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Las Cruces’ Pepper Gallegos turns ‘hobby’ into career in movie industry


With a degree in accounting, Pepper J. Gallegos started doing makeup as a hobby – working on the recently deceased in funeral homes to make them look more natural.
In the last 15 years, she has parlayed that “hobby” into a full-time career, becoming a highly respected and sought-after professional makeup artist in the movie industry.

"I have worked with Pepper on several films. She is a joy to be around and an absolute professional,” said New Mexico State University Creative Media Institute professor Ross Marks. “You can count on Pepper to not only do a great job in terms of makeup, but to elevate the work of her team and the entire crew. Her positive attitude and great work ethic are contagious. I look forward to working with her on many more projects."

A native of Hobbs who grew up in Silver City, Gallegos has lived in Las Cruces since 1991.

And, even though most of the movies she has worked on were produced in northern New Mexico, “I have lived in Las Cruces the whole time,” Gallegos said. It was a decision she made early on in her career to give her three children, now grown, a stable home.

“I had to make the sacrifice,” Gallegos said. “It has been a challenge.”

But there is “always a way to do something if you’re determined,” she said.

Gallegos has done makeup for actors in local productions and for commercials, television series and major motion pictures.

Among the most famous people to sit in her chair are Oscar winners Christian Bale and Tommy Lee Jones. Gallegos described Bale as “a very genuine person,” and said Jones was “very serious, kind. I was amazed by how talented he was.”

She has also done makeup for Linda Hamilton, whom she met while working on “Refuge,” a 2010 movie written and directed by the late Tony-winning playwright Mark Medoff.

 “I absolutely love her as a human being,” Gallegos said of Hamilton. “She has a genuine love of people.”

Working backstage on productions like “Transformers II,” “Stargate SGI,” and the pilot for “Breaking Bad,” Gallegos has also done makeup for Christopher McDonald, Thomas Jane, Jon Bernthal, Jason Momoa in “Stargate Atlantis” and many other actors.

Gallegos said Ben Browder (“Farscape”) is probably her favorite actor among all those she has worked on. “He’s a good ole Texas boy,” she said. And with her, he was the only American on a movie they worked on together in Vancouver, Canada.

But big names and famous faces don’t impress Gallegos.

“I don’t look at actors. I work on them,” she said. “I was a sculptor and a painter before. I just now do it on people.”

Gallegos is known in particular for her tattoo work, and she worked on many unusual makeup projects, including putting hair on a prosthetic device and creating many “fatal” wounds and “making up the bodies.”

“I’ve killed people left and right,” Gallegos joked.

For “Breaking Bad,” she had to make actor Aaron Paul look like he had been kicked in the face, she said.

No makeup request shocks Gallegos anymore, she said. “I did put a tampon up someone’s nose once. You do what they tell you.”

At the same time, Gallegos has refused to do anything that might put an actor in danger, including putting contact lenses in one actor’s eyes.

Makeup artists and other crew members are “the heart and soul of the movie industry,” she said. Professionals who do hair, makeup and wardrobe “transform people into the character. Without us, an actor and camera would be standing there not knowing what to do.”

"Pepper is a great ambassador for the film industry in New Mexico,” said state Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Doña Ana, who is president of the nonprofit Film Las Cruces board of directors. “Through her work on some of the biggest films and TV shows made in the state, she shows Las Crucens the potential we have to create these jobs here. Plus as a fellow redhead with a fun personality, you can’t help but like her. We're lucky to have Pepper’s leadership in Film Las Cruces."

"Pepper is one of those people who exudes positive energy no matter where she goes because she is truly passionate about her craft,” said New Mexico State University film teacher Rajeev “Raj” Nirmalakhandan. “She gets a thrill out of working with actors and creative professionals while paying meticulous attention to the artwork she creates on their bodies. Her talent and exuberance make her an ideal person to collaborate with. Having worked in the industry for many years, she is exceptionally knowledgeable about the business and craft of filmmaking, far beyond her niche. Last semester, she spoke in my class and she was one of the students’ most favorite speakers!"

Gallegos is also a writer. She has written a comedy series called “Flaming Straight Guy,” and filmed a teaser. Gallegos is now marketing the series.

Her advice to others who want to work in makeup or other aspects of filmmaking: “Follow your heart; whatever is calling to you – do it,” she said.

“Understand the work behind your job,” Gallegos said.

If you want to do makeup professionally, practice as much as you can, she said. “Do it on everybody. That’s how you learn and that’s how you keep learning. You just do it.”

Pepper Gallegos, makeup artist