How many of us have spent time during the “stay at home” orders escaping in a good movie? If that’s you, one person to thank for bringing lightheartedness into your home is fellow Texan, Michael Johnston!
For over 25 years this Emmy nominated, award winning Department Head of Makeup for Nickelodeon shows-Henry Danger, Danger Force, All That, iCarly, Victorious, etc. has been transforming some of our favorite characters for good, clean family-friendly fun. We all know the roles actors, writers and directors play in a production, but just as important to any show/movie is the makeup artist. The makeup artist transforms an actor into their specified character-that’s Michael’s job.
I had a chance to speak with Michael about his career, how the pandemic has affected his work and got to learn just how he got from “Texas to Tinseltown”.
As a kid growing up in Dallas, Michael says he never dreamed that he’d end up in Hollywood or that it was even an option for him. But, he always gravitated towards theatre/arts and enjoyed anything creative. Once grown, Michael knew that a corporate job was not for him. He needed change everyday and something new to do/be.
He began his career as a makeup artist at Neiman Marcus. Then a chance meeting and phone call led him to leave Dallas for work at Saks 5th Avenue in Beverly Hills. There, a woman who worked in television saw his makeup work in a salon and offered him his first job in television on a show called Roundhouse in May of 1993. That’s how his career at Nickelodeon began…and the rest, as they say, is history!
Since then, Michael has worked on almost a dozen Nickelodeon shows (Roundhouse, All That, Amanda Show, Drake and Josh, Zoey 101, iCarly, Victorious, Sam and Cat, Henry Danger, All That Reboot, Danger Force, etc.). He pinches himself every day because he’s made a career of ‘make believe and fun”.
Michael describes his typical day on set as “happy madness”-starting around 5:30 a.m. with script readings, production meetings, shopping for supplies then, with two shows shooting at the same time and two teams of about 12 makeup artists, it’s “crunch time” to get makeup and hair done by the end of the day’s shoot. While his daily schedule can be hectic, it’s also very rewarding because there is never a dull moment.
Here are some of Michael’s favorite memories on set:
-He says the favorite part of his job is the creation of characters, “getting an idea for a character out of my head and making it come alive on screen”.
-His most memorable makeup transformation was turning Nathan Janek into Ariana Grande on “All That”.
-The longest time in the makeup chair was turning Henry Danger’s ‘Captain Man’ character into an old man.
-The craziest makeup is upcoming in a future show-that’s a surprise. STAY TUNED!
Michael says he has always been competitive in any job he’s done. He just wants to be his best. This work ethic and attitude has definitely paid off. He has received 2 Emmy nominations (iCarly & Victorious) and 10 Makeup Guild Award nominations with 3 wins (2 for Henry Danger & 1 for Rocky Horror Picture Show with Frankie Grande). He is especially proud of his Emmy nomination for iCarly because it was the very first children’s show ever nominated for Hair & Makeup alongside prime time shows like Saturday Night Live and Dancing with the Stars.
Through the years, Michael has worked with and made lasting friendships with many stars of today who began their careers with him as child actors on Nickelodeon- Ariana Grande, Keenan Thompson, Nick Cannon, Kel Mitchell, Miranda Cosgrove and Jace Norman, to name a few. When asked which show has been his favorite to work on, Michael’s response was, “That’s like asking a parent to pick a favorite child. I love them all for different reasons. They’ve challenged me, made me better at my craft and I’ve fallen in love with each and every cast because we are together all day, every day.”
It’s this love of is friends/crew that motivated Michael to get involved in creating and circulating “Let the Credits Roll”, a stimulus package petition. The petition asked Congress to include displaced entertainment workers in its relief package. Michael explained that a little over a month ago, Hollywood had “gone dark”. All shooting had stopped for most TV shows and films and there was no financial relief for the entertainment industry. Thanks to many dedicated Union members, including Michael, the petition was successful.
Michael says he’s very lucky to work for such a family-oriented network. Immediately after Covid-19 stopped production on his shows, Nickelodeon continued to pay the crew for 2 additional weeks. Nickelodeon also continues to reach out with the most up to date information about the virus. After 30 years living in California and experiencing fires, floods and earthquakes, Michael’s learned to stay prepared for most emergencies. He’s now using his time reading out to the retired members of his Union and checking in on them during these uncertain times.
During my interview with Michael, I admired how happy and fulfilled his life seems to be. He’s found success in his career, built strong industry friendships and finds time to volunteer. I asked Michael how he accomplished it all. “I followed my heart, never gave up and when opportunity knocked on my door, I just went. One phone call can change your life.”
Interviewing Michael was exciting for me because I’m a big fan of his work/shows. I encourage you to watch his shows too!
Danger Force, the Henry Danger spin off, premiered March 28th an airs Saturday’s at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Nickelodeon https://www.nick.com/shows/danger-force
Catch up on past episodes of All That reboot before the 2nd season. https://www.nick.com/shows/all-that
Check out the amazing Old Man Cooper and Ariana Grande makeup transformations on YouTube. They are both awesome!
Find Michael on Instagram: @m_k_johnston, Facebook: Michael Johnston