At 10:30 a.m. on Sunset Boulevard, the sun is already shining, the temperature climbing, and the traffic increasing. (Yes, in L.A., Sunday-morning traffic is most definitely a thing.) On the surface, it feels like any other Sunday in Hollywood. But later in the evening, Hollywood’s elite will be gathering for the annual Screen Actors Guild Awards, and I’ve come to witness SAG-nominated actress Madeline Brewer get ready for her red carpet debut—so perhaps not so ordinary. And afterward, I learn there’s nothing ordinary about Madeline, either.
Upon entering Brewer’s suite, I spot a large can of coconut water, a wallet gilded with the actress’s monogrammed initials, a liquid lipstick, and a tube of Lucas Papaw Ointment ($8) (a miracle-working salve that’s every makeup artist’s best-kept secret). Brewer herself enters the room freshly showered, wearing a ruby-hued satin pajama set in a strikingly similar shade to her wet hair, a warm smile, and a pearl-encrusted Reem Acra gown pressed to her chest.
“Hi!” she exclaims, reaching out to shake my hand. “I’m Maddie.” Her warm, welcoming persona is as palpable as the steam emerging behind her from the bathroom. It’s the same likable quality I recognize from her breakout role as the drug-addicted Tricia Miller in Orange Is the New Black and most recently as the endearingly tragic Ofwarren/Janine in Hulu’s wall-shattering smash The Handmaid’s Tale. Fast-forward just a few hours later, and I realize that initial candor, humor, and refreshing approachability isn’t a front, but rather just who Brewer is. And the fact that she just so happens to be so incredibly stunning (just moments after stepping out of the shower without a stitch of makeup, no less), makes her all the more captivating to observe.
Over the next few hours, while an eclectic mix of Phil Collins and Why? provides the soundtrack for the afternoon, we talk beauty, hair color, and learning to be comfortable in your own skin. Keep reading as we break down her jaw-dropping award show beauty look, and get to know the actress a bit better along the way.
Brewer’s dress is adorned with pearls and subtle layers of gauzy fabric; the overall vibe is very much fairy tale. In addition to some help from a stunning pair of red heels by Casadei (think Dorothy in Oz, revisited), the approach with makeup and hair is to build on the softness of the gown while adding a modern edge. “We want it to be more runway than princess,” celebrity hairstylist Christian Wood explains to me as he starts drying Brewer’s damp, crimson strands.
“The goal and inspiration behind the hair is to balance out the girly-ness of the gown with a soft, brushed-back style featuring volume and movement,” Wood says. “Nothing too harsh, but something with enough edge to keep the overall effect high fashion and runway.” Before blowing out the hair with a wide, boar bristle round brush and a Harry Josh Ultra-Light Hair Dryer ($349), Wood applied Wella Eimi Strong Hold Volumizing Mousse ($20) to add a touch of “tackiness” to the hair for some hold and grip. Then, as he blew out the hair, he made sure to maintain some bend at the ends, applied Wella Light Luminous Reflective Oil ($40) for the first layer of shine and eventually began wrapping sections of Brewer’s hair around the GHD Curve Soft Curl Iron ($159) to achieve forgiving movement and glamorous (as opposed to beachy) waves.
To create a more modern take on the retro feel of Brewer’s Old Hollywood–esque curls, Wood used the Mason Pearson Boar Bristle Hair Brush ($150) to comb back the front and sides of the hair before adding a quick hit of hair spray to secure the actress’s swept-back strands. “The Mason Pearson boar bristle brush is important,” Wood tells me. “The texture of the bristles is much superior—essential—for styling and keeping the look anchored and secure for the entire night.”
To finish, Wood coated the actress’s strands with Wella Eimi Glam Mist Shine Mist ($20) until the hair glistened with shine but didn’t appear wet. (As I later found out, a super-slicked-back style is really Brewer’s only “hell no” red carpet beauty look.) Last, but certainly not least, Wood pulled out and contemplated a collection of elegant hair accessories before deciding on individual Jennifer Behr pearls that he positioned vertically behind the actress’s left ear.
Prior to being cast as Janine in The Handmaid’s Tale, Brewer had always been a natural shade of buttery blonde. When I ask her how she likes life as a redhead, her eyes brim with excitement. “I love it,” she exclaims animatedly. “My mom still hasn’t really taken to it, but I feel so at home in the color—like such an adult. It’s given me so much confidence and all of a sudden, I feel like I can pull off certain makeup looks, like a bold statement lip for instance, whereas before I never felt I could before. I really feel like this is who I am.” And luckily, celebrity makeup artist Jenna Kristina (who Brewer regularly works with) really knows how to amplify the shade—today being no different.
The goal is to play up the actress’s natural beauty and to effortlessly achieve that coveted lit-from-within glow. “We’re going for a really clean, natural glow today,” Kristina tells me. “Her bright red shoes will really be her pop-of-color moment, so I’ll just be reflecting off of that to create a super-soft, radiant look for Madeline.”
First and foremost, prep the skin. To create a smooth and hydrated canvas for Brewer’s makeup, Kristina first pressed a layer of Elizabeth Arden Eight Hour Lip Repair Balm ($24) onto the actress’s lips and gently placed a pair of Knesko Nano Gold Repair Collagen Eye Masks ($60) underneath her eyes. Then, Kristina patted La Mer The Moisturizing Soft Cream ($170) into Brewer’s milky complexion before lightly rolling Angela Caglia La Vie en Rose Face Roller ($65) around the actress’s face to de-puff. Since makeup was soon to follow, Kristina quickly dipped a Q-tip into Caudalie Micellar Cleansing Water ($28) to remove any telltale traces of last night’s makeup from beneath Brewer’s lashes and tapped a light ring finger of Clarins Eye Contour Gel ($41) underneath her eyes.
Yes, it all seems quite luxurious, and Brewer does spend a lot of time in the makeup chair—it comes with the territory of filming a television show, after all—but as she expresses to me later on, her day-to-day skincare and makeup routines are actually quite minimal. And as she regularly works with Kristina and considers her a close friend, she’s discovered many of her favorite makeup and skincare products through the artist.
“I pretty much always do the same thing,” she laughs. “For skincare, I just got the Natura Bisse Oxygen Complex Intensive Purifying Serum ($160) which I love. I feel like my skin can breathe with it on, which I appreciate. And then my go-to cleanser is one by Dermalogica that I’ve been using for, like, four years. It’s great for my combination skin.”
“For makeup, I use this super-moisturizing foundation from Chanel, [its] Vitalumière Aqua Foundation ($50), I think. And then I’ll use Glossier Cloud Paint in Dusk ($18) on both my eyes and my cheeks. That’s really the one product that I’ve just always found looks really pretty and that I really like. Even though I do love to play up my eyes since I feel they’re my best feature, I’m not a big eyeliner girl. So I’ll actually go with this drugstore mascara I have and then use a basic brow pencil to add some light dimension to my eyes. Oh, and the Glossier Boy Brow ($16)! I just really like to make my brows as big as possible.”
Which brings me to my next question: How have her roles (which admittedly veer dark) affected Brewer’s relationship with makeup and beauty? “It’s interesting because I’ve never really been dolled up for any of my roles. Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever had a role where I’ve worn a full face of makeup all day—especially with The Handmaid’s Tale and Orange Is the New Black. By having such minimal makeup and most of the time being under made-up to look kind of harsh or sick and worse than I do naturally, it’s really given me some appreciation and courage to be able to look in the mirror and be like, okay, I may look like shit, but I actually feel pretty beautiful. It’s been a process in learning to appreciate what I have, and that’s been fun.”
As Kristina takes to her kit and begins the makeup phase, I’m delighted to see a mix of more obscure makeup products and brands with faithful favorites. For a perfectly even base, Kristina used a Hakuhodo brush to buff in Giorgio Armani Luminous Silk Foundation ($64) and added dimension by sweeping Anastasia Beverly Hills Brow Pro Palette ($88) under Brewer’s cheekbones as well as on her brows for more fullness.
To wake up Brewer’s complexion and mimic a coral-colored reflection from Brewer’s shoes, Kristina opted for Chanel Powder Blush in So Close ($45) (“It’s new!”) and added a hint of Bobbi Brown Skin Long-Wear Weightless Foundation ($46) on the higher planes of the actress’s face to enhance her bone structure and incorporate some additional dimension. “No one’s face is just one color,” Kristina explains. “I don’t use this to highlight but really just to make the look come to life.”
To finish off the eyes, Kristina curled the lashes (a necessary step that Brewer tells me she’s only recently come to appreciate) and wiggled Serge Lutens Beauté Mascara ($65) through the lashes. “This is the best mascara,” Kristina tells me. “I like to get it as close to the base as possible to really create a natural line at the lashes and some definition. Then, I’ll begin working the wand out to the tips.”
As final, albeit important steps, Kristina attached Ardell Individual Short Black Flare Lashes ($4) and then used a lip brush to coat Giorgio Armani Lip Maestro in 300 ($38) on top of Brewer’s moisturized pout. Interestingly, Kristina adds a layer of lip liner after the lipstick application, explaining to me that this keeps the lip plush, not as defined, and really enhances the natural shape of Madeline’s lips. Today’s pick is Nars Precision Lip Liner in Menton ($24).
As the clock ticks closer to the proverbial midnight, or rather, 1:45 p.m., when Madeline is scheduled to make her way over to the red carpet, last-minute touches are made. Shoes are strapped on, and Kristina rubs Prtty Peaushun Skin Tight Body Lotion ($39) (yes, it’s as amazing as it sounds) into the actress’s décolletage, ankles, hands, and arms before defining Brewer’s angles (think clavicles, shoulders, and the like) with Dior Diorskin Nude Air Healthy GLow Invisible Powder ($56). (My takeaway: If you’re not already highlighting your clavicles, you most definitely should be.)
As she prepares to make her exit, Brewer jokes that she feels as if she’s headed to the ball. And though she looks the part of Cinderella in practically every way with a voluminous twirlable skirt, shimmering jewelry, and pearl-adorned curls, she’s also the antithesis of the prototypical Disney princess. Maybe it’s the way she drops hilarious impressions or how completely unguarded she is when it comes to talking about her life experiences (including that one time she got mugged on the streets of NYC). Whatever it is, it’s that special something that makes her addicting to watch on-screen—and in real life, anything other than ordinary.