Native American Makeup Artist Becomes Hollywood Standout

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.”

According to Redleaf, it often takes an A-list actor to make a makeup artist/hairstylist’s career. His arrived in the beautiful and talented package of actress Helen Hunt, who he met in 1991, right before her television hit, Mad About You, debuted. After they became friends, Hunt asked if he wanted to participate in the series, as well as many of her box-office smashes that followed, including Twister and As Good As It Gets. “She really put me on the map,” he says. “I really owe it to her.”

Redleaf works with a variety of celebrity clients who come and go. “Nothing ever is constant except that flow,” he says. “Every project is different, with a different vibe and energy. You do have your favorites because they are cool, they fly you all over the place and let you stay in five-star hotels,” Redleaf laughs

This multitalented artist recently added another title to his ever-expanding résumé: photographer. A journalism major in college, Redleaf recently shot a six-page pictorial on actress Lucy Lawless for OK! magazine. “Now I can look at the whole picture, orchestrate it and work with artists to create the whole image,” he says. “That is the most fun—to take a person and bring out the best that they can be.”

Redleaf takes his job seriously and wants to position himself as a person who really tells the truth about beauty. “I feel like the media and these makeover shows are saying that you aren’t good enough. Beauty has taken a very weird curve. We’ve got to get back to finding our balance within and changing the things you can change, in moderation,” he asserts.

According to Redleaf, “At the end of the day, it’s makeup and hairstyling, and it all washes off. Be comfortable in your own skin, and be proud of who you are.” Redleaf continues to follow a path of wellness and wholeness. He believes in being the healthiest you can be. “Follow your bliss. Follow your dream,” he advises. “We are all coming from somewhere, and we are all going somewhere.”

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