Makeup artist Mathews joins the Oscar winner’s club

by Mark Burger

First time’s the charm. On Sunday night, in front of an audience of over a billion viewers, Robin Mathews and Adruitha Lee claimed Academy Awards for Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling in Dallas Buyers Club, the much-acclaimed story of Ron Woodroof (Oscar-winning Best Actor Matthew McConaughey), an HIV-positive Texas “good-oldboy” who in the 1980s engineered an underground network in which he provided fellow AIDS patients with medicine and supplements not legally available in the US at that time.

For Mathews, the Oscar win for Dallas Buyers Club marks the pinnacle of a 20-year career in which she has balanced big-studio blockbusters (The Twilight Saga: New Moon and Eclipse, Oz: The Great and Powerful) with indie fare (Welcome to the Rileys, The Paperboy) – and some television (“Sons of Anarchy,” “Rizzoli & Isles”), to boot.

“To be honest, a lot of the independents are more meaty and have more wonderful scripts,” she says, “but there are wonderful treats about both.”

Mathews had previously worked with Mc- Conaughey on the 2012 adaptation of Pete Dexter’s novel The Paperboy, at the onset of what has been come to be known as the actor’s “McConassiance,” including widely praised roles in Magic Mike (2012), last year’s Mud (written and directed by UNCSA School of Filmmaking graduate Jeff Nichols), HBO’s current “True Detective” series, and Dallas Buyers Club.

By the time production commenced, Mc- Conaughey was already into his well-publicized 45-pound weight loss to indicate the ravages of HIV and fully ready to embrace the challenge.

“I enjoyed working with him so much,” Mathews says, “and I’m so happy for him, because he works so hard, he really does. I immediately knew it was going to be special.”

As for Jared Leto, who won the Oscar as Best Supporting Actor, Mathews can’t speak about working with him. She can, however, speak about working with “her” – Rayon, the HIV-positive transsexual who becomes Woodroof’s unlikeliest – and most loyal – ally.

So immersed was Leto in the character that “I only ever met Rayon on the set,” Mathews says. “I spent five or six hours a day with this person. I didn’t meet Jared Leto until the Academy nominees’ lunch. Getting to meet him was very strange. I’m sure he was thinking: ‘Why is she looking at me so strangely? We worked together!’” Rayon’s death scene was emotional for everyone, including Mathews, who had to remain just out of camera range to touch up Leto’s makeup between takes. Endless tears streamed down her face while she stifled sobs that might have been caught on audio. “It was so emotional … it really affected me.”

The face of AIDS in the 21 st century is different than in the 1980s. With no defined treatments at that time, patients often suffered from lesions and sores that worsened from day to day. Like most films, Dallas Buyers Club was shot out sequence, so Mathews carefully studied each day’s script to apply makeup accurately portraying the disease’s progression or remission. Experts in the medical community have complimented Mathews on her work, “which means more to me than anything I could ever hear.”

Director Jean-Marc Vallee so enjoyed his collaboration with Mathews that they immediately re-teamed for Wild, based on Cheryl Strayed’s memoir, due for release later this year, starring Reese Witherspoon as Strayed, who embarked on a solo 11,000-mile hike to deal with personal tragedy. She compared the experience to Into the Wild (2006), Sean Penn’s screen adaptation of Jon Krakauer’s non-fiction best-seller about the life (and death) of wanderer Chris McCandless (played by Emile Hirsch).

“Sean wanted us to take the same journey as Chris,” she says, noting that production amenities were sparse for both cast and crew. “That was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I’ll experience nothing like that ever again.”

Both films were “outstanding experiences,” Mathews says, but the arduousness of them now makes her think twice, she admits. “I think I’m done with anything with ‘Wild’ in the title. If I see ‘Wild’ in the title, I respectfully decline.”

After completing Wild, she elected not to immediately take on a project. “I wanted to have a great time and soak it in,” she says. “It’s been the most awesome, crazy time ever! Adruitha was working on a project and I told her ‘Girl, you’ve got to get back to LA!’ The first few weeks were stressful but in a great way. Now it’s fun.”

This marked Mathews’ first trip to the Academy Awards, although she laughingly confessed that she and some friends crashed Elton John’s Vanity Fair Oscar party a dozen years ago.

“I’m so blessed and lucky,” she says. “I love what I do. I’m such a lucky girl. It’s always exciting … every project I do is my favorite. It’s pure grace.”

And now, with an Oscar on top. !