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Native American Makeup Artist Becomes Hollywood Standout

By: Cathy Christensen
Posted: June 23, 2008, from the April 2006 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.

In 1986, makeup artist and hairstylist Darrell Redleaf decided to take a chance on making his dreams come true. While working locally in Scottsdale, Arizona, he learned that a movie being filmed in town by Paramount, titled Campus Man, was looking for a hairstylist. “I talked to the production manager, Jon Landau—who later worked on Titanic—and he hired me for my first movie as the key hairstylist,” explains Redleaf. “They liked me because I could do hair and was a local hire.”

This first step helped Redleaf to realize a life goal that he had established a long time ago, when he first watched a 1978 Faye Dunaway thriller, Eyes of Laura Mars. “It showed a whole photo session happening, and it was exciting! I knew that was what I wanted to do—work with stars on photo shoots,” says Redleaf.

A hairstylist and makeup artist since 1979, he was influenced by both his mother and sister, who also were hairstylists. The third youngest of nine siblings, he is a member of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nations—the three affiliated tribes of North Dakota. Born and raised on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation there, Redleaf’s parents moved to Phoenix when he was a child. “My parents saw that there was more out there in the world than existing on an Indian reservation,” he explains. “If it weren’t for them leaving, who knows where I would be right now?”

Redleaf belongs to a Native American movie industry organization called First Americans in the Arts, and recently was honored with a technical achievement award for his work. Because the organization encompasses the two peer groups that matter most to Redleaf—the entertainment industry and Native Americans—he finds great value in it.

As for the Hollywood game, Redleaf stresses that, although it is very important to have an agent, artists get jobs forthemselves. After he moved to Los Angeles in 1987, his career began gaining momentum when he was introduced to a fashion editor for L.A. Style magazine. She hired him repeatedly to do the hair and makeup for covers, working with various models and photographers. He continued to build his portfolio with covers and editorial layouts, and his career grew. “Slow and steady wins the race,” states Redleaf, using the following analogy to describe the process of becoming a working artist in Hollywood. “You go to the deli counter and you take your number. You hold onto the number, and eventually they will call it. Careers are not born overnight. It’s always a building process.”