We recently sat down to talk to make-up artist, Robert Kato DeStefan.
Below, you’ll find out about his work on Guardians of the Galaxy, NCIS, Teen Wolf and more!
MUD: Where were you born?
Kato: Rockville Center, New York.
MUD: What was it like for you growing up?
Kato: Fun! Also I was a shy kid, so it was kind of lonely but at the same time, I grew up in an Italian American family. Even though I was an only child, I had a lot of cousins around so there was always somebody to mess with.
MUD: Where do you get inspiration?
Kato: It’s totally from my friends. I’m very fortunate that my friends are really some of the most talented make up artists out there constantly pushing the bar setting it higher and higher. I really need to look no further than them. Whether it be Margaret Prentice, Eryn Kruegar Mekash or Richard Redlefsen here in Burbank they are all such brilliant artists. Surround yourself with good people and it makes you want to be better.
MUD: What drew you to make-up as a career?
Kato: Growing up watching Star Trek and Planet of the Apes kind of set things in motion. I also watched a lot with the Universal horror films and Hammer horror films. Not being a sports related kid, I would sit inside all weekend and watch all those movies on TV. Then once the movie The Thing came out, that was the absolute final nail in the coffin where I said “I have to do this for a living!”
MUD: What was your first big break?
Kato: That would be getting a job at SFX working with Steve Johnson. Prior to that, I had done while still in make up school, I did a job with the director of the school. It was a little short film for Saturday Night Live called Sleep Tight where you had a sandman character. One of my classmates was Louie Zakarian who runs SNL right now. Louie was still working on his project when mine was done so he took me on set and I got to work on that for a couple of days.
MUD: Who are your heroes and mentors?
Kato: I would have to say Rick Baker because he really set everything in motion for all of us. Dick Smith on a personal level as a teacher and a friend. Steve Johnson as a boss and friend. Michael Westmore really was tremendous, because I was a huge fan of his work prior to meeting him. He taught me how to be production friendly and how to be good on set with etiquette by watching how he treats people. He is an incredibly kind human being and is very generous not only with his knowledge but with his time.
MUD: Tell me about working on Suburban Commando and Batman Returns.
Kato: Oh God, yeah. That was the early days I was at SFX. Suburban Commando I was pouring dental acrylic into molds so you can get those little spines that came off the little suit or alien. I’d also be taking all the disinfectant and cleaning out the suit when it came back from set. Batman Returns was originally only going to be Bill Corso doing it. He was working on the burned corpse of Christopher Walken at the end of the movie that gets exposed. Steve had sent me since I was the runner down to Warner Brothers to pick up the sketch that looked like Jack Skeleington only with hair from Tim Burton. Bill was going to work on it and he realized it was more than work than he expected. So he was like “What are you doing this weekend? Do you want to help me?” So Bill was really the artist, I was just an extra pair of hands.
MUD: Tell me about your work on Con Man and The Guild.
Kato: It was great. It’s just like working on any other kind of set. Your still with professionals, it’s just the budgets are different. On The Guild, Felicia Day is an amazing producer and she did a great job writing on everything. She always knocks it out of the park. It was almost all straight make up with a little bit of character to it because of the steampunk characters for the season they did the convention. I wound up being in one of their convention shots actually. They were like “Okay you guys can sit there but just don’t look at the camera.” So we tucked our set bags on the other side of the chair so the frame had just me sitting there texting on my phone in the background.
Con Man was great and some of the same people there had worked on The Guild. I only did the one alien that we shot for two days on that show but I got to see Nathan Fillion again. I got to do his convention scene on the Guild. My friend Debbie Zoller is and was Nathan’s personal. I called Debbie and she told me how his make up is normally done. She even set it up so I went over to her house and picked up his bag so I had all the right stuff with me.
MUD: Tell me your work on Horrible Bosses 2.
Kato: That was actually something that was a break. I didn’t expect to work on it as much as I did. I started out as a day checker doing tattoos on Jamie Foxx’s stunt double who worked a lot more than Jamie Foxx did because it’s a lot of driving scenes. I think Jamie himself only filmed for a couple of days but his stunt double was used more. I believe it was Greg Nelson who started with Jonathan Banks’ character and they eventually gave me Jonathan to do. The Department Head, Debby La Mia Denaver, and I got along really well and she knew I needed days. So she brought me in whenever she could even if it was an eight and skate down in Irvine. Because of that I got to work on the poster shoot. There were two artists who did Jamie’s tattoos and one was off on another project. Since I did the double, I was familiar with the tattoos and I would help Kantaro Yanno with Jamie for the poster. That established me with Kanaterro working together and he gives me work all the time now. So that was really a very important film for me.
MUD: Tell me about your work on The Goldbergs and NCIS.
Kato: On the Goldbergs, I just get brought in to do background. Occasionally Bonni Flowers who’s Department Head will have me keep an eye on a principal actor on set. It’s standard day checking stuff. Kim Greene brought me in on the first season. Once Kim left and Bonni took over, she continued to bring me in when I was available. I’m very thankful for that because it was a special show having seen Sean Gianbrone, the little kid, grow up and watching the other characters grow into their parts has been a lot fun. Everyone on it is so nice. All the actors, all the crew really are family. I’m not as close there as I am with the Teen Wolf crew but close.
On NCIS, is a show where its “ok who’s the dead person of the week?” You go in early in the morning, you kill somebody, film it, go back, you clean ‘em up and you’re gone. So it’s a quick in and out. Tina Hoffman who’s one of the keys on the show, is the one who’s been bringing me back and she got her start under Michael Westmore. So we’ve got a great connection there.
MUD: Tell me about your work on Guardians of the Galaxy
Kato: Guardians involved just four days of pick up shots being done over at Disney. I was going in and painting box circles around people’s eyes and doing a little bit construction worker make up on the miners with the yellow dust on them. Just day checking and doing background make up for people who will be composited into shots. It was a great experience to be on it, because the sets and everything were fantastic.
MUD: When you work only a few days on larger high profile projects do you find those bigger credits help you get better work?
Kato: I never know. There’s the part of me that says it looks great on my resume but does it look great to me or to other people? For me, it’s great experience to be part of such a huge film. It makes me feel good. I also did Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. I got to do an eight and skate on that. I got to make up some of Gary Oldman’s people, which were about 15 background players on that. I jumped at the chance! I was working doing all night on Teen Wolf. I got out at 5:30AM, and I had to be at Fox at 9:00AM. I barely had time to stop home, shower, grab my kit and head down to the lot. I did it because it was Apes that was such a huge part of my life growing up. My mom took me to see the original five movies back to back that played all night at a drive in theater. I didn’t sleep! I was awake all the way through sitting in the back of our hatchback just glued. So the tiny bit I was attached to that film was fantastic for me.
MUD: Tell me about your work on Teen Wolf.
Kato: It’s a big part of my life for three seasons and a couple of episodes. It’s how I’ve paid my rent, how I’ve got my health insurance and how I’ve made some of the best friends I’ll ever make in this Industry. The show has a phenomenal group of actors and we actually do hang outside of work. It’s the only experience I’ve had quite like it.
I’m friends with Chris Gallaher who’s Department Head. He was in need of someone to come in and day check. I ran into him at Monsterpalooza and said to him “Hey if you’re filming I’m available” and he was like “Oh okay” so he brought me in for a few weeks to test me out. Gradually he kept bringing me back. I try to get along with everyone and I just wound up being a good fit.
MUD: What is your favorite make-up? Or If your house was on fire and you could only save one scene from all your movies what would it be?
Kato: By myself, my favorite is probably a Charlie Sheen look-a-like make up for the film that got me in the Union called Not Another Celebrity Movie. I got to work with the actor David Burliegh a good portion of the time and it was only a three week shoot. It’s a favorite because it was doing someone who’s a contemporary figure.
My second favorite was the Abigail Folger make up on Aquairus. It was a challenge because that was the first time I had to do a make up based on an autopsy report.
MUD: Do you feel there’s any difference working on TV vs Film?
Kato: I don’t think it’s any different. Time is maybe more of a factor but you still need same quality on the level of finishing a piece because most of TV is HD now. The only thing is you’ll do more scenes in one day on TV than you will in film. Film is about trying as many angles as you can. TV is more about how many scenes can you get done in a day.
Is there a paycheck difference on TV versus film? Depends on what level you’re working at. Department Heads will likely make more, probably a lot more, on film. For us day-to-day grunts, just going in on a contract rate it’s the same either way. I made my best paycheck on a TV job actually. However, that’s because that FX shop I was with had negotiated a higher rate, and higher kit fee. On my own, I’m not really able to negotiate that rate. This is what rental is, our rate is and that’s it. As a Department Head you can get that higher pay but that’s dependent on experience and awards.
MUD: What has been challenging about make-up?
Kato: Having to match anything that Kenny Myers has worked on. Because we work next to each other on Teen Wolf and sometimes he’ll be doing the make up and I’ll be doing the stunt double. Kenny is a meticulous artist so it’s tricky for me to try and match anything that he’s doing. I can usually get the right side fine. Looking across at Kenny, I can see right side fine. It’s when I have to work on the left side it gets harder because it’s not the side I was constantly looking at. So it’ll be a lot of me stepping and running around to the other side looking at Kenny’s and then running back to duplicate it. This is especially if it’s the first day the make up is established.
MUD: What is the best advice you have ever been given?
Kato: Strangely it’s don’t be a d**k. Just try to get along. Don’t think you’re the best because strangely enough those who are don’t think they’re the best. Check your ego at the door. It’s a matter of attitude. Don’t have one.
MUD: What Advice would you give to someone just starting out?
Kato: There’s a quote from Todd Macintosh, which is “Know your craft.” Learn as much as you can constantly. The Industry is always growing and it’s better you stay on top of everything that’s currently happening but don’t totally dismiss the stuff that’s come before.