Rossy de Palma has been a mesmerizing presence in the movies since her breakout turn, in 1988, as the nagging fiancé in Pedro Almódovar’s Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. With a striking visage and a nose for the ages, she's a Picasso beauty made flesh. Though best known as one of the quintessential Almodóvar chicas (8 movies and counting), de Palma has also modeled on the runway for Jean Paul Gaultier and Thierry Mugler, and in print advertising campaigns for Missoni and The Gap. Now 53, the fearless Spaniard, who was famously dismissed as “ugly and strange” by Spain’s leading newspaper at the start of her career, is hoping to inspire women at the beauty counter with the release of a namesake, limited edition line of MAC Cosmetics products. With names like Phenomenal Woman and Self Esteem, and twisted Technicolor packaging that riffs on de Palma’s fractured features, the 22 products in Surrealism-inflected collection are every bit as dazzling as their creator.
Like most women, do you have an ambivalent relationship to makeup?
Not at all, I love makeup! For me, makeup has so much to do with our history and background. Since the beginning of time, makeup has been in our lives in many different forms—from tribal rituals, camouflage, and even sacred ceremonies celebrating the mysteries of life.
And what do you think is the biggest mistake that most women make when it comes to makeup? Is it that they try to transform rather than enhance?
I don’t see it as a mistake if women want to use makeup to transform themselves. Like fashion, makeup is very personal. I think women should do whatever makes them happy and helps them feel connected to themselves. It doesn’t matter if anyone else likes it.
I recall your being backstage in the 1990s at a Gaultier show, I think, and you seemed very besotted in what the makeup artist was doing to you, almost like you were discovering makeup for the first time. How young were you when you actually started to play with makeup and what interested you about it?
Back in those days, I had the opportunity to meet and work with some of the most amazing makeup artists, like Stephan Marais and Tom Pecheux. They were and always will be great artists. [But] my first interaction with makeup was when I was very young, smelling my mother’s lipsticks and getting ready for my ballet recitals. When I was a teenager during “La Movida Madrileña” [the cultural revolution that took place in the Spanish capital in the '70s and '80s] my friends and I loved playing with different makeup colors and creating risky looks.
Who were your makeup influences during La Movida? Performers of the time like Nina Hagen and Alaska, or was it more Old Hollywood and Spanish movie icons?
My inspirations were from Divine and all of John Waters films!
I heard Pedro used to wear some hilarious makeup looks when he played in bands. Did he teach you any neat eyeshadow tricks?
Yes, he did! He did it for fun not to provoke.
What about the ladies of the night and drag performers of the time—did you pick up any tips from them?
I was one of them. I didn’t even need a tutorial on how to put on eyelashes.
What’s your favorite makeup look from any movie?
Debra Paget in The Indian Tomb directed by Fritz Lang or Cyd Charisse in The Band Wagon. I also loved Joan Crawford, especially in “Johnny Guitar”, Ava Gardner and, of course, Marlene Dietrich and Anna May Wong. I could go on and on…
What’s your favorite makeup look in one of your movies? The red lip in “Women on the Verge”?
Kika [a 1993 Almódovar comedy that is itself about a make-up artist] is an amazing film and makeup lesson. My character went through a great transformation throughout the movie. From wearing no makeup at the beginning to wearing a mustache with beautiful blue eye shadows and red lipstick at the end.
How bare did you feel in Julieta appearing in what was to all intents and purposes a bare face?
It was definitely different from what I am used to and they made me wear these awful white and brown long hairs to make my eyebrows look bushy! Honestly, it is good to abandon yourself like that for a character. It’s very liberating and definitely another type of mask to hide behind in a sense.
Why the decision to revolve your makeup launch around Surrealism? It seems divinely perverse, given that “compulsive beauty” is at the heart of the Surrealist project.
Salvador Dali, Elsa Schiaparelli and Pablo Picasso were of course all strong influences in my Surrealism inspirations but Dadaism inspired me so much too. The idea of constructing and deconstructing has always interested me a lot as well which inspired me to separately frame all of the parts of my face in golden frames, celebrating that our eyes see, our noses smell and our mouths move.
How did the MAC collaboration come about?
My first real powerful memory of MAC was back in 2000 when I was invited to a dinner in Paris to celebrate MAC Viva Glam with Mary J. Blige for the MAC AIDS Fund. It was love at first sight and ever since that moment I felt it was evident that we should collaborate together. It took us a little while but we are finally here.
If you could have had one conceptual piece in your MAC collection what would it have been?
I would love to have an animated mask of my face made, almost replicating a robot. Kind of like the Grace Jones head from Jean-Paul Goude.
Watch Another Almódovar Chica, Penelope Cruz, Recall Her First Audition