“I grew up in Queens and Brooklyn, and then upstate New York. My mother had me when she was 16, so my grandmother was still young and really into doing her 'look'—she was very ‘60s in my earliest memories of her. She had the hairdo and the thick liner. She was really my earliest inspiration. She didn’t have a shower, so she took baths every day and washed her hair in the sink with Palmolive dishwashing liquid. She had the most beautiful, wavy, ‘40s-looking hair. She was gorgeous. I’ve always wanted to do a Palmolive ad in honor of her. She would put Preparation H hemorrhoid cream under her eyes to reduce puffiness and she would smear Vaseline on her face every night. She would really grease up, and her skin was magnificent for it.
At the time, my mom was a teenager, so she would be out gallivanting and I would have my little chair next to the stove, playing with my tea set while my grandmother hand-washed sheets and hung them on the lawn to dry. I still use scented soap to wash my panties and bras. I buy my undershirts in Italy—usually silk, cotton, or cashmere. I like to have my underwear and undershirts smell of my soap. It’s nice because your skin never smells like the stuff you use in the shower, but when you wash your underwear in it, if you sweat a little bit you kind of smell it coming up from your clothes. Right now I’m using Maja, it’s an old powdery-smelling Spanish soap line from the ‘20s or ‘30s. You can get it at the pharmacies in Latin communities. It’s three dollars, and then I also buy the $30 amber soap at C.O. Bigelow.
A little later, my mom turned into a hippie—I’d say that’s where I got my sportiness and my set of balls. I was born in 1964, and my mom kept us upstate until 1970 or 1972 But, you know, it was the Summer of Love, my mother was going to Woodstock to hang out in the rain and I was like, ‘See ya! Have fun!’ I wanted to be like my grandmother, in my little Mary Janes and my Easter dress and celebrate my birthday party with the milk glass plates, which I still have. My grandmother wore sleeping jackets that were quilted satin with a little tie at the neck and she would sit in bed with her tea and her Beretta—her silver filigree gun—that sat in the drawer. I used to play with it. She was an American, her side came over on the Mayflower, so the story goes. I'm Latvian on the other side. My mother met my father when she was 15 and he was 17. He was a greaser that wore really incredible suits, had jet-black hair, green eyes, and was funny. I still have a picture of him when he first came over [from Latvia]; he was seven and he was in a little bowtie—he looks like my daughters. He ran the streets up in the Bronx and in Queens, and ended up in prison.
Through my upbringing, I became interested in so many things. One of my first jobs was working at Fiorucci selling jewelry with Linda Ramone and Joey Arias...it was a whole other time, back then. I wanted to make more money, and one day I was reading the New York Times and I saw ‘Dental Assistant Wanted: High-Paying Chic Madison Avenue Job’ and I thought, ‘Huh, I could do that!’ So I called up my friend who was a dentist and I said, ‘Hey, listen, um, I need some tips. I don’t even want to work for you, I just need some terminology.’ So I started taking notes over the phone and I went in for my interview and passed with flying colors. The dentist thought I was cute, so he hired me. I went to work the next day and he sent me out to get an outfit. It was, like, 1980 and I got a nurse outfit, chopped it up to my crotch, added this lace thing, and wore white fishnets. I was like a hot ‘50s nurse mixed with ‘80s New Wave. It was really funny because my first day of work I was all done up in my outfit and he said, ‘Pass me the hemostat,’ and I froze. He realized that I’d never been a dental assistant, but I begged him to train me because I really needed a job. I lasted about a month—going to work at eight in the morning, seeing an extraction, and smelling people’s teeth was enough to send me over the edge. Also, I stole the hemostat. He had a hundred of them! I wanted to have a proper roach clip because I was smoking pot at the time, and a hemostat was perfect. He told me I wasn’t cut out for the job, but we stayed dear friends. He’s still my dentist to this day, and we laugh about it all the time.
So I needed a different job and started working at a place called the Mudd Club. I was underage, and I shouldn’t have been there but I think Steve Mass thought it was funny to have a child working the door to the VIP section. Bowie was coming in, Jagger, the Talking Heads, Debbie Harry…I didn’t even know who a lot of people were, I would just not let people in based on my feeling. No one would give me any drugs or let me drink, thank God. People protected me, actually. It was kind of like they were doing an art installation by having me there, in a sense. I really wasn’t making enough money, though, and I’ve never been a night person. I started realizing that I was really good at makeup, and I would occasionally do makeup for a few publications that were just starting out, like Soho News, Details, Paper, and The Village Voice. I started doing makeup for free or for, like, 50 bucks for shoots.
I ended up having another night job at this place called Danceteria and this girl walks in my elevator and she’s says, ‘I’m going to make a record and I’m going to be a star one day,’ and I’m just like, ‘OK, that’s really cool!’ She actually was a great dancer and she was really cool-looking—it was Madonna. At that point she hadn’t done a record yet, and she goes, ‘I like your makeup. Do you want to do mine? I’m going to do a song at Paradise Garage and I need someone to do my hair and makeup.’ I was like, ‘Well I can’t really do anything with that hair…’—she had wild hair; it was natural with highlights and it was all crazy and greasy. She liked that look. So I just did her makeup. It was for a song called ‘Everybody,’ her very first video. We ended up staying friends and I did her makeup for shoots and I started to get a lot of work.
I was just a really great painter. I could do eyeliner and eyebrows and make the skin look incredible. Back then we didn’t have all this high-def makeup. We had Pan Stik, which was amazing if you knew how to work with it. You could be doing a black-and-white silent film and have a Bela Lugosi-type of face, or you could do something in color and still make it look extremely natural. At a certain point the all-natural thing became the look, whereas I was still into painting. I loved how my grandma did her makeup. She used a powder by Coty that was pink, which looked so pretty on her and it smelled so good. Anyway, I moved on with my makeup career; I ended up becoming kind of famous. My peers at the time were Bobbi Brown, François Nars, and Joe McDevitt, who has since passed from AIDS. He was an amazing makeup artist; he would take me backstage at the opera. There, they looked like paintings. I loved it, and that was when I decided to make the transition into theater.
I originated the hair and makeup for the play Speed-the-Plow, which Madonna was in. And at a certain point during its run I had an All About Eve moment. Everyone left the theater—Ron Silver, God rest his soul, Joe Mantegna, Madonna—and I went on stage and it was empty. At the time I was living in Park Slope and I had this really heavy makeup bag that I had to put on one of those wheel things you wrap with a bungee cord and I would have to drag it up and down the steps. I remember one day it was the Puerto Rican Day Parade and train was fucked up and I was half-an-hour late. Madonna screamed at me, and I said, ‘Don’t you ever scream at me. I’m really sorry, but if you want me to be here on time, send me a car.’ [Laughs] I started not loving taking orders from people, not just from my friends, but also on shoots in general. You’re a servant when you’re a makeup artist. For the most part I didn’t care because I was making great money, but I was young and I had such a creative mind. So, when I went on that stage, I realized that knew all the lines because I was working on the show for months. I had this bug and I knew that I needed to take acting classes. I had done everyone’s hair and makeup—they were done, they felt great, and they were ready to perform, and all I wanted to do was perform and feel that energy from the audience for myself.
My first big movie was Goodfellas. We were working in this cool brownstone in Harlem and we were supposed to be coked up in the scene. I was snorting a laxative all day for the shoot, so I ended up having diarrhea the whole time. [Laughs] Still, I just got the acting bug. It was like going to therapy—I could be somebody else and play out all these characters... At a certain point, I moved to Los Angeles and everything really happened after that.
I do my own makeup for almost all of my projects, including Entourage. It's because I don’t have patience, to be honest—when I sit in the chair, unless I know and trust the makeup artist, I want to do it myself. Bad makeup takes me out of character and it gets me pissed off. I know my own face. If I want to look really character-y, then I have someone do me because I’m never going to make myself as ugly as I should if I need to be a junkie or something like that. I always go up and down like 15 pounds, so depending on my weight I will sometimes need that drag queen chiseling to sharpen my jawline. If I’m really skinny, I need to soften because my face is too sharp.
I never needed fillers because I’m full in the face, which is great and I think keeps me looking younger. I’ve always been five or 10 pounds heavier than a lot of my girlfriends. They were always at the gym and skinny and had great shapes, but I’ve never really cared about being cut. I like a little tighter arm—I’m working on that for my summer body—and I'm trying to get my legs in shape and have my ass not be so jiggly. But I like being a woman and I like that, when someone holds me, they feel softness. I don’t want them feel a hard muscle, sorry. I don’t want a six pack, but I respect those who like that. I like that nice, soft tummy and I think it’s really beautiful. It looks like the Venus de Milo or something you would see on a statue.
I have had Botox and I liked it when it was good. It’s hit or miss; as an actress, I really need to have the facial movement and Botox takes it all away. But I actually metabolize the stuff really quickly, so it only lasts three weeks to a month. Why bother paying all that money? I feel the same way about Latisse—I tried it on my eyebrows but it just made my skin red. I just don’t like the idea that you apply it and all of a sudden you magically get these eyelashes, but if you stop applying it, they go away. If it’s not going to be permanent I don’t want to have to constantly be putting this drug in my body. I always have my eyebrows on because I’ve done so many movies and been through so many looks in my life that I’ve been pretty pluck-happy. One minute I’m doing 'La Lupe' and the next minute I’m doing some arched thing and another time I’m doing a caterpillar eyebrow. Unfortunately my eyebrows, which used to be a unibrow like Frida Kahlo, which was gorgeous, never grew back. I have hairs still, but I loved my thick eyebrows. My current favorite eyebrow pencil is the Kevyn Aucoin Precision Brow Pencil in Dark Brunette. What’s great is that the product comes out on one end and then you brush it with the other side. I’ve also been using the Per-fekt Brow Perfection Gel in Espresso. It helps keeps them up and it’s tinted. I used to use the Vanitymark Ultra Brow in Chocolate Noir, which I would get it at the professional makeup store in the theater district. I do that with a brush. And I bought this little Surratt Expressioniste Brow Pomade that I use sometimes.
I wear makeup every day, I’m not going to lie. I love it. I wear false eyelashes almost every day, unless I want to look like a Nordic ice queen and just wear a brow with lipstick. I love lipstick, and Rouge D'Armani 400 is my favorite red. I like Lipstick Queen very much, and I love Dior lipstick; it tastes old fashioned, sort of ‘60s. I will go out and get Revlon, too— Cherries in the Snow was my grandmother’s color. I love a tangerine frost, and Serge Lutens has one of my favorite nude frosts.
For blush, I like creams. I use Bobbi Brown Pot Rouge in Rose and lately I’ve been using Lipstick Queen Oxymoron Matte Gloss in Minor Crisis. I like the Nars Multiple in Orgasm, obviously. I like pinks for my face; someone put orange on me once and it was just awful. Otherwise, I use the Laura Mercier Crème Cheek Color in Praline under the neckline and I have a Chanel Les Beiges Healthy Glow Sheer Color bronzer that I will use with my angled contouring brush. On my eyes, I typically stick to creamy browns, blacks, and blues. I love blues. One of my favorite eyeliners is the Laura Mercier Tightline Cake Eyeliner that you use with a brush. I love the Guerlain Kohl eyeliner, but the brush is not the best, right? I use Armani Smooth Silk Eye pencil if I want it to be kind of messy. I smudge it out with either a dark grey Armani Eyeshadow, or their blue 21, or I do the Narsshadow in Galapagos or Night Flight. I do a hard line and then smoke it out. I'm really in love right now with the combination of grey shadow and a whiter color under my brow—I use Nars Bellissima Duo—and if I want a flat look I use whatever crap I can pick up at the drugstore. Then, I also have this Stéphane Marais palette for a greasy lid every now and then. It was a genius line, but they don’t make it anymore.
But eye shadow isn’t really my thing, I’m more of an eyelash girl. I use Lancôme Definicils mascara—I’ve tried everything, and if there’s a better one, let me know. My daughter is always like, ‘Mom, I really need an eyelash curler’ and I’m like, ‘Evelina, I don’t have one because I don’t want my eyelashes being curly.’ I like the almond eye, although I put a couple of individuals on today. I think that curlers break your lashes, I don’t understand that look.
I’ve also never believed in primer. I don’t have big pores and I don’t want my makeup to slide across my face, I feel like primers are just people trying to sell you an extra product. Don’t try to sell me shit when I walk into a department store, especially Bendel’s. I need Xanax when I go in there because I feel like they’re attacking me. I like help, don’t get me wrong, but I love the art of discovery. I like to put it on my hand, feel it and feel what’s in it. I can chemically break it down in my head by feeling it and looking at it and seeing the color combination. I like the Kevyn Aucoin Sensual Skin Enhancer in SX 07. That is my cover-up and it will last me for the rest of my life. I’ve been using it for shoots because I feel like it gives me a little bit of sheen. I don’t like sparkle. I don’t mind a little bit of pearly-ness on the upper brow, but I don’t like to sparkle. I don’t like totally matte, either. Dita [Von Teese] is probably the only person who can pull that off, and she looks amazing. But for me, when I over-powder or over-base now, I feel it makes me look too mature. You have to be careful. I like the designer makeup for the face especially— Armani Luminous Silk Foundation in 4.5 and 5, and 5.25 and 5.5 in Armani Designer Lift Foundation. I’m never one color. I like Touche Eclat in 2 for the beauty mark on the tip of my nose. It’s a cover-up sometimes, or I will use it as a highlighter under my brow. I like coverage because I’ve always liked to protect my skin from the sun and all of the makeup now has SPF in it. I don’t like to use SPF on my face, though; when I do have to use it I use La Roche Posay Anthelios SPF 50. But I would rather just wear a big old hat. I don’t mind looking a little dewy; I think it’s normal. But I love this Laura Mercier Secret Brightening Powder—it’s used for highlighting and it’s great on camera. I use it on my cheekbones and it gives you a wonderful brightness.
In terms of skincare, I slather Tatcha Ageless Enriching Renewal Cream on my face in the winter. If I want a little extra grease, I have this Dr. Hauschka Rose Light Day Cream. It’s super greasy, the ‘light’ is useless. I have olive oil that I put on my body, but my favorite is the Moor Lavender Body Oil by Dr. Hauschka. I mix it with this Skin Trip that my mother has been using since the ‘70s. I’ve been using Dr. Bronner's Eucalyptus soap forever. I love it. It feels good and fresh on the va-jay-jay. And we always have bidet soap in the house. We have a bidet in Italy and my husband is really pissed off that America doesn’t have them. He thinks it’s disgusting. Then, I have the Rene Furterer Carthame line for my hair, and the Okara line, and Kérastase, because my hair is colored and I don’t want to strip my color when I wash it.
I have my mother’s and grandmother’s light hair, actually. I’ve been a blonde, a brunette, and a redhead. I’ve had white hair, I even had my punk moment when it was multi-colored back in the ‘80s, but for the most part, for my professional career I’ve stuck with being a brunette. It looked good and I was into being typecast. I was playing these kind of interesting, tough, edgy characters and the color was a nice contrast with my eyes. I just liked it. And I’m a Cuban wannabe and Italian citizen, so that’s good enough. Long story short, my husband fell in love with me and he likes brunettes. At a certain point, I started getting greys and I said, ‘Can I go a little lighter so maybe the grey can mix in?’ My husband Gabriele was like, ‘Uh, let’s wait on that.’ We met in Florence and we were married, pregnant, and living together within a year. We’ve been together 13 years.
We have two daughters, and because Brooklyn is full of lice, I have Kyolic Aged Garlic Extract Liquid that I put on their hair on a daily basis. The scent goes away on the hair, but the lice don’t like the smell, so during lice season you just put a little bit around the very edges of the scalp. Also, because of lice, we all have different hairbrushes—and I learned what a 'nitpicker' was when I moved back to Brooklyn from LA a couple of years ago. I thought nitpicking was someone that bothers you about stupid shit. No, nitpickers are people who come to your house and pull nits out of your hair. Here, they’re Orthodox, generally, and they come over with their assistant, lay down a towel, and take a big bottle of Pantene conditioner and they coat the head and they pull this special comb through the hair and spread it out and go through it, and through it, and through it. When the girls have sleepovers, they all have to have braided hair and the other moms will call each other and say, ‘Make sure your daughter’s hair is braided and bring your own pillowcase.’ If your hair is loose and you’re doing selfies, the hair touches, and the bugs will get from one head to the other.
I’m big on hair-removal, so I have one of these trimmers from Bed Bath & Beyond, and tweezers, and a body brush for dry brushing. I get lasered all the time, which is a real drag; in New York, I go to Dr. Colbert. It works, but it comes back every five years or so. My Latvian roots means my body hair is, like, black. I started collecting vintage Lady Schick electric razors forever ago, I just thought they were so cool-looking. I love the idea of getting rid of hair with something so beautiful and elegant.
Overall, I always want to get back to the basics, with beauty, with food. I want to make my own olive oil products because I figure when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. And, well, I have 28,000 olive trees at our home in Italy. It’s in Fiesole, Florence, where there was hunting and all these wild boars and also a lot of incredible herbs and things for wellness. So I’m trying to delve into all of my knowledge about it to try to formulate something that someone needs as opposed to just another product. I feel like with my cooking show, Extra Virgin and my new cookbook, Recipes & Love From Our Tuscan Kitchen, I have a platform for lifestyle now, so I want to get on that.
I also just worked on a TV show called Younger and it’s funny because I’m playing a 40-year-old lesbian—but I'm actually turning 50 soon. So I've been thinking younger. As we get older, we start to notice things because, you know, all of a sudden you get different types of sicknesses or maybe you don’t get anything, but you realize that your older friends are starting to die or get sick and you’re like, ‘Oh, when did that happen?’ I have good thick Eastern skin, but I’ve been a smoker half my life and I drink wine. When I go to Paris or Italy and I see women who might have a little gentle pulling or something, they still look like 'women of a certain age.' I want to age gracefully, but I will definitely pick it up a little if I have to. I kind of like the idea, it reminds me of that movie Brazil. I’m good with the chopping and sewing and all of that, just not the plumpers and fillers. I love to eat so much that I am always going to have a little plumpness anyways.”
—as told to ITG
Debi Mazar photographed in Brooklyn, New York by Emily Weiss on May 2, 2014. Catch her awesome (really, watch it) Cooking Channel show, Extra Virgin, on Wednesdays at 8pm EST. And pick up her new cookbook here.