November 2nd, 2017
If bald caps and character make-ups are your thing, you’d doubtlessly know of Adrian Rigby. Quietly spoken and über-professional, his route into the industry is non-conformist. We caught up with him in a country pub near Leavesden, close to the start of his make-up journey.
Our first question was how Adrian got into make-up. It’s well documented what he first did after leaving school, but we wondered whether he had a horrible Careers Teacher who told him make-up wasn’t a job.
“That’s exactly what happened,” he confesses, “it’s the story for most people. I was told by school that make-up is not a job, they didn’t even entertain the notion. This is back in 1986, but I’d wanted to do it way before that. I was a cadet in St John’s Ambulance and liked all the gore. I’d got the interest from movies like everybody did and I used the basic St John’s kit – with playdoh for flesh and stuff like that – I was in my element. I thought that maybe this could go somewhere. I’d try things out on the other cadets – and my siblings if they would sit still – but I talked to the careers teacher who said, “No way.”
At that point Adrian considered the BBC training and remembers a promotional leaflet which featured a really well-know Kryolan palette on the front – “I think I’ve even got one of those palettes still,” he muses – but, apart from the fact that it was in London and he grew up in the North miles from there, you needed a bunch of O and A levels and academia wasn’t his thing.
“I hated school and had a really horrible time there. I left with nothing and I couldn’t do anything. Couldn’t go to college, as I would either have had to resit my exams which I didn’t want to do, so I eventually got a job at the Post Office. By then, I’d left St John’s Ambulance and had toyed briefly with the idea of being an undertaker’s mortuary assistant. My nan had passed away in my last year of school; I went to see her, and they’d made her up and I remember thinking that it was a possible job.
With the Post Office, I was sure that I was only there for a stop gap and 11 years later I was still doing it. I really enjoyed it – you’re your own boss when you’re out on deliveries – I was still keeping my hand and in the job allowed me to do that because it was a morning job and I had the afternoons free.”
Skip to 1995 and Adrian started thinking again about a career in make-up. His sister’s father-in-law was taking a night course at Preston College and told him about a make-up one that was running there. He turned up with the limited portfolio of what he’d done and was accepted onto the one-year course.
“Colleges were free in those days which was great; it was classed as full time, but the Post Office let me off on Tuesdays to do the make-up day and I was able to fit the hair and other elements around work. The tutor Jo – who I’m still in touch with – was very helpful and, in those days, you just had to ring round and get in touch with people to get work. I went to meet David Jones who was working on Brookside and was very encouraging, and also had an interview for a trainee role with Sue Milton at Manchester Granada who was very nice, but I didn’t do hair and that stopped me getting work.”
Three years went by and Adrian left the Post Office with nothing to go to, taking a stop gap position at Makro, still doing bits of weddings and theatre in between, but knew he would have to go elsewhere.
“My parents thought I was crazy, leaving a regular job with a big employer, and they were probably right at the time. I did all that I’ve done by myself, I had nobody to help me, but I did know of Nick Dudman so I called him – and he answered the phone! I was petrified and so shy, but he said to come up and see him, so I did. That was in 1999, I showed him my portfolio and he suggested that I go to London College of Fashion and study more, but I really didn’t want to go back to college.”
Out of the blue, 18 months later, a turning point in the shape of a letter arrives from Sue (Dudman) explaining that they were running a 4-day course and asking if Adrian was interested. It was £650 and he determined to get the money together, and headed up to Kendal.
“I did a life cast and we stuck on a load of pieces, and Nick came to me on the Wednesday very discreetly with a cheap foam piece that I later learned was from The Mummy and he provided a model and he told me to stick it on – said if I could, I wouldn’t be half bad. No pressure then! On the Thursday morning, after I’d driven up from Preston which was about 30 miles or so away, I was the first one in. Nick asked for my portfolio which I had in the car, even though I explained that it hadn’t changed since the last time he’d seen it, but he wanted to refresh his memory, so I got it anyway and then he said he’d like to offer me a job on Harry Potter! I couldn’t tell anybody. I explained that I was working and would have to give notice, but that was fine. I also had to find somewhere to live and knew someone who had a spare room in Surbiton so I rented it for the duration of Potter 2 – that was my daily commute to Leavesden. And I never looked back.”
Figuring out set etiquette can be a challenge when you’ve never done a film before, and Adrian pitched in from the off. He got to meet a lot of people who’d been working for ages, but didn’t know anything about networking or how you got your next job. After The Chamber of Secrets finished, he spent the rest of the year helping out on Nick’s courses.
“It wasn’t every day – I think it was five blocks – Kristyan (Mallett) came up and did block 3 and he became a trainee on The Prisoner of Azkaban – HP3, which was starting in the January and Nick got me on early, so I started at the end of November for the prep. It was a big job with a crew of over 120 and I stayed there until December, as they were testing the underwater stuff for The Goblet of Fire, which started in January 2004. I didn’t have to look for any work in between. HP4 started and that was even longer so I stayed until February 2005.”
And that was the year that it all went quiet. Even though he had the contacts, he hadn’t figured out the networking thing and they went off and did other jobs, and Adrian didn’t know what to do.
“You can fall into the trap of taking it for granted that you will get more work on the next one and I think I did a little bit, and Nick finished me early. I thought I’d done something wrong, but it was the right thing to happen. He told me to go out and get more work, and I worked for Neill (Gorton) for a good seven months or so, and didn’t do HP6. I went back for HP7 and then that was even longer, and I was there about two years, and Nick knew that I’d grown and he told me he’d finished me early on purpose, and I’d done exactly what he’d wanted me to do and he was happy to have me back. I got to do more on that than I’d done before.”
Adrian always knew he wanted to be a make-up artist more than being in the workshop, although he knew that he had to do it too, and without it probably wouldn’t have worked. “Harry Potter was pretty much that last long-term job I had, apart from World War Z with Mark (Coulier). As the years have gone by, I get calls to do make-ups which is all I’ve really wanted to do. I never thought it would happen, but it’s all worked out. You don’t work as much, but it pays better. Sometimes you’re in for a week, or sometimes a day or whatever, so from that point my career has changed to what I really wanted to do and I couldn’t be happier.
“I always believe that everything happens for a reason. If I’d got into the industry when I wanted to, it would have spat me out and I wouldn’t have survived. I was a completely different person when I came in later. I’m still not a chatty person.”
Is there something that he wished he’d worked on? The answer comes quickly – The original Star Wars films. “Nick started on them as Stuart Freeborn’s trainee and stayed for quite a few years over loads of films – what better way to learn. Some of the horror movies that inspired me when I was a kid – American Werewolf in London – but I don’t think there’s anything contemporary that I’ve desperately wanted to work on, I just want to work.”
What about people he’d like to work with. “I consider myself really lucky to have worked with some great people – Nick, Neill, Barrie Gower – some people aspired to having their own company – like Kristyan, I never thought he’d do that. But the good thing is I know them all and there’s always the chance of getting a bit of work that way.”
And a Kit Savour product? Glues, to be honest. Everyone has their favourites – I reckon Telesis. There was a thing a couple of years ago when one was going out and a new one coming in and I got loads of it. Le Maquillage palettes maybe.
Talking of product, is there something you’d like to invent? Something that you cobble together using other products? “Not that I can think of. There are some great products out there, the market is pretty saturated. Take PPI Illustrator Palettes for example – there are loads of them. Bluebird has come along in recent years and added more options, but I’ve got plenty of palettes that do the trick. I’ve done a lot of bald caps recently so I’m pretty reasonable with them, but I used to hate them. When I did the Olympics and the Paralympics, with Robb Crafer, we had dozens to do – for the last one we had three minutes – and he had a way of doing them backwards, which meant you could do them on your own in two moves, which was a way I hadn’t done before. I then started doing them that way and felt a lot more comfortable about them. It might be something to do with a bald cap that I might try to invent. They’re scary things to do, I’m going up to Hollyoaks to run a course for them to run bald caps all day and teach their team how.”
And the boy who hated school now has stints as a teacher. “I never thought I teach, I hate standing up in front of people and talking. The first one I did was for Leda at Delamar and it’s more about showing people how to do it and then standing back and watching them, critiquing how they’re doing. I remember asking Leda to come in on my first day to introduce me, so I didn’t have do it on my own, and that’s what we did – I had a great time. If I don’t have to think about it for too long, I’m fine. I’d prefer to be working than teaching and people understand that the industry comes first.
Far from a one trick pony, Adrian also does occasional beauty work, doing a bridal job for a friend recently, and the perfectionist in him feels that he’s not as good as he can be, because he doesn’t do enough of it, but it is something else – another string to the bow in a totally different area.
What’s been his most challenging job? “There are jobs that were really stressful, sometimes you don’t have time to test or you’re taking over from somebody else. The job I’m on tomorrow follows on from one that I did last year though I can’t say too much about it, but it needs to look the same. I’ve not had horrendous experiences where I was really worried about the job, as I’m generally working with other people. Take crowd work, for instance, it’s about continuity and following what someone else has already done so your work needs to match, even if it’s not going to be seen. Experience teaches you to work out who is going to be in shot, you look at the monitor and go in and do checks on the people who are going to be seen. Each Make Up Designer and director has a different way of working, some appreciate checks and others don’t want to see make-up artists on set as you’re in the way. Be discreet – be seen not to be seen. Maybe I could invent an invisibility cloak for make-up artists to wander around on set doing checks unseen.
“The first make-up I ever did was on HP3 with Nick, who had a make-up to do on Warwick Davis the following week and asked if I would like to help. He’s so generous and I’m still loyal to him. If he asked me tomorrow to come and work with him, if I was available, I’d be off like a shot. I have a lot to thank him for. And every boss since has been great too. I think Nick saw something in me – something I didn’t see in myself – and has always been great at doing that; getting people in and giving them a chance. Maybe it’s because that was the way he’d been treated by Stuart.”
Does he have an unfilled ambition? Is there a designer in there bursting to get out?
“No, I’ve always wanted to be a jobbing make-up artist, not a designer. I designed one film a long time ago, but it’s a whole different thing. It’s a management job, rather than an application one, the designer more often than not doesn’t get to do make-ups. I’m just very lucky that I’m doing what I want to do, and not many people are in that position. It could all end tomorrow – I’d look back and be grateful. I still love it as much as I always did. Working on The Last Jedi for Kristyan for a while last year, I remember thinking that this was what had brought me into the industry when I was a kid.
Advice for aspiring make-up artists? “New artists coming through are a lot more confident than we were – it’s instilled in them by their schools now. Sometimes it can come over as cockiness which isn’t very attractive, but they’re certainly more confident than my generation ever was. My confidence grew through experience of working and a sense of earning your stripes. We had to fight and nobody helped you. I’m quite happy to help where I can – I often get emails asking if they can shadow me, but I never can because I’m generally working for other companies and there are so many NDAs that we have to sign and insurance and all the other things. Best advice is to get a job in a workshop, do a good course like one of Neill’s and find your route in that way.
“I’m happy to help where I can – Sam Shuck is a good example and he came along to UMAe where I was doing a bald cap for PPI. He stood there from the moment I started to the moment I finished, and after the event he posted some pictures. I was about to do a bald cap for Todd Debreceni’s new book that’s coming out next year and, so I contacted Sam (who lives not far from me) and he did the job with me. I could see that he was so keen and willing to put the time in – he’s working in theatre at the Young Vic now and any free time he has he wants to do make-ups. He’s inspiring. It’s something different every time with no pressure and we can take as long as we like. He needs a break and I know his contract is coming to an end soon. He’ll go far as his attitude is right.”
And what’s next? “Hopefully the final season of Game of Thrones, which is a great job to do and I really enjoy working for Barrie and the team, we’re all friends too. Afterwards I’ll take a holiday and go to LA for Monsterpalooza where I’m doing something for Nuala at Titanic FX. It certainly sounds good to us.