Ever wanted to know what it’s like to work on the hair and make up for a movie? We asked Jenny Shircore, the British artist who won the Best Makeup Oscar for Elizabeth in 1998. Most recently she has worked on Mary Queen of Scots, which is available out on DVD and Blu-ray now, which also earned her a nod from the Academy. Keep reading to find out how she researches a new era and how long it took to transform Margot Robbie into Queen Elizabeth I…
What was your starting point in terms of research for this film?
Because of my work on Elizabeth, I was already very familiar with the era. Nevertheless, you never rely on old information. Because the costume designer Alexandra Byrne and I had both worked on Elizabeth we didn’t want to repeat ourselves, so we took a different approach and completely changed that Tudor look for Saoirse Ronan who played Mary. For this era you can mainly use paintings as your reference, so I studied the paintings from that time again. I started to see a lot more in the paintings that I could use in a stylistic way.
Did you introduce any more modern techniques or elements?
Alexandra put a modernist twist on her costumes. A lot of them were made of denim, they looked amazing. The whole costume look had a modern twist, so of course we went with that with the hair and make up. It’s not that it was modern hair, but a new take on it.
Margot Robbie goes through quite a drastic transformation – is this something you love working on?
Yes, that’s what makes it interesting. A day-to-day copy of something isn’t as interesting as following someone’s life through, keeping the script in mind and putting your own stamp on a very well-known character. Trying to transform the beautiful Margot Robbie to that iconic portrait of Elizabeth was nearly impossible. She still looked beautiful, even towards the end.
What was it like working with her on the transformation?
I had worked with her before, so I knew her going in which always helps. It was a lovely experience to go through the transformation with her because she was very open to it and corporative in every way. We had a lot of fun working it out. She has that confidence of a beautiful woman so it doesn’t matter how ugly you try to make her. She still has that confidence.
How much time went into the planning compared to what you do on the day?
What happens on the day is totally dependant on how much planning you’ve done before. The preparation is the actual job. We do lots of trial hair and make up tests and I work with assistants and wig makers – so there’s a lot of work in advance leading up to the big day. Or to three months of big days actually.
Which make up in the film took the longest to do on the day?
It was Margot’s smallpox look. One of the effects of smallpox is that you lose your hair, so to make it look like she’s got thinning hair you first put a bald cap on and then thinning wig on top. Then you put on the prosthetics for the smallpox and make them up. She was in the chair for up to three hours, but no longer than that. Other than that a look usually takes an hour and a half.
How closely do you work with the costume designer?
Normally what happens is that the costume designers start their process of working on a film way before the make up artists. So Alexandra Byrne already had loads of meetings with the director Josie Rourke before I even started. When I joined, the first meeting I had after Josie was with Alexandra. I would go over to the costume department and watched what they were doing and what headdresses they were making so we’d be in tune with what they were doing.
How did you get into make up in the first place?
After school I went to London College of Fashion where I studied hair and make up, but it was actually a lot more focussed on hair. Then I went to the BBC where I worked for about fifteen years. It was there that I learned the skills of the trade and at the BBC they train you to do a variety of different types of make up: beauty, prosthetics, effects, ageing. You learn them all and in time you perfect it. Nowadays people tend to specialise on specific areas.
Was it always the plan to end up working on films?
No it was a total accident! A friend of mine actually even talked me into doing London College of Fashion because I just wasn’t sure what to do. It all went from there, I went to TV and then films, it somehow just happened.
Mary Queen of Scots is available on DVD and Blu-ray now