RuPaul’s Makeup Artist on Filming ‘Drag Race’ Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic
David Petruschin is better known to “RuPaul’s Drag Race” fans as Raven. The fan favorite competed in both Season 2 and “All Stars” Season 1, and has been working as RuPaul’s makeup artist since 2017.
In 2020, Petruschin worked under truly unique conditions when he went back to work both the U.S. and U.K. iterations of the “Drag Race” franchise amid the COVID-19 pandemic, with new safety protocols in place.
Here, Petruschin talks with Variety about changes to the “Drag Race” set and his job under those protocols, as well as previews some looks for Season 13 and reveals his favorite products getting him through quarantine.
2020 was an unprecedented year and “RuPaul’s Drag Race” was shut down due to the pandemic in March. How did you feel when you heard the show was resuming production in July?
I honestly started jumping for joy, and I was excited. I was just happy that we were going to work because I’d been sitting at home for three or four months doing nothing. I had spent my days working on my tan, watching plenty of documentaries, and I was still making content for WOW Presents. So, when I got that call, I was excited to get out there and do what we loved. I knew there was no way that they were going to do this unless they knew we could do it safely. I knew that they weren’t going to cut any corners or do anything that would put anyone at harm.
What changed for you as far as being Ru’s personal makeup artist? How did your typical day on set differ from before the pandemic to being on-set with new COVID safety protocols?
Pre-pandemic, we’d show up on set and everyone had the run of the sound stages. If you needed to go from Stage 1 to Stage 3, you could do that. And, everyone is friends with everyone on the show. When we came back, we were sent strict protocols. We were broken down into three groups: A, B and C. If you were on this set or that group, then you could not go over to certain sets. The only people who had free reign were Ru and me. If he had to go to one stage, I’d go with him. Even with the producers, they had their own separate trailers and I never saw them. Everything was done through an iPad or a monitor. It was weird going to set and only seeing five people a day.
We were tested three times a week, and there was testing with rapid turnaround. If you tested positive or inconclusive you were not allowed on set, and they were very strict with that.
Since I lived an hour away, I lived in a hotel during production because if something happened to me, it would be hard for Ru to get ready, and if something happens to a crew member, they have to shut everything down, so it was a domino effect.
Once “Drag Race” U.S. had wrapped, you went to the U.K to finish Season 2, right?
We had one week to pack and go back to film the second half of the show. We [normally] take several different shoes and jewelry. This time we went through the looks and decided beforehand because we wanted to keep it compact and lightweight.
Again, once we arrived, we went to our apartments, quarantined, and when we started production, it was all about testing, testing and more testing. We were prepared because we had been doing it all summer. We did the math and over the course of filming, we took something like 35 tests in total.
How else did set-life change for you?
It was quiet because fewer people are congregating. There are things you miss: you don’t get to bump into people every day. I got prepped on how to put together Ru’s microphone pack and learned how to turn it on and off. I learned where to put it and how to do it all the time because I was pretty much the only person allowed to touch Ru because I have to touch Ru.
When the hair comes in, it’s styled in another room and Ru puts it on and takes care of it. I had to take even more precautions and learn things like that microphone that I hadn’t done before.
What can you tease about Season 13, and some looks you created with Ru?
They are going be show-stopping and he is absolutely beautiful in each one of them.
There’s always going to be that RuPaul silhouette of a beautiful gown and buxom blonde hair with a smoky eye and a beautiful lip, but we don’t try to veer too far away from the formula of what makes RuPaul. But he’s been showing a lot of leg lately, so I said, “You’ve still got them.”
I pulled out some of the Anastasia Beverly Hills liquid lipsticks, which are our favorite products. He can wear those all day, and they do not move. He can have lunch and still go back, and it looks like we just put it on him. There’s a dark blue lip that almost looked black. I jokingly said, “Let’s do this one.” He looked at it for a second and agreed. I said, “Are you serious?” But he wore it. He’s having a lot of fun, and that’s one thing people don’t get to see: all that fun and joking we have. We have a great time on set.
How did the looks differ between “Drag Race” and “Drag Race UK”?
I’m always trying to think, “hat did we do last time that I can do differently this time?” I don’t want to repeat myself, but there are certain faces where Ru will say, “Let’s do the Ru face.” You know he’s named them! He has a certain face that he likes to do. I try to keep that stamp of like the Ru face. With makeup, Ru wants to feel beautiful and wants to look beautiful. We start very early and we take our time getting ready and then we go from there. There are some looks that we used in the US where we pulled from his talk show archive, so that’s exciting.
But when we go to the U.K., the U.K. drag scene is so much more outrageous there. It’s a little more cheeky. It’s a little more “OK well this is what I’ve got, this is what you’re gonna get.”
What are some products you can’t live without during quarantine?
Anastasia Beverly Hills liquid lip gloss [and] Mally Evercolor Poreless Face Defender.
“RuPaul’s Drag Race” Season 13 will premiere on Jan. 1 at 8 p.m. on VH1.