Think Robin Williams as Mrs. Doubtfire, Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean. Martin Landau as Bela Logosi in Ed Wood. Most likely, the first thing that comes to your mind are the characters’ remarkable makeup, which served as much to define their personalities as it did to forward the films’ narratives. Amazingly, they’re just a few of the creations from the wildly imaginative mind of Ve Neill, one of the most renowned makeup artists in motion pictures. Her 30-year career has brought her three Academy Awards, two Emmy Awards, two Saturn Awards, the Bafta Award and Makeup Artist of the Year from the Foreign Press, with a total of 19 international nominations for her work.
Ve created space travelers for the hit comedy Galaxy Quest, rock and roll vampires for Joel Schumacher’s The Lost Boys and visions of the afterlife for Tim Burton’s delicious comedy Beetlejuice, her first Oscar.
She’s brought to life an onslaught of villains, beauties and superheroes for Batman Returns, Batman Forever and Batman & Robin. She gave Patricia Arquette the Stigmata, transformed Christine Baranski into The Grinch’s sexy girlfriend, aged Johnny Depp 60 years for the film Blow and turned Jude Law into the perfect love robot for A.I.: Artificial Intelligence. Ve conjured up possessed beings in Constantine, the slew of dirty, drunken, barnacle-encrusted pirates that everyone adores in the Pirates of the Caribbean series, and transformed Johnny Depp into the infamous Butcher of Fleet Street for the film Sweeney Todd.
It’s a mind-boggling body of work, which also includes Edward Scissorhands, Matilda, Hoffa, and Steven Spielberg’s Amistad.
“I got started when some local rock bands asked if I could make them look like aliens, with big heads, pointy ears, that sort of thing,” Ve recalls. “I had no clue, so I went to a science fiction convention, figuring somebody there would surely be dressed up in crazy stuff. I met these guys that were made out in your basic Planet of the Apes getup, asked for their help, one thing led to another and that was pretty much the start of my craft.”
Though Ve never had formal training, she was able to rise through the ranks and become one of the first females to achieve success in a trade which had always been dominated by men.
Over the years, Ve has worked with many of Hollywood’s brightest stars. Jack Nicholson, Keira Knightly, Julia Roberts, Danny DeVito, Sarah Jessica Parker, Uma Thurman, Orlando Bloom, Sigourney Weaver, Jim Carey… the list goes on and on. Yet, with all this and three Oscars to her credit, Ve is still in awe of the business. “Winning an Academy Award was one of the most exhilarating things I’ve ever experienced,” she says with a sparkle in her eye. “When I got up there on stage I don’t remember seeing anything, not even an audience … just white. I was in shock and so elated I couldn’t take it all in. The second time I really had a chance to see how fabulous the whole experience was. And I gotta tell you, gosh, if you’re ever lucky enough to win an Oscar, cherish the moment because it really is a fabulous experience.”
That second Academy Award for Best Makeup was in 1992 for Mrs. Doubtfire. Ve recalls, “It was so much fun. I remember we’d be walking around on the streets of San Francisco, and I’d be standing on the street corner chatting with Robin as Mrs. Doubtfire and a couple of other crew members, and Robin loved it because nobody knew who he was.” Ve continues with a broad grin, “He could just walk around the street freely and never get bothered. I remember we were all standing on this corner one morning and this guy came up and said, ‘Hey, I hear you guys are making a movie with Robin Williams.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, we are.’ And he said, ‘Is he here today?’ ‘Yeah. Yeah, he’s here.’ And the guy said, ‘where is he?’ And I said, ‘He’s around somewhere.’ And Robin was just smiling … it was so… cute, you know.”
Ve has been a member of First Entertainment since 1995, though she’s quick to add, “I would’ve joined sooner if I had known about it! First Entertainment’s great because they really understand the complexities of the entertainment business.” Ve’s first branch was at the Warner Bros. Studios, where she discovered the joy of banking right on the lot. Later, Ve moved to the Forest Lawn branch, which she called home until, years later, First Entertainment opened it’s branch at Magic Mountain, just down the road from Ve’s home in Castaic. Ve says happily, “I was so happy when I found out there was a Magic Mountain branch. It was fabulous. Pam, Nancy, Dacia, and Irene … they’re all so fabulous. My husband takes them in flowers on secretary’s week and we bring them stuff on Christmas. It’s really, really cool.”
Ve described First Entertainment as a “throwback to small town banking with all the modern conveniences. I love the whole idea of it.” She loves that everyone knows her by name, knows when she’s on location, and keeps an eye on her accounts to make sure there’s no suspicious activity. “The thing is, First Entertainment watches your back.”
Thanks for all the nice words, Ve, and we look forward to seeing you for at least another 15 years!
First Entertainment gives a big shout out to Gary at Optic Nerve Studio for hosting our photo shoot with Ve.