January 17th, 2017
Nadia Stacey is a name to watch. With its eclectic mix of TV and film, her CV hints at her art and theatre background, and she’s certainly cut her teeth with stints on Potter and Downton. Yet it was her breakthrough role as Make-up and Hair Designer on the quintessentially British movie, Pride, in 2014 that heralded her shift to the big league, followed by BATFA-nominated Girl with all the Gifts. Warpaint caught up with her as she was working on Krypton, the Superman prequel.
WP: What brought you into make-up?
NS: I grew up moving around as my dad bought and sold property and always got me helping with the interior design. My school years were spent in Nottingham. My dad is very artistic and musical so a lot of influence from him. I grew up painting, drawing, playing and listening to music so my background is very arts based. I had a passion for film from early on so I use a lot of my musical and film knowledge when prepping or creating characters. I find it really helps for period jobs to understand the era.
Everybody, including myself, thought I would go to drama school and train to be an actress; I was always involved in school plays so I guess I thought that would be my career, but in absolute truth we couldn’t afford for me to go to drama school, so I had to get a job in a private art college instead.
I don’t think I ever had a set plan for what I wanted to be; I knew it was something artistic, but I was never sure what, so I went through every job going. I got a job as a personnel assistant at The National Theatre in the daytime and a dresser for ballet at the Royal Opera House in the evening just to get me to London and the minute I saw one of the shows I was in love. I knew I was in the right career and after I did my training I bugged the wig mistress until she let me work on some of the shows, after that it all started falling into place with film and TV work.
WP: Where did you train and who was your biggest influence?
NS: I found out about a course affiliated with Yorkshire TV and heard it was really hard to get onto. That was like a red rag to a bull for me so I interviewed and got a place. As I’m not very girly, I’d never considered make-up as a career, but I am a huge film fan and very artistic and, as soon as I started the course, I realised this was the perfect medium to mix the two. The course gave lots of opportunities to be on lots of TV sets, so you can learn about the process and set etiquette as well as the skills of make-up. My first film job was with my biggest influence in the makeup world to date Lisa Westcott (Les Miserables Oscar winner). I am in absolute awe of her. Her work is superb, yet totally believable and character based.
WP: You’ve earned your stripes on a mixture of film and TV – do you have a preference?
NS: I used to say Film and I suppose my heart is more there, but television has changed so much that the freedom to be creative has expanded a lot over the last few years. I like having a film script that you can design beginning, middle and end right from prep; you’re not waiting for the next episode to be written.
WP: In The Girl with All the Gifts you design make-up, hair and prosthetics. What were your challenges in this movie?
NS: It was full of challenges, mainly because of the budget. Warner Brothers distributed the film, but they weren’t on board when we were shooting. It is a low budget film, but now it looks a lot more. The thing with this genre is that prosthetics feature heavily and we just didn’t have the money to source out like I normally would, so everything had to be done in house with a small team.
WP: It’s set in a post-apocalyptic world, what were your points of reference for it?
NS: Well it’s adapted from a book and that is full of detail to draw from. The production designer was very helpful in sharing his vision for the world we needed to create. I had lots of meetings with the director and creative team to discuss which way to go as it’s a world none of us have ever seen so we had to all be on the same page.
WP: There’s a supporting cast of zombie characters with plenty of prosthetics – how did you create the looks and how big was your team for this?
NS: Because the fungus that takes over their world is natural, I looked at how that happens in real life. My biggest reference was Jason deCaires Taylor’s underwater sculptures in Mexico – I looked at how algae attaches itself to the statues and tried to recreate that in our prosthetics. We made the prosthetics ourselves and they were sculpted over bark, cauliflower, leaves, all of them natural sources. These were added to any visible skin to look like it was growing on them. The Hungries should not look like classic zombies, it’s a very different look. They roam the land so they are very dirty, broken down. As the budget was so low, I had to think of old school techniques to use and made lots of the skin effects with latex and tissue. We had days of 200+ so to get them ready was a lot of hard work and early starts. I had a team of five and then daily help, but again, because of the budget, the help was trainees and work experience from local make-up school – although IMDB would look like I had a team of about 20!
WP: And Glenn Close too – did she have input into her character’s look?
NS: Glenn was very involved in her look to a point that she grabbed the scissors and cut chunks of her own hair! The main cast should look like they have lived in the base for years and so haircuts would be practical and home done, nothing too styled. Glenn was very happy to go with a limited amount of make-up and very short uneven hair.
WP: You’ve just come off Krypton which has a lot of visual effects, which is a departure for you. Did you have to adjust your approach and what are the challenges this brings?
NS: Krypton was a very different beast for me because, although it is a story about Superman’s grandfather, we were creating a brand new world – a world where the food is different to ours, it doesn’t rain, cuts and bruises heal differently and in a much faster time scale. You couldn’t rely on what you already know, lots of thinking outside the box. There is a huge amount of visual effects, but at the forefront are groups of people – Guilds that all have a very unique and distinctive look. It was an incredible experience because I had free rein to be creative.
WP: What products do you take with you regardless of the job?
NS: Oh, my kit is ridiculous, I need to condense it. I always take too much because you just never know what is going to get asked if you and I love being able to solve things on the spot. I love my Illustrator palettes, you can create so much with them. MAC’s small concealer, eye and lip palettes – so easy to pop in your kit bag, yet you can create a full make-up quickly if needed and perfect for on set checks and artists bags. I just started using a SENNA Slipcover foundation palette which I love; it was created by Eugenia Weston, the make-up designer from Gypsy, to use on Bette Midler and it’s lovely.
WP: What’s your favourite period to work on?
NS: I don’t have a favourite, I love to mix it up. I made a conscious decision to tick boxes of different periods and genres. Victorian to zombies to polished 1960s, I love them all because of the challenge each one brings and because you learn so much in the prep time. Saying that though, I loved creating the looks in Pride – Blitz Club ‘80s looks, Lee Bowery lookalikes to late ‘70s in the Welsh mining towns – that was fun.
WP: What advice would you give someone starting out as a trainee, what would you suggest that would make you a good trainee?
NS: You have to want the job. You have to be prepared to work really hard and suffer knockbacks along the way. I wanted it so badly, I wanted to know what type of brushes designers used, how they stored their kit, how they used products, everything. I would sit on the Tube looking at people’s faces thinking how I could age them. When someone works for me with that drive, you are willing to teach them. As a trainee, no one expects you to be an expert, but you need to be one step ahead and thinking about what help you can be to each team member. It’s a cliché, but hard work will prevail.