so the least I can do is give them time & attention out of my own day so they know how important they are to me and to Face Off! That’s why I’m so interactive on twitter.
My favorite encounter however was being at a park one day with my fiancée. This little 9 year old girl kept walking by and smiling but would then run off. Eventually she stopped us and said “are you from Face Off?” We said yes and she started crying tears of joy. She was so nervous & overwhelmed. Her mother came over and explained that Face Off changed her daughters life. She was so scared of monsters but Face Off helped her learn that monsters don’t exist. To see the transformation of human into the makeup helped her get over her fear. Her mom also explained that her daughter doesn’t even watch Nick or Disney anymore. Only Syfy and always Face Off because she now wants to be a make up artist. We took a photo with her and walked away with warm hearts :)
TMS: Do you have a favorite creature from sci-fi?
Westmore: I have many favorites but my all time is the Borg Queen from Star Trek. She was just so elegant yet frightening at the same time! I loved how the actress brought that character to life in such a beautifully scary way!
TMS: I don’t know if you want to play favorites with the contestants but did you have a favorite makeup artist this season?
Westmore: I love all of our contestants! I always feel like the mother hen preparing her SFX children for the world. LOL!
TMS: Do you think the show is inspiring a future generation of makeup artists? What advice would you give them?
Westmore: Absolutely!! I see it daily! I get so many letters from parents! My advice is practice practice practice! Then if there’s still a drive at 18, 19 years old look into some of the top makeup schools to further studies. It’s also great to go to the different Cons to meet people that could be hiring. Build a strong portfolio and do your best to get your work seen.
TMS: Casting for next season is already underway and I have to say, it’s refreshing to have at least one show I don’t have to wait a year to get new episode for. Can you give us any idea of what we’re in store for next time around?
Westmore: Thank you! We love our turn around with Face Off and have fun with each passing season! This new season brings yet again a very likable and well rounded group of contestants. The challenges just keep getting bigger & better! We already had a challenge that was my favorite!!! From start to finish this challenge had me, along with our brilliant guest judge. Not only that but it was only the 2nd episode and every makeup was incredible! Just for a tease, this seasons theme is “Life and Death”. It that doesn’t say it right there, I don’t know what does! lol!
A new episode of Face Off Season 6 airs tonight at 9/8c on Syfy (with its finale airing April 22), and a new episode of Jim Henson’s Creature Shop Challenge to follows at 10.