In most industries, getting your work noticed is the first step towards success. But for screen makeup artist Doniella Davy — who goes by Donni for short — the goal was for her hand to remain hidden.
“You know your work is good if it’s invisible,” Davy said over the phone. “(The makeup) should exist beautifully within the story and add to it in a way that you almost don’t even realize it’s there.”
Keen-eyed cinephiles may recognize moments of Davy’s handiwork in recent Oscar-winning films, such as the slick luminosity of Trevante Rhodes’ skin in the coming-of-age tale “Moonlight,”or KiKi Layne’s perfectly flushed cheeks in the emotional romantic film “If Beale Street Could Talk.” But it was her involvement in HBO’s complex teen drama “Euphoria” — starring Zendaya alongside then-newcomers Hunter Schafer, Alexa Demie and Barbie Ferreira — that catapulted Davy to beauty-industry fame for standout looks that were far from subtle.
When the show debuted in the summer of 2019, the mesmeric makeup in the first season captured the attention of Gen Z viewers in particular. The looks quickly spread across social media: winged eyeliner fashioned out of iridescent gem-stones, eyes ringed with neon orange kohl and ivory white eyeshadow hand-painted into miniature clouds.
Hunter Shafer plays Jules in “Euphoria,” one of the show’s most expressive characters in terms of on-screen makeup. Credit: Courtesy HBO
Few screen makeup artists have achieved the level of notoriety Davy has in her short career. In TV and film — unless specified by storylines — makeup is rarely bold and instead typically flies “under the radar,” according to Davy.
“We all secretly long for that recognition, for people to know and understand the amount of work and planning and thought and diligence that really does go with it,” Davy said. “So it’s been a really unexpected and really special thing to have my work in film and TV recognized.”
The low, colored lighting often used in “Euphoria” was a big consideration for Davy. In these scenes, she gravitated towards products with shimmery, reflective finishes like glitter or jewels. Credit: Courtesy HBO
‘There’s definitely pressure to do cool looks’
Fear isn’t high up in Davy’s vocabulary. Not long after graduating from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn with a degree in photography, Davy took a leap of faith and enrolled on a crash course in cinematic makeup. She built up her portfolio by answering ads on Craigslists, helping out with student films and low-budget projects.
“I had no anxiety about it at all,” she said. “It was a gut decision.”
But at the same time, Davy can’t help but feel somewhat daunted as the second season approaches. “It’s a little scary, because I do know people are expecting something.”
The iridescent face decals used on Shafer in season one went on to inspire Davy’s first foray into commercial makeup. Credit: Courtesy HBO
Is it a case of worrying about the sophomore album slump? “There’s definitely pressure to do cool looks….But there’s also that question of, well, how do I keep the conversation going with makeup?” Davy asked. “Because it doesn’t feel right to just go louder — more neon, more chunky gold or more rhinestones. That’s not necessarily the right direction.”
As with many teen dramas, the adolescent characters face high emotional stakes, from substance abuse and sex work to drug raids and run-ins with the police. And it’s integral, Davy insists, that the makeup follows the fault lines of each character’s often splintered journey.
“It’s a more grown-up ‘Euphoria,'” Davy said of the second season. “A lot of time has gone by. Everyone’s grown up a bit. We’re picking up in the same place, but the world has shifted a little bit. The ‘Euphoria’ world, just as our world has as well.”
Makeup was integral in demonstrating the story arc of Kat, played by Barbie Ferreira, in season one. Credit: Courtesy HBO
Despite having to keep mum, Davy says the makeup responds accordingly by pivoting to minimalism. “I feel like I’m continuously drawn to 1960s modern minimalism,” she said. “It’s really different.”
But loose time periods, quick sketches and abstract concepts are about as far as planning goes when it comes to Davy’s process, as she doesn’t receive scripts for the whole season, instead working non-chronologically on an episode-by-episode basis. Therefore, she relies on cast member’s intimate knowledge of who they are playing since she can’t predict their character arcs.
“It’s always a super collaborative process where it’s a conversation,” she explained. “I’ll say, ‘So the scene before this, your character has left the party and was crying. And this is where I’m feeling she’s at now. And this is the makeup I have in mind. How do you feel about it? Do you think your character would still be wearing eyeliner at this point? Or does that feel ridiculous?'”
The gemstoned eyeliner worn by Alexa Demie, who plays Maddie, was a viral sensation when the first season aired. Credit: Courtesy HBO
“I don’t think there’s any turning back for me at this point,” she said with a laugh. “It’s like the beast has been unleashed.”