John Di Domenico walks in the dressing room at Fox Five Studios a little past seven a.m. on a fall Friday, running on three hours sleep. He is anxious that the attendant from downstairs hasn’t yet brought up his suitcase which American Airlines tagged as “heavy” and included instructions on how to lift: bend at the knees. It’s packed with his makeup kit, a presidential suit costume and a $4,000 handmade wig sewn from human hair, all essential for impersonating Donald Trump. Fifty-four-year-old Di Domenico explains to the producer that he needs “his usual hour” to transform before the mock debate airs on “Good Day New York,” not mentioning he can do it in half that time. Holly Faris, the actress impersonating Hillary Clinton this morning, jokes he is being a “primaDonald.”
“Last time they walked in early and said, ‘You’re on,’” Di Domenico explains. “I said, ‘Ah! Ah!’” grabbing the sides of his face in mock horror.
Growing up in Philadelphia as the son of a steel worker with a ninth grade education, Di Domenico looked up to Trump as a young man and likens him to a “modern-day Rockefeller.” His first wife bought him Art of the Deal when it came out, and in 2004 he decided to add Trump to his cast of characters. He tries to keep his own political beliefs private, but admits, “it’s getting tougher” as the election progresses.
“I do admire him. I admire anybody who has such a big, defined personality,” says Di Domenico, clarifying that “they may be flawed people and you don’t want them running for the presidency necessarily, but they make great people to impersonate.”
Since Trump accepted the Republican presidential nomination, the demand for Di Domenico’s impersonations has skyrocketed. He has appeared on Fox News Channel’s “Redeye” 21 times, Conan O’Brien twelve times and became the voice for Slate.com’s “Trumpcast.” Since the convention, he hasn’t spent more than 36 hours at his home in Las Vegas, just long enough to throw in a load of laundry, catch up on emails and book his next flight out.
“In the beginning I said, ‘Listen, just put your head down and keep going until this election is over because you aren’t going to have this opportunity again. So forget dating, forget your social life and just do this,’” says Joanne O’Brien, an actress he’s known since high school.
The touch-and-go schedule has made life chaotic; he has had to forgo his morning yoga and meditation routine and misses out on drinks with friends. He can’t fathom dating right now, and after so much airplane travel, he contracted a nasty head cold two weeks before the election – but he says it’s all worth it.
“To get a break like this, to be on Conan O’Brien. Are you kidding me? I would never get there,” says Di Domenico, referring to his usual gigs, which include impersonating the likes of Guy Fieri and Larry King for corporate events and trade shows.
Di Domenico wasn’t planning on returning to New York in the weeks before the election, but Fox reached out directly about recording a fake “fourth debate” with “Good Day” hosts Greg Kelly and Rosanna Scotto. He jumped at the chance. Though he appeared on Fox for free, because of the publicity and networking opportunities, he charges clients $3,500 for a meet-and-greet and up to $15,000 for corporate events.
The missing suitcase rolls into the dressing room an hour before show time. Di Domenico hastily parks and unloads his Trump suit and wig. He pastes two magazine clippings of Trump to the mirror and snaps open a toolbox full of makeup. He moves quickly. In a matter of seconds, he places the wig atop his hairless head and begins securing a sideburn with glue.
He sponges a light cream concealer around his eyes and rims his lids and brows in white liner, which happen to be wispy and naturally blond like Trump’s. With a brown pencil, he etches furrow lines, bags below his eyes and crow’s feet. He contours his nose with highlighter to thin and lengthen the bridge, and swipes on skin-toned lipstick. Finally, he brushes his face with a carrot-colored powder.
“It would be nice if I could get some sleep,” he says and sighs. “I guess that will happen after the election.”
A producer named Jessica walks in with two assistants trailing behind her, wanting to go over the scripts. Both Faris and Di Domenico are to give an opening speech, and at five a.m. Di Domenico was told to cut his. The three convene in the sitting area and Jessica explains each will be asked two or three questions such as, “What makes you qualified to be president?”
“Everything. My hair. My looks,” answers Di Domenico, circling his hands and shimming, while imitating Trump’s whine, puckered lips and narrowly squinted eyes. Nowadays Di Domenico can so easily slide in and out of character that his brother remarked, “John, you’re sounding like Trump all the time.”
“It’s going to be absolutely fantastic,” Di Domenico finishes, with liberal hand flapping and a-okay signs.
For the next half hour, the room livens with tour groups and other television guests. Jessica leads Faris and Di Domenico to the screening room and positions them in front of makeshift podiums for the segment.
“The press is terrible. Terrible people,” Di Domenico proclaims to the cameras and pouts. He finishes his opening statement, and someone from a tour group says, “Fantastic.”
Back in the dressing room, producers and stage hands flow in and out to praise Di Domenico, shake his hand and and pose for photos. He hands out business cards.
Almost as quickly, the room clears out to tend to guest Rumor Willis, whose echoes of Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good” puncture the room. The atmosphere quiets and a subtle sadness fills the air, like coming down from a high. Di Domenico is left to slowly collect his belongings and change back into his jeans. He checks his phone and happily shares that some friends have seen his bit on television.
He asks a producer still lingering whether the network’s photographer will come take an official photo. She leaves to inquire and never comes back.
“At the end of the show, it empties out and you can’t find anyone. They’re on to the next thing,” explains Di Domenico, who sits to relax and eat a banana. The comment seems to reflect his dwindling time in the Trump spotlight.
“Once the elections are over, I’ll go back to total anonymity,” he says. “No one will give a shit who I am.”