What was your first production as a Make-up designer?
Claire: Having worked my way up from a Trainee position to Assistant and Supervisor for over ten years within the BBC, I was made redundant and started Designing low budget independent films and Promos. The first major BBC drama I designed was called ‘Stick or Twist’ in 2006, starring Mark Lewis Jones who has appeared in many programmes I have worked on since.
How did you start in this profession?
Claire: The requirements of the BBC meant you had to be twenty years old before applying for their Trainee scheme, so after studying for A Levels I went on to college to study Beauty Therapy and Hairdressing, then to the Greasepaint Academy in London to concentrate more on Wig making and Special Effects. I began building a portfolio of my work and did lots of unpaid photo shoots etc, to build confidence.
I was accepted onto the BBC Training scheme, and after 2 years as a trainee was given a permanent position.
You’ve provided make up for a great many actors/actresses from Who to Sherlock, Stella, Hinterland, Torchwood, etc what have been the highlights of your career so far?
Claire: I suppose the highlights of my career so far have been my Bafta Cymru win for ‘Sherlock’ Series 1 and a nomination for ‘Stella’ series 1. It’s amazing to have recognition within the industry and your work noticed and appreciated.
Both programmes are quite different in style. Sherlock is sleek and modern with the challenges of extreme macro lens shots on evidence etc. I love the fine detail of that especially in ‘A Study in Pink’.
Stella depicts life in the Welsh Valleys that’s full of warm colourful characters. With such a large cast it was important to give each one their own style, which involved everything from wigs and tans to false teeth!
‘Torchwood’ also won a Bafta Cymru Award for Series 1, so let’s hope we have success with ‘Hinterland’ and ‘Doctor Who.’.
How did you get involved in this business?
Claire: I have a birthmark on my face and at a young age, I think about ten years old, I was shown how to cover it with very thick make-up. I didn’t think it was very good! I started practising at home so I suppose that’s where my interest began, I soon realised how dramatically you could change the way someone looked just by using make-up.
I loved the film The Elephant Man and was fascinated with the prosthetics, and to my mother’s disgust always wanted to look at cuts and bruises and try to recreate them with things from the kitchen cupboard.
My favourite subjects at school were Art & Biology and although I was told arts and sciences don’t mix I was glad I was determined to carry on. I have often had to recreate skin conditions and diseases. I had a picture in my portfolio of something called Slap Cheek that I had to research and recreate when I had my interview for the Sherlock pilot, the Director recognised it straight away as her daughter had it and she said it looked exactly right! Fate...
If someone wants to get involved in this business, what advice do you have for them?
Claire: As well as having artistic flair and an interest in films and historical fashion it is important to have the right personality, you need to be friendly, hardworking, honest and extremely patient. People already working in the industry will often spend time training the right personality rather than employing someone qualified but difficult to work with. The working day and week is long, so you need positive energy around you to make the department a pleasant place for the actors.
Do your research before sending your CV. I’ve had some sent to me with credits for programmes I actually designed and those people certainly weren’t on the job! Be honest about your strengths and weaknesses, a good department requires many different talents.
Work as a makeup artist isn’t just about applying the lippy, can you explain in more detail about the job that you do?
Claire: Work as a Make-up Designer requires you to be extremely adaptable. Every job has different requirements as does each personality, you have to judge in minutes what mood an actor is in and if they want to sit quietly to learn lines or chat away their nerves.
In Drama a hair and make-up look is led by the script, it will be the starting point for discussions with Producers and Directors before you even have a cast. I put together ideas and a mood board, once the cast are confirmed I try and have a fitting day which enables me to test the look and make any adjustments; this is also a chance for the actor to add any ideas they have.
I love using wigs. Throughout Stella Series 1, Ruth Jones wore two wigs and the DOP couldn’t believe they weren’t her real hair.
Were you involved in the 50th Anniversary of Who and if so are there any memorable moments you can share with us?
Claire: I wasn’t involved in Doctor Who 50th Episode, I was filming Sherlock Series 3 at the time, but friends of mine were part of the Makeup Department, it was amazing to find that each character had two or three stand-ins and doubles in wigs and I didn’t notice them, did you?
Were you involved in Torchwood for all 4 Series?
Claire: I was Makeup Supervisor for Series 1 and 2 of ‘Torchwood’ and missed Series 3 as I was designing a drama called ‘Teulu’ for the Welsh Language Channel S4C. I was asked back as Designer for the UK shoot of ‘Miracle Day’ with the Starz network. As they were already shooting in the US I had to liaise with the America Hair and Make-up Department via many emails as there was direct continuity for us both to follow, scenes were filmed in the studio in America that had to cut directly with the cast walking through a door on to a cliff top overlooking the sea in Swansea! It was amazing shooting the driving chase scene along the beach. The American producers were outraged that the cast had been put in danger so close to the edge of the sea and a low flying helicopter, but it was our lovely stunt department in doubles wig, another wig success!
In the episode Something Borrowed did you do the make-up on John Barrowman’s face for the Nostrovite? (For some strange reason he reminded me of Travolta in that scene)
Claire: Whilst shooting ‘Something Borrowed’ we had a second film unit shooting another episode, as Makeup Supervisor I needed to oversee that unit, and being John’s make-up artist I was with him as much as possible, the Nostrovite make-up was collaboration with Millennium FX.
Prior to working as a Make Up designer what other jobs have you had?
Claire: After leaving college I needed to save money to go to London to further my studies in Wig making and Special Effects, so I worked as a Beauty Therapist that was part of a Hairdressing Salon which was great because I could stay behind on their training nights and also do the make up for their models which was good to build up my portfolio. Along with that I sold Advertising space for a local newspaper. I’ve also worked on the check out at a local supermarket while I was doing my A Levels that was a great way of people watching.
How do you relax after a busy week?
Claire: After a busy week comes a busy weekend, with 3 children there’s never much down time. I have a daughter in University, a son studying A Levels and an eight year old obsessed with rugby. Saturday’s are spent eating out and going to the cinema which we all love to do. Sundays are spent cheering on the Under 8’s Rugby team with our dog Fitch who’s become a bit of a mascot.
The various productions you’ve worked on over the years, meeting up with many cast members who have moved from one production to another that you’ve worked on, it must be like meeting old friends do you ever socialise afterwards with them, or is it just work, and you have to separate them?
Claire: It’s always great to see a familiar face when you start a new job, Maxine Evans and Owen Teale were in the Countrycide episode of Torchwood and were then main cast members in ‘Stella’, sadly for Maxine, neither of them glamorous roles, in Stella she needed a lot of breaking down, roots painted into her hair, rotten teeth, the works, it proved to be a big job as Maxine is so glamorous in real life! I had worked with Ruth Jones on both ‘Gavin and Stacey’ and ‘Stella’. The lovely Kai I’ve worked with many times and John & Eve also crossed over into ‘Doctor Who.’
We do find times to socialise, there are often cast and crew nights out and wrap parties. John threw a party at his Welsh home and invited the crew, we had butlers in the buff and Karaoke, I came joint first with one of the sparks! We all jumped in his pool fully clothed and ended up going home in John’s t-shirt and pyjama bottoms! My husband and I were also invited to John and Scott’s wedding. I arrived early to give them and their Mums a bit of help with hair and make-up.
Have there been any funny moments during set up of a production that you can share with us?
Claire: There’s usually good humour on set, it keeps morale up during the long hours. John was always up to something, most of it rude. We did have a group photo back in the day of the Polaroid. As we watched the photo develop we realised we’d been photo bombed, John had got his willy out!
Some characters can take a while to make up, what has been the longest and who was that with, production and actor, especially if they’re playing a zombie character or pretty gory make up is required, or they’re an alien!?
Claire: Years ago Kai and I worked together on a period drama, his character had been in an explosion in a mine, I gave him all over burns right through into the hairline and he wore special effect contacts to look like cataracts, it took a couple of hours and he was so lovely and patient, it was quite uncomfortable for him but he didn’t complain at all.
There’s often a cross over with the prosthetics department especially in Doctor Who. When Matt Smith was aged 900 years, Neil (Gorton of Millennium FX) took about 4 hours for prosthetics then an hour or so with me afterwards for the wig and finishing touches.
Simon Callow appeared as Charles Dickens in Series 1 of Doctor Who, he would normally take about an hour for wig, moustache and beard. He was very charming but quite a fidget in the chair, so I managed to get him in and out in about 30 minutes in the end. We had lots of zombies in that episode too, they took about an hour each and Davy Jones the Make-up Designer and I held a make-up master class to show our daily artists what to do.
What was the last movie you saw?
Claire: I am a member of Bafta and get all the films that are eligible for voting for the Bafta Awards. It’s very time consuming as you can imagine and difficult to get through them all when I am filming but I do my best. Two films that I really enjoyed for different reasons were ’12 Years A Slave’ an incredibly powerful and moving film and ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ which was an amazing achievement for the Make-up Designer Robin Matthews and her team, on a ridiculously low budget for the effects of the different stages of Aids was incredible, combining detailed brush work and using knowledge of anatomy to highlight and shade giving the appearance of weight gain or loss was brilliant. It’s a perfect example of painting and science coming together.
What’s the most gruesome make up you’ve ever had to put on a person and what was the production?
Claire: I’ve had many gruesome make-ups to do, often involving murder victims or dead bodies. The research I think is the hardest part, when you search the internet these days so many graphic images come up, luckily my best friend Sue works in A&E so I often ask her advice. We did film some Sherlock scenes in the mortuary of the Hospital where she works. It’s such an eerie feeling being there and as a crew we are always very respectful.
One make-up I created on Torchwood made the crew gasp, which I was very pleased about! James Marsters’ character was going to remove a bomb from his wrist strap that was implanted into his skin, it was a full prosthetic scheduled towards the end of the shoot, for some reason there was a schedule change and we were asked to shoot the scene that afternoon, the prosthetic wasn’t ready and was in London! The production asked could we offer something up. While they moved cameras and location I took James back to the make-up truck. I created a burn effect and covered it with wound filler and wet blood, smoothed on some direct applied skin silicone and as it was about to set pushed the wrist strap into it, then applied more silicone around the edges and blended in the skin colour and texture. We arrived on set and they rehearsed the scene to the point of ripping it off, when everyone was ready for a take I held my breath, he ripped it off revealing raw flesh and blood underneath, the crew’s reaction was great, so I think the whole production was very pleased.
On a lot of the panels that John and Eve have talked on they always have some very funny stories about their time on set, do you have any funny moments that you can share with us about your time with the Torchwood team, something that maybe doesn’t involve certain parts of John’s anatomy getting in on the show?
Claire: We had many good times on and off set; when we were filming ‘Countrycide’ it was close to the village where Eve grew up. The crew were dotted around in B&B’s and the cast were staying in a nearby Country House Hotel, where I got married as it happens. Eve wanted to take everyone to a pub for food and drinks. We had a lovely night but I was aware of the early calls next morning, I headed out the door to my taxi when a coat was thrown over my head and I was bundled into the back of a car! There was lots of giggling so I could tell who it was.....John, Eve, Burn & Naoko. I was driven to the cast hotel and forced to carry on socialising!!!!! Needless to say there were a lot of sore heads the next day!
You’re working on the new set of Who with Peter Capaldi, but you’ve worked with Matt Smith and the cast, how many Doctor’s have you worked with and are there any fun moments during that time that you can share with us?
Claire: I am incredibly fortunate to have worked with Chris Eccleston, David Tennant, Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi. They are all very different personalities but the common thing between them is their absolute passion for the character and the respect they have for the fans.
Whenever I watch the behind the scenes on Doctor Who Confidential I always imagine everyone to be like this really big family, everyone seems to get along with each other, is that what it feels like to you when you’re working?
Claire: Designing productions of this scale is a challenge, and often can be very demanding. As soon as we prep and research an episode and get up and running, I have to quickly move on to following episodes, leaving my team to carry on with filming. It’s so important to me that they understand my funny ways and attention to detail.
We have worked together for many years now and it’s a wonderful, warm caring department, so I have to give a final thank you to Amy Riley, Emma Cowen, Anne Marie Williams and Sarah Astley-Hughes for their amazing support.
Thank you for an awesome interview and an insight into your work. In the words of the Ninth Doctor – Fantastic!
Photos courtesy of Claire Pritchard-Jones
©BBC Torchwood 2006