Stephen Lynch remembers Yonge Street in the late ’70s when the new wave and punk scene sizzled. “I worked at a rock bar called Fiesta across from the Toronto Reference Library.
It was the hottest place on Yonge Street… if you could ever imagine a place on Yonge Street being hot ever,” recalls Lynch, who, back then, was a youngster from the suburbs with a degree in English literature.
But in those days a typical shift for Lynch consisted of slinging drinks for glitterati like William S. Burroughs, Dusty Springfield, Carole Pope and Gary Glitter. “We were always covered in Andy Warhol’s magazine,” he notes.
For Lynch, a cool job in nightlife seemed obvious, until one day one of Lynch’s friends, who did professional makeup, walked into his bar with a female model. “I said to my friend, ‘Oh my god. Did you do her face?’” Acting on a stroke of inspiration, Lynch began taking makeup classes and eventually scored his first big gig—painting faces for actress Sheila McCarthy for the cult Canadian film I’ve Heard The Mermaids Singing. A slew of TV and movie gigs followed, and Lynch’s resume ballooned with credits, including the job of key makeup artist for Queer as Folk, and now, makeup designer for the acclaimed sci-fi series Orphan Black, starring Canadian actress Tatiana Maslany as multiple clones.
We caught up with the makeup mastermind in his chic Parkdale home to talk about Old Hollywood design, human cloning and his most unforgettable memory from working on Queer as Folk.
You bought your home 20 years ago. How did you wind up in Parkdale?
I originally bought it with a friend. At the time the house was locked up and owned by the bank because the previous owner had snorted his fortune up his nose. So my friend and I had to jump over a fence to look inside. It was rough. There were stains all over the floor. Maybe from a dead body? But we saw potential. We bought the place on Halloween.
There wasn’t much going on in Parkdale back then. It must have been a steal.
We bought it for really cheap. I bought my friend out in 2000 and it was still cheap. The price doubled in 2004 and it’s almost doubled again since then. When I bought it I always got into my car and went downtown to escape. Now some of Toronto’s top-rated restaurants are a block away: Electric Mud, Grand Electric, Porzia and Chantecler.
Your house shimmers like old Hollywood. Did you hire a designer?
It’s all my own design. I wanted that sheen and shimmer from the movies. I grew up adoring Hollywood films. Irene Dunne, Carole Lombard… I’m very gay that way. I wanted a sense of that era, so I went with metallics and used colours from the wood-burning fireplace [which still works]. It looks like it’s finished with crushed granite or mica, but it’s actually wallpaper. There’s coppery gold, silver and pewter… I used it to create a sealskin velvet finish.
You’ve spent decades doing makeup for movies and TV shows—your latest, the sci-fi hit Orphan Black. What do you love about working on that show?
Everything. I get to create characters rather than just do pretty makeup. Pretty makeup is lovely, but I can get tired of it. What I love is working with actors and actresses, helping them create. Tatiana Maslany [the show’s lead] is the most extraordinary actress. The first week we had to create four different people for her to play. When you have an actress in tears by the time you’re done…that’s my biggest reward.
Maslany portrays multiple clones. How many characters have you had to create for her?
The fans would know better than I; She’s up to eight, but there’s actually 12 she’s portrayed. Some we’ve only seen in one or two scenes. Some are just photos she finds. It’s a tour de force for this Canadian girl.
So how long does Maslany spend in your makeup chair?
Not enough. She works ridiculous hours and she’s in almost every scene. For her it’s like playing eight leads. I get 45 minutes max. I don’t know if Bryan Cranston gets that much time. It’s always the same in television.
Orphan Black has been praised for its strong, complex gay characters. Why do you think it resonates with LGBT viewers?
The show is about identity, stripped down to its barest bones. It’s also about women—one of whom is transitioning to male. It’s about exploring sexuality, gender, nature/nurture. It’s what we search for everyday (and are still searching for in many cases).
Some fans on Twitter have even adopted the hashtag #Clonesbians… (a nod to the character Cosima, a scientist clone played by Maslany, who develops a crush on a female colleague, Delphine, played by actress Evelyne Brochu).
You know, we’re so busy working on things we don’t realize how far the show is reaching. We’re in a bubble in that studio. You don’t know how people are reacting. It’s amazing.
You helped create the character Tony, a transitioning female-to-male clone also played by Maslany. What went into shaping that character?
I said if we’re gonna do this I don’t want it to be a short wig and that’s it. They do that on after-school specials. I wanted Tony to be unique but not necessarily likable. He has long hair with a wispy chinstrap [beard]—someone who’s trying to do a chinstrap. We did tons of research; talked to transgender guys. There’s so many new dynamics around self-image compared to 20 years ago.
Do you think humans should be cloned?
Only if they could clone Tatiana Maslany. That sounds like the biggest kiss-ass answer in the world, but I’m just happy to be in her orbit at all. We’ve gone through so much together.
With so much makeup experience your friends must ask you to make them over all the time.
Oh yeah. I’m actually thinking of turning one room in my house into a studio.
Shows with queer characters have been consistent throughout your career. You were a key makeup artist for
Queer as Folk. What’s your most unforgettable moment?
I will always remember that scene where Brian [Gale Harold] sees Justin [Randy Harrison] admitted to the hospital [after Justin was bashed]. I once read a quote from a director that said to always keep the camera rolling for 30 seconds after you call cut. That’s what they did. There’s a close-up of Gale and he was so in his own sorrow that his nose and eyes began to pour. I don’t think he was even aware they called cut. It was a powerful memory.
Are you in touch with the
Queer as Folk cast?
I do. Sharon Gless [who played Debbie] comes to Toronto almost every year and spends Pride with her Queer as Folk hair and makeup team. I saw Peter Paige [who played Emmett] in LA at the GLAAD Awards this year. Orphan Black was nominated, but lost to The Fosters, which is about a multiracial lesbian family. (Peter is executive producer of that show, so I thought: Fair enough.) I hosted a brunch while I was there and invited both my Orphan Black and Queer as Folk families. Peter was there, so was Scott Lowell [Ted], Bobby Gant [Ben] and Michelle Clunie [Melanie]. Everybody got to meet.
What are your thoughts on a Queer as Folk reunion?
I’d be on board in a New York minute. The show is having a huge rebirth. I have young students from all over the world at Complections College of Makeup Art and Design, where I teach, and the one show they know from my resume is Queer as Folk.