Angela Levin is the Secret Weapon of Hollywood's Leading Ladies

Levin stopped by to chat about her signature 'glamorously natural' red carpet looks and what it's really like to hang with Hollywood's golden girls.

Angela Levin

Fun fact: Beauty superstar Angela Levin started her career doing special-effects makeup for movies. Her journey to mega makeup star took time and dedication, with showstopping results: Her clientele is a who’s who of Hollywood megawatt stars (Jennifer Aniston, Michelle Williams, Marion Cotillard and Nicole Kidman, to name a few). We chatted with Levin on the cusp of awards season to get the BTS scoop on her “girls,” as she likes to call her clients, and life as a makeup artist.

How would you describe your signature look?
It's sort of an old-school approach. When someone looks gorgeous, nobody will ever say, “Oh, but it's not trendy,” they just say “you look beautiful.” A beautiful look is a beautiful look. The kind of clients that I cater to are extremely established—they're fashionable on their own, and they don't need the makeup to put them into a fashionable place. I guess you could say my look is glamorously natural. You don’t want to see the makeup, you want to see the person. The greatest reward for me is when I'm done and they feel beautiful. Because I’ll tell you: I can make anyone look very beautiful, but if they don't feel beautiful, they're never going to look it.

How do you start a session?
I’m always asked, “What’s the first thing you do when you start her makeup?” And my answer always seems to shock: I say, Well, I look at their faces and I try to understand who they are and how they see themselves. I call it “logging in.” You have to have an interesting connection with your client because essentially, at the end of the day, makeup is an art. It's an intuitive art, an intimate one.

How did you get into the industry?
My father was a diamond dealer. As a child, I was always attracted to shiny things (I still am!), so I always thought that I would take over the business for him. But it just so happened that anybody who was standing next to me for more than a minute would find themselves letting me apply lipstick, or mascara, or nail polish, or I’d be plucking their eyebrows—I was obsessed. When I was a teenager, I had a friend who said, “You really shouldn’t be a jeweler, you should be a makeup artist.” I shared that opinion with my father, and he was so supportive. So I went to school in Israel and my teacher said, “You know, you will be a really big makeup artist one day.” At the time, I thought, Well, what kind of kind profession is that? But he convinced me and  I came to Los Angeles in the mid-eighties because I was interested in the crazy creative special-effects type of work. And that’s how it all started; it got very busy, and I worked for nearly 15 years and became recognized for special effects. That’s when I started to explore beauty makeup, which I worked on in film for a while, then I became known for my beauty work and moved forward into editorial and advertising work. It’s really been a journey. 

Nicole Kidman, Megan Fox

Did you move on into these new roles because you were bored?
The idea of motion is very appealing to me. I just like to move on to something new. I also realized that the minute it's too easy, that's when you start losing your special touch and your creativity. 

How do you feel about the YouTube beauty culture that we are right in the middle of?
There are wonderful advantages to it. I think that we have become so aware of our industry because of how it is being celebrated and the awareness that YouTube has created. The part that I find tricky is that people confuse the YouTubers for professionals—if you watch a bunch of YouTube videos, it still doesn't make you a makeup artist. There’s also a huge difference between self-applying and doing someone else’s makeup—I don’t know how to do my own makeup! I have no patience, I can’t do it. My relationship with holding a brush and applying makeup is outward. I think the craze is starting to settle and people are starting to differentiate (the YouTubers with the professionals). But. I think that makeup is a form of expression and I love that it is being celebrated.

Katherine Heigl

Do you have a philosophy about how someone should choose a beauty look?
I love the individuality of makeup. You have to be confident about your look—I always say, red lipstick is an attitude. I think you have to build your beauty look like you build a closet—one piece at a time, one shade at a time. It helps you to feel more comfortable with the way you look. When people ask, “How do I know if this is a good red lip for me?” I tell them to go to the store, where you can try on a lot of colors, and see which one they are most attracted to. Put it on, walk around, and then look in the mirror—if it looks good, chances are it’s the right color. It’s not a life-changing decision. You can wipe it off!

Where do you find inspiration?
I love art—I go to museums by myself whenever I get a chance, especially when in Italy. I love the Uffizi in Florence, the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, The Louvre in Paris and The Tate Modern in London. And I always love flowers, the way nature creates the most spectacular relations between colors….it’s magnificent.

"Red lipstick is an attitude."

What it's like to be close to these really visible, impressive women all the time?
Well, at the end of the day they’re really not much different than you or me. It's just that their line of work is. They're all hardworking individuals who do the best they can in a hard world to navigate. But when we do what we do we’re just two girls having fun—we talk about everything, there is a friendship and love and trust that we have between us. A lot of times we just go to dinner or just have a glass of wine after work, you know? I can forget that it's kind of a big deal—I do a job, I provide a service, and so when it's all said and done, I go home, I feed my dog, you know; I just live a very normal life. 

Have you had any starstruck moments?
[Big sigh] Yes. Well, you know, of course, I love the girls I work with regularly; they’re still striking to me when I see them—I still go, “Wow, you are stunning.” And I get to meet women who I think are fantastic. I got to meet Melissa McCarthy and fell in love with her. She really looks in the mirror and knows what’s working [with her look], and she also understands the collaboration between hair and makeup. And she’s just the hardest-working woman. I also just had the chance to work with Allison Janney. Oh my God, she’s so highly talented and extremely interesting and just fabulous, it was instant love.

Jennifer Aniston, Marion Cotillard

What type of job is your favorite?
I love the crazy buzz around the Oscars. We get to do a lot of pretty things during awards season. On those really big nights, my girls know that when they sit in my chair, they’re taken care of and they might be really overwhelmed, but they don’t have to worry about their makeup. I do also love to travel with my girls, I like when a studio or magazine puts us on a flight for a specific shoot. Those are always such fun.

Have any of your ladies taught you a makeup trick? Can you share one with us?
All the time! A gazillion years ago Faye Dunaway taught me a trick that still I use today: Cut a strip of false lashes into three or four or five pieces and then apply them. Cutting them up makes them way more comfortable, and it's less visible that you're wearing fake lashes.

Click here to see the radiant look Angela created for Emmy winner Michele Williams.

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