June 18th, 2014
When somebody wins the BAFTA Craft award for their first big design job, everyone sits up and takes notice. The master of past and present, Vickie Lang won for her gorgeous ’60s work in An Adventure in Space and Time. We strapped in for a time-warped talk and got the scoop (and some excellent job advice) for Warpaint.
WP: Where did you train?
VL: I originally trained in Southport as a hairdresser – where I learned nothing; I mostly just swept the floors and made coffee. Then I went to learn haircutting at Vidal Sassoon’s salon, before moving to Trevor Sorbie where I stayed for eight years, and worked my way up. I started to do hair adverts and other shoots, but found myself spending more time with the make-up than I did with the hair.
Make-up was always what I wanted to do originally, but there just weren’t a lot of opportunities in Southport, other than working on a counter in a department store, and I knew I didn’t want to do that, so I sort of fell into hairdressing. I asked for leave at Trevor Sorbie so I could go train for about three months, but I knew I couldn’t really just up and leave for three months.
So I contacted Jenny Jordan, who had used to work with Sorbie, and I was lucky enough to work with her one-to-one for three months. I didn’t want to go to a proper make-up school, because I already knew quite a lot from just watching all the time, so it was perfect really. I just needed my skills honing – and confidence in what I was doing.
WP: What, or who, inspired you to become a MUA?
VL: A lot of it was from magazines, and from fashion, from working backstage at London Fashion Week. I used to see the models come in and see how they were transformed in front of me. I just thought make-up was beautiful.
When I was doing my course at Vidal Sassoon they had a day when Ruby Hammer happened to be in doing a tutorial or working on a look, and it was the first one I’d really seen so I guess she should get some of the credit, and of course Pat McGrath and Val Garland and all of the big ‘90s hitters. Pat is just consistently fantastic.
It’s funny because you can feel a bit out of the loop with fashion when you’re working on films. I try to keep on top of things, because you don’t want your style to date. It’s still inspiring for me, but how I work now is just a totally different way of working. We have to dilute or adapt the high-fashion looks which may look amazing on the catwalk but simply wouldn’t work on screen.
WP: Congratulations on your BAFTA Craft win for An Adventure in Space and Time. What do you think set your work apart and helped you win?
VL: I think it was the period setting. The ‘60s were a really beautiful period for hair and make-up, – it was just so classy, and there was a real transformation from the ‘40s and ‘50s into this strong ‘60s look. Although we didn’t do traditional ‘60s, we had to adapt it for the characters. And we were so lucky with David Bradley’s casting, because we were able to do looky-likes, we didn’t have to work too hard at it.
There was also the fact that we had to do the characters behind the characters in Doctor Who, so we had to come up with looks for them as the characters, the real people we were basing them on, as well as them in character. Things like how most people remember [William] Hartnell in the wig, and so did I, so when I was doing research I knew I had to create the look of Hartnell as himself as well as in the wig and in character. It was the same for Jemma Powell, who played Jacqueline Hill; she needed a somehow harder look in her Doctor Who character.
Also we didn’t have that long, it was only a four week shoot and the looks of the characters changed a lot between the episodes they were supposed to be filming. I really had to pull all my tricks out of my sleeve.
WP: Did you feel any pressure going into the project, knowing how popular and iconic Doctor Who is?
VL: I did feel pressure, but I wouldn’t say because it was Doctor Who; I was more nervous because of the hair and make-up pressures. I knew there had been a lot of competition for the job, and I knew I had given a terrible interview. It was all thanks to Matt Strevens [the producer], who had really pushed for me and convinced them to hire me. I just really wanted to prove that I could do it. It was only my fourth ever design job, and it was a big one, so I just really wanted to do it justice. There was an awful lot to do in four weeks. I would liken it to a swan: I looked calm and in control on the outside, but underneath I was frantically paddling away!
WP: Who was your favourite character look to work on and create?
VL: It would probably have to be William Hartnell and seeing David Bradley become him, after all the wig shaping and the cuts and the colours. When he was all done, styled and with the wig on, it really was a special moment to see him in character for the first time. Although I also really liked working with Claudia Grant who played Carole Ann Ford, who actually did cut all of her long, thick hair off for the role. We tried it with the wig, but it just wasn’t right, it just didn’t sell it enough. Luckily she was up for it.
Then there was Jemma Powell who has all this long blonde hair and when we first put her in her bobbed wig it looked so wrong. We didn’t think it was actually going to work, but it ended up fine, although we had to dye the front of her hairline. All these little tips and tricks get the looks to work. Things like Jessica Raine, she already had the haircut for her character Verity, but it was off, it was too modern, so we had to tweak it and play with it.
WP: What are the challenges of working on period projects? You’ve worked on several in your career. Do you have a favourite?
VL: I think the challenge of recreating something to look period and then adapting it to a very modern face is difficult – it can be very aging, and look very unflattering. I do period with a slight fashion edge; because I came from a hairdressing background I was trained to create things to suit people, so I can adapt things which wouldn’t necessarily fit their look otherwise.
As for a favourite, I think it would have to be An Adventure in Space and Time – simply because it was my first big design job. I’d done assisting, and I’d designed smaller jobs, and I really wanted to make the move over from assisting.
WP: Do you do any red carpet, celebrity or fashion show work as well as TV/Film?
VL: I worked with Gemma Arterton quite a lot for a while. She’s so beautiful, such a beautiful person inside and out. I worked with her about five years ago and she still calls me up for a chat and to see how I’m doing, to see if I can work with her again. But a lot of the time I’m away – it’s the sort of thing where if I can, I will. It’s slightly easier now I’m the Head of a department, I can kind of leave them to it while I go and do another event.
WP: Is there a particular type of project you would love to work on or an actor, director or MUA you’d love to work with?
VL: It’s funny, because you always want the opposite of what you have. I had a really busy year last year – travelling to Lapland, then on Misfits, Utopia and period drama. Quite a lot of the jobs have had a lot of SFX, so it might be fun to do something kind of sci-fi and futuristic, something otherworldly. I haven’t had a chance to do something really avant-garde and unrealistic, so that would be fun; something like Jackie’s [Jacqueline Fowler] great work on Da Vinci’s Demons. Those characters came from nothing, they’re all straight from her imagination, and I think she’s been absolutely brilliant at creating those characters.
WP: What are your on-set hero products?
VL: M.A.C Face and Body is really brilliant for young skin. I always think you can get away with more make-up when you use a thinner base. It’s great for all over as well – if an actor has to get naked or needs marks on their legs or arms covering. Their Mineralize Charged Water Gel is incredible too – it totally brightens skin, freshens it up and makes it look healthy again.
The Talika Eye Patches are also great; you just leave them in the fridge and pop them on, and I leave a jade stone roller in the freezer, which is great for getting rid of any puffiness. I give it to the actors to do – it stops them from fidgeting and gives them something to do. I love to use a rose mist or a lavender mist throughout the day, as it’s great at refreshing actors. Because you have to work so fast in a morning – maybe only 45mins – you have to be really military and on the ball, and especially with HD now you need to keep powdering, keep touching up, keep it perfect. I really like the Jurlique Mineral Powder, and the M.A.C Blot Powder (loose) – and I find the rose or lavender mist really freshens things back up and stops things from getting cakey. Plus it’s lovely for the artist too! It relaxes them as well, gives them a bit of a psychological break on a long day of shooting.
WP: Are there any new products which you are currently loving or any which are no longer available but you wish they still made?
VL: Well there’s the Mineralize Gel, that was a fairly recent discovery. There’s also the Kevyn Aucoin eyebrow pencils, I really love them. There’s a great pencil plus a little spoolie brush on the other end, which is always good. Then I set it with a little bit of M.A.C Brow Gel.
I do miss the Lancôme mattifying gel they used to do. They’ve brought another one out, but it’s not the same formula… I don’t really get too attached to products, I like to move on and try lots. I’m a bit of a product junkie.
WP: Do you have any advice for MUAs looking to break into the industry?
VL: Good training is essential, although it does depend on what area of make-up you’re going into, as obviously I’m coming from a film point of view. It is a very competitive industry and you really do have to be very dedicated. When I first started I had to do seven weeks of work for free, but it was worth it, as I then got taken on. It’s not fair, but it did pay off.
I always try to give people chances, but sometimes they just aren’t willing. The ones that go far are the ones that are willing to go the extra mile. So many come out of make-up colleges, and I was so shocked at how unwilling a lot of them were – “Can I leave early”, or arriving at 9 when the shoot’s meant to start at 9, and having to take time to set up and prep. I had a student who wouldn’t take the opportunity to come and help out on a job because I couldn’t pay her travel expenses. You’ve got to be committed!
For one job, they didn’t give me the budget for a trainee for a six week job, so I offered girls at the local school to do two weeks rotations, to give three girls a chance and also because it was unfair to expect them to fund themselves for six weeks. I bought their kit with my funds, I just needed them there to help and to give them the chance to learn. One girl just didn’t show up, so I had to call in that morning and ask if anyone else was available to come and help. She ended up working with me on Misfits, doing dailies work, because she was great and had a good attitude. Another wouldn’t follow a design – she didn’t understand the need to make it exactly the same, for the continuity of the shoot. She didn’t understand that it had to be that way, it wasn’t just me being difficult, so I ended up having to re-do her looks, which wasn’t actually any help. Then I had another one in, and she just got it, she’s amazing – and she’s been assisting me for three years now. It’s proof that if you do work hard and commit, then you do get there.
It is hard, because what we do is artistic; it’s personal, but you mustn’t take it personally. People must be able to impress and to be disciplined. You have to go all out.
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