McKenzie Westmore was the host Face Off until it was unceremoniously cancelled by Syfy, but she’s still on TV, including the first day of the new year, when she’ll be the celebrity representative for a breed of dog on the American Kennel Club’s annual dog show.
In a candid interview, besides discussing her greyhounds, McKenzie talked about everything from Face Off’s cancellation to an injury that affected her hosting. She also revealed why she didn’t speak to her now-husband Patrick Tatopoulos for the entire first season of Face Off.
McKenzie is one of several celebrity representatives, including Mario Lopez and Shawn Johnson, who will represent dog breeds during the AKC National Championship Presented by Royal Canin (Animal Planet, Jan. 1 from 6 to 10 p.m.).
As an “animal-lover overall,” when she got a call to participate in the dog show, as the “representative of the hound division,” McKenzie said it was “a great fit.”
It was also an impetus to finally adopt a greyhound. “I’ve always been a lover of greyhounds” and “was going to adopt a greyhound a long time ago—four years ago now—and didn’t because I was having to fly, going to set,” she told me.
Instead, “I got an Italian greyhound, a smaller version of it—it’s a 10-pound version,” but “I’ve never taken her on a plane. I took her to work once, and she barfed the whole time in my dressing room.”
“This came along, it was perfect timing to push everything through. I felt like it was God’s way of saying, Time to get off your butt! You’ve been talking about this for years now,” she added.
Besides the Italian greyhound, she and her family also own a cat, and to find her new dog, went through a greyhound adoption center in San Diego to make sure they found a dog that’d fit. “They really are diligent about the process,” McKenzie said.
With Florida voters (including me) voting to end greyhound racing, there will soon be “8,000 greyhounds that will be up for adoption with the tracks closing,” McKenzie said, though she added that “racing is still happening all over the world.”
During the dog competition, McKenzie said, “I am #TeamHound, so when you watch the show on Jan. 1, you’ll see that there’s a representative for each group.” Viewers can use the celebrities’ team hashtags to share photos of their dogs, or talk about which dogs they’d like to win.
The show was filmed mid-December, and “I feel so lucky that they called and this worked out. The timing was great with Face Off being over,” McKenzie said.
But Face Off itself had a disappointing ending.
How Face Off learned about its cancellation
Although Face Off wasn’t officially cancelled until after its 13th season filmed, McKenzie told me that “we kind of saw the writing on the wall last year.”
The last three seasons—11, 12, and 13—were filmed “back to back, and when we got to filming the last one, there was no real talk,” McKenzie said. “Even when I give my shout-out at the end of the show, See you next year or See you next season! I didn’t say that.”
That was a “red flag.”
When the end finally came, there never was even a call or an e-mail message: just a story online, planted by Syfy, that was about season 13’s premiere, but also mentioned that season 13 was the last.
“We never were told, we didn’t know anything about it until the executives read an article online that it’d been cancelled,” McKenzie said.
Since that article also announced the premiere of season 13, it was a simultaneous “good news/knife in the heart,” she added.
“It was tough. All good things do come to an end. And who knows? Maybe Syfy will one day say, You know what? Let’s bring it back. Anything can happen; I do believe in miracles, and I believe anything can happen,” she said.
She’s still very appreciative for that experience.
“It had a great run. I had 13 seasons, eight years,” McKenzie said. “I met my husband on that show. My sons grew up on that set. I made some of my best friends on the crew on that show. I got to work with my dad, which had never happened before. There were a lot of blessings that came out of that show that I’m very grateful for.”
Face Off’s many ‘blessings’
McKenzie started her 10 years as an actor on the long-running soap opera Passions in her early 20s, when, she said, “you really don’t get to learn who you are.”
In 2011, “when Face Off came along, all of the sudden it was like, Wait a second, I’m McKenzie Westmore? Who is that? Who am I? So it was a really interesting learning process of who am I. That was a blessing to being with—just for myself personally, mentally, to really get to explore: How would I deliver this? How am I going to do this? How do I work now as McKenzie Westmore, not as Sheridan Crane? Nothing against Sheridan Crane or Passions—that was another blessing in my life.”
McKenzie eventually married Face Off season one and two judge Patrick Tatopoulos, but their relationship didn’t start well.
“There were some mishaps,” she said, referring to the very beginning of season one. “He didn’t show up to set the day he was supposed to. And I wasn’t told the full story of what happened. I thought it was just that he didn’t want to show up, and so I thought, Okay, this guy has a massive attitude, and I didn’t like him. And so I never really talked to him because of that.”
As she learned during production of the second season, there was a good reason why he didn’t show up that first day: “He hadn’t signed his contract, and he was told not to go to set. But I didn’t know any of this.”
Once she was able to “find out the truth of what happened” and talked to him, McKenzie said she found him to be “this amazing man who was super-sweet, very soft-spoken, very kind and generous. As time went on, we both got to know to each other. … That was the beginning of us.”
“Ironically,” McKenzie added, “we had some weird interactions through our past,” including briefly meeting each other at a party that her parents took her to when she was 17.
Meanwhile, her dad, Michael Westmore, who did makeup on Star Trek: The Next Generation (and future Star Trek shows), won an Emmy for an alien he designed. Its construction was outsourced, and McKenzie said, “He never really knew who created that alien who came out of the stomach—it was someone who was new and in the back of the lab. Well, come to find out, it was Patrick.”
McKenzie laughed that this has now become a running joke in her family: “My dad always says, You got my daughter and your green card, and Patrick says, You got your Emmy from me.”
Michael Westmore’s work on Star Trek: The Next Generation didn’t offer a lot of time for her to connect with her father.
“My dad traveled so much when I was a child because he was always off on movies. He took Star trek so he could be home,” she said, but it was still “80 hours a week he’d work on Star Trek. I still didn’t see him a whole a heck of a lot. I saw him on weekends,” she said.
It was another television show that’d bring them closer together: Face Off.
“Getting to do Face Off was yet another blessing because I got to know my dad,” McKenzie told me. “I really got to have that time with him. Sometimes we’d drive in together, we’d carpool. So I really got to know my dad on a much different, deeper level—greater understanding and greater appreciation.”
How McKenzie’s injury affected her work
Michael Westmore was Face Off‘s mentor, and in early seasons, McKenzie joined him as he walked through the workroom, learning about the contestants’ designs and giving feedback.
That stopped in later seasons, and there was a good reason: “I’d thrown two discs in my back. It was getting to the point where I got up one day and couldn’t walk,” McKenzie told me.
Doctors first thought it involved her quadriceps, and treated that, but when she went in to get an MRI on her leg, her doctor decided at the last minute that they should also do an MRI on her spine—just in case.
That was a good idea. Her injury, they discovered, “had nothing to do my leg. The two discs were so blown out that I couldn’t function. I couldn’t walk; I could barely stand up,” she said. “There was talk of having spinal surgery, but I was able to go a more natural path and heal my spine—and knock on wood, I’ve been good!”
That is “why we had to stop a lot of the walk-throughs, because it was very hard for me to be in those heels on that cement floor, and to stand. It was cut down to five minutes, but we would be in that walk-through for at least over an hour.”
And it’s also “why you also saw me in a chair for the judges’ deliberation the last several seasons,” she added.
What we see on TV has been heavily condensed, so there was a lot more standing required. “Those days of being on that stage altogether could be eight-hour days,” McKenzie said. “That was getting tough standing there in 5-inch stilettos for eight hours. I would always try to.”
Producers eventually figured out that she didn’t have to always be standing there, either. “When the judges would go for the up-close walk, they would send me off stage, because I was really just in the background, and they were able to figure out camera angles to shoot around them,” she said.
But that didn’t mean McKenzie left to go hang out in her trailer.
“I would sit back there” and “I’d watch the walk-through, because I wanted to see what the judges were seeing. Sometimes I would even go up off-camera and look up close just to get my own visual, and my dad would even show sometimes on those days so he and I could go look together,” she added.
Hosting a reality show for 13 seasons
After season four, I wrote that Face Off needed to “Free McKenzie,” who was often reduced on-screen to saying the same rote lines again and again, despite moments that revealed she was capable of so much more as a reality show host.
I asked her what that was like. “It’s tedious,” she laughed.
However, she said that the part where she actually had to eliminate contestants “never got old. I always tried to make sure that I delivered that line to them with the sense that my heart’s breaking, but know that there’s light at the end of the tunnel, there’s life after this show.”
“When we had to do retakes of it, that’s what would get a little tedious. That’s when we’d start to have fun, and we’d make little jokes: Get off my stage!” That was “just the director and I goofing around,” she said, as the contestants left before retakes began.
Perhaps one day we’ll see the outtakes from those moments. McKenzie described one: “There was one time when I just gave a delivery—just to do the director—I went off, and everyone went silent. It was not totally PG,” she laughed.
As to her role as host, it didn’t open up much until the end. “There definitely is a wicked side to me that I never got to express,” she said, but in “season 13, I did get to play characters. I loved that I got to create.”
In episode four, “Haunted Hotel,” she introduced the challenge in character, and said that as she “created the character of Penelope … I kind of studied Johnny Depp from Alice in Wonderland.”
Unlike other parts of the show, none of her lines were scripted.
“That entire setup was all improvised—the entire thing of calling the contestants out,” McKenzie told me. “The only thing I needed to know was the specifics and the rules of what that challenge was, but as far as the contestants, I’m a dead bellhop, so I called them up by characteristics about themselves.”
“It became a very fun challenge to do, and I loved that they let me have more free rein in 13,” she added. “And if it were to ever come back, I hope that they would give me more free rein.”
For now, though, she has other things: she’s selling a cosmetics line, Westmore Beauty, including on QVC Jan. 17, and is also playing a character on season four of The Bay, which will be on Amazon Prime. And, of course, she and her greyhound will be on Animal Planet Tuesday night.