How To: The Last Kingdom

October 27th, 2016

October 27th, 2016

For the latest instalment in our How To series, especially given the time of year, we thought we’d turn away from beauty looks and focus on something with a bit more of a bite.  Kate Benton, co-founder of PAM and Department Head for Viking drama The Last Kingdom has kindly shared with us how she designed the look of Skorpa, a villain in the show, along with tips on how to hand-lay beards and facial hair.  Take it away Kate!


The character of Skorpa was a Viking warlord, who was viciously evil and crafty.  The actor wanted us to help him visually by making him look as threatening as possible.

Historically the Vikings did use image as part of their battle plan.  They would use kohl to darken their eyes, warriors would sharpen and mark their teeth, which would then be stained red with berries before a battle, and there is evidence that they were tattooed.


Actor Jonas Malmsjö portrayed Skorpa


Jonas Malmsjö as Skorpa in The Last Kingdom

Our actor, Jonas Malmsjö, arrived for a fitting in London with short hair and a short beard.  I was unable to get to the fitting as we were filming in Budapest, so the wigmaker, Ray Marston, sent out some options with Jonas a few days before filming.  Onscreen full wigs can be hard work, so we selected a half wig which was dressed into Jonas’ own hair with extensive tonging.

We used Probondo scars on the forehead and on the neck.  We added a bit of Collodion to create the indent at the end of the scar.  Jonas had already had his teeth cast in London by Chris Lyons at Fangs FX.  This meant that Chris has an exact replica of Jonas’ own teeth and, using this, Chris could then make a thin fake set of teeth that cleverly clipped in to Jonas’ own teeth.  These are comfortable for the actor to wear, as they are custom made; Jonas loved them, as they gave his character a really nasty edge.  Chris had stained them slightly red, but whenever Skorpa was going into battle we also added some Blood Tone red from the PPI palettes.

Closer look at Skorpa - Image Source

Closer look at Skorpa – Image Source

We used guyliner to darken around his eyes as well as kohl – all from the Dirt Grime and Guyliner palette by Le Maquillage, which really proved to be invaluable on this show!  When Skorpa went into battle he looked absolutely terrifying, with the berry-stained teeth, scars and dark eyes.

Finally we added beard length.  Jonas had managed to grow some beard but it was very short and neat.  It’s easier in many respects to shave a beard off and start again, but Jonas also had to keep what little beard he had for another job.

It’s really useful to start looking in great detail at beards, the colours and the growth patterns etc.  They are frequently a different colour to head hair, a lot of men have holes in their beards, thinner sections, colours are often different around the mouth nose area., while some are very curly , some relatively straight.  The more research you can do the better your laid beard will look.

Kate's Workstation

Kate’s Workstation

The first part of this process was to colour-match the yak hair with the actor’s hair.  It can also grow in very strange directions, and have lots of strong streaks of colour.  The good thing about yak hair is that it has no point or root, which means that you can’t put it on the wrong way around.

Jonas had two strong white streaks in his beard, so we mixed about four yak colours together: white, dark brown, red and light brown.  To mix two colours of hair, cut them to the same length.  Taking a small bunch in each hand, twist and pull them together constantly for at least five minutes.  Eventually the two colours will merge.  It’s good to do this initially with two strong different colours – e.g. very dark hair mixed with very light – before mixing in the other colours to diffuse them.

Dark and Light yak hair, ready for mixing

Dark and Light yak hair, ready for mixing.

Prep the skin.  If you are laying a beard onto skin where there is beard growth then follow the template.  Start at the bottom and paint on a thin layer of Pros-Aide.  I like to use the Pros-Aide Cream Adhesive as it has less shine and adheres well.

The mixed yak hair

The mixed yak hair.

Have a basic plan of how the beard should look.  Beard growth can be both patchy and very directional.  To save time I would use, if at all possible, frizzled yak for the lowest layer.  This is yak that has been set on very tight pins, to be almost a frizz.  Not worrying about direction, apply this to the very bottom of the beard line, where hair tends to be at its curliest.  You also do not need to worry about applying it to look like its growing out of the skin.

Cutting the yak hair, ready for laying on

Cutting the yak hair, ready for laying on.

When you have applied this layer move up to the next layer.  Apply the thin layer of Pros-Aide cream and dry with a fan.  Then take a small section of the yak hair and push it into the skin.  Press in with a metal tail comb or a kebab stick.  Pull away gently any excess hair.

Carry on in this method to the top of the beard.  Remember beards are usually lighter at the top, and it will be easier if your top layer is very diffused and broken up, just like a real beard.

The beard will be too thick initially so gently comb through, pulling away the excess.  Then, using hot oven tongs, go through the beard adding a bend.  Make sure the actor is still and is aware of the hot tongs going near to his face.  I tend to use a comb or my fingers as a guard against the skin.  If you are doing this on a make-up truck, and people are liable to come bounding in, make sure you have someone on door guard duty or put a sign on the door asking people to knock first.

Using scissors to push in the hair to adhere.

Using scissors to push in the hair to adhere.

It’s also a good idea to take the time to get your actor situated comfortably, as it’s a lengthy process which needs them to be still.

Finally, I dip a kebab stick in watered-down liquid Pros-Aide and slide it through the beard which binds it together.  Spray with plaster spray and job done!

Remove with lots of TLC and Pro Clean – remember that you’re trusted with both applying and removing the make-up safely.  If you’re applying the make-up over consecutive days it also helps to keep the actor’s skin in as good a condition as possible for continuity and ease.

A huge thanks to Kate Benton for her How To!  Check out the PAM website for more demos and watch the keep an eye out for details of the next course with Enrico Iacoponi.



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By Deborah Murtha

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