Wednesday, 15 July 2009


The Make-Up Department holds a special place in the heart of an actor. Like the Costume Department, they work with you to create the character, but whereas with the costume designer much of the creative work is done before the production starts, the make-up designer will be with you in the morning before most of the crew are even awake, and you will spend many vulnerable hours in the shelter of their location van. That is not to say that the folk in Costume work any less hard, but actors depend on the make-up artist for more than just their skill with a powder brush. Apart from anything else, you simply spend so much time together that the hours must fulfill the basic criteria for a long-term friendship.

There are several different sorts of make-up that will usually be required for any character you play:

1. The basic, looking-presentable, natural make-up that your character will sport for most of the show. The standards for this may vary on either side of the Atlantic. In the US, full-slap is the very least you might expect, whereas in the UK, the natural look is taken a bit more literally (spend too much time on a long-running British show and you'll be lucky if you get your hair brushed). In any case, as you get older, achieving this look becomes both more challenging and less necessary. No one wants mom to look like she's tried too hard. Except during...

2. The glamourous make-up moment. This will be the evening party that your character will go to, either as a Cinderella suddenly transformed or as the sex-bomb who made a bit of an effort. The stage directions will read 'She looks amazing. All traces of her life as a welder are gone'. Here, the make-up artist will have a chance to get out that colour palette languishing in the bottom of the drawer. The make-up call will be even longer than usual and much discussion will have centered on the hairstyle in the preceding weeks.

3. The accident make-up. This will be for when your character gets hit by a bicycle/frying-pan/lamppost. Anything larger or more animated (car/dragon/ flying saucer) and you are probably getting into special effects territory (involving at least one different department). Cutting your finger opening the invitation to the ball, will mean a small amount of blood, perhaps a sliver of a silicone cut, maybe even some pretty little stitches specially prepared and stuck on, if you used a carving knife to open the envelope. Make-up artists always have a good amount of blood in their set bags, though there is often a minor argument between the Make-up and Costume Departments about just how washable the blood actually is.

4. Body make-up. Any nudity, tattoos, scars and birthmarks will require some body make-up. This is an intimate part of the job and, depending on the placement of the tattoo and the nature of the scene, often goes beyond the call of duty for the make-up artist. Some are more squeamish than others, though the conscientious make-up artist who applied full body paint to a young actor, with whom I was about to spend a day in bed, alerted me to his unusual rash by her assiduous attentions to his groin area. It took many hours for the results of the skin test I requested to be returned marked 'non-contagious'. Oh, how we actors laughed as we rolled about together later.

Most make-up artists also dress the hair of the actors, unless there are some particularly challenging wigs on a period film. In contemporary settings, it is common for producers to want their lead actors to sport a healthy head of glossy locks. Since these are often in short supply, the make-up department will use toupees, hairpieces, scalp paint, curling irons, straightening tongs, blow-driers and many cans of hairspray to reproduce the look. With long hair, this can take some time. If your hair resembles a sheep's bottom when you wake up in the morning, like say...mine, then your make-up call will be ungodly. That anyone in the make-up department continues to speak to you, let alone hold your hand while your weep globules of painstakingly applied mascara in their make-up chair at lunchtime, is a testament to their much-tried patience.

You certainly wouldn't want to get on the wrong side of a make-up artist, mostly because you won't look good for the rest of the film, but also because make-up artists are incredibly strong. Years of lugging three separate sacks full of make-up up the stairs of stately homes and down into the tunnels of abandoned lunatic asylums, just in case that third set of rollers/spare moustache/extra pointed-ears are needed, has given them the arms of Arnold Schwarzenegger in his Conan days. Yet, somehow they always remain elegant. Of course.


  1. What an actor has to go through.... I assume it is no secret by now that I have a very soft spot for classic movies. As the layperson I am, I am not sure if this fall under the makeup or special effects category, but I'd like to share a story from Swing Time (1936). I have not been able to watch that particular scene after knowing this, without thinking of what was actually in her hair:

    Swing Time had a scrumptious score from Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields. In a charming and intimate scene, Fred sang one of the loveliest numbers in the film, ”The Way You Look Tonight.” According to the script, I'm angry at him and go into the bathroom to wash my hair, leaving him alone in the living room. Trying to ease the situation, he sits down at the piano and sings the song. I hear it, get caught up in his mood, and open the door. I walk into the living room with my hair full of bubbly white soap. The shampoo was the problem.
    George Stevens had ordered various kinds of soap and we did take after take, trying first one soap then another. Nothing worked. By the time I got to Fred at the piano, the soap would be running down my face, down my neck, down my back. It looked terrible and felt awful. Next we tried shaving cream, but that didn't work either. Somebody came up with the bright idea of beating the white of an egg, so we tried that. This time I had egg streaming down my face from the heat of the overhead lights, which were cooking the eggs as I stood there. Ugh! It was a mess. Then an inspiration came to me.
    ”George, why not try whipped cream?”
    Someone ran down to the commissary and returned with gobs of freshly whipped cream. The stuff was piled on my head like a frothy cap. I went through the scene and this time, it worked! I was more pleased than anyone else during shooting that the cream didn't run. The minute the take was finished, I went to my dressing room and washed soap, eggs and whipped cream out of my hair. I had to redo my entire makeup, which now looked like a color television test pattern.” (From Ginger, My Story, Ginger Rogers, p. 162)

  2. This made me laugh, especially number 4. Sounds like it was a close call.
    I also thought the differences between US and British makeup standards were interesting. In Taiwan, I think actresses on hit shows are lucky if they remember what their natural eyelids looked like without taping and glue, let alone what their real skin tone was.

  3. Hi Sophie,

    Just a quick introduction – I’ve enjoyed your roles for some time but only recently found your log after watching the ITV run of A Village Affair. You have since been rather annoying: I have had to delay a piece of work this week because I have enjoyed the style, grace and humour in your writing and, of course, the content throughout the log to the exclusion of virtually all else!

    I know comments ought to be at least slightly related to topic but just now I wanted to say ‘Hi’ and to say how pleased I am to have found this site.


  4. " ... What make-up are you wearing tonight, Sophie Ward? No, don't tell me, let me guess ... "

    Few of us believe that, years ago, the Hollywood actor and former Lothario, Warren Beatty, used to use that telephone chat-up line on young actresses, fresh flesh, just arriving in the Hollywood meat-market

    True, I've never mustered the courage to beta-test its effectiveness myself. Besides, I deliberately mis-quoted Warren Beatty, for the sake of propriety

    I doubt it was a young lady's make-up he was anxious to hear details about. I sense he was more curious in the see-through negligees they might be wearing. The flimsy lingerie. Or the scanty knickers, suspender belts ... whoa there, boy ... calm, calm down, please

    How rude of Hollywood, I must say. Let's hope this fad never exports to England. Humph

    But that made me reflect on the comments of your contemporary, the actress Helena Bonham-Carter, of Belsize Park, North London

    (Remember, Sophie, you played Aunt Eden in the 1994 tv mini-series, A Dark Adapted Eye, and I saw Helena Bonham-Carter among the tv credits rolling)

    Yes, I ogled you all the way through, so who else acted, escaped my attention, sorry

    Puzzled that advertising agencies representing huge cosmetic companies, hankered after her services to help promote their range and brand of make-up, a clueless Helena just shrugged her shoulders ...

    ...Then, brashly added, "But I never wear any make-up at all in real life, never"

    Now, who'd believe a sales pitcher who didn't even believe in the products she's supposed to be promoting?

    You'd think that would put an end to such endorsement requests. Except when the young lady's blessed with the ideal face for flogging make-up, perfume, hell, anything the cosmetic industry can manufacture, in fact, works perfectly

    Much the same story for The Face of the 1980s - Sophie Ward

    Not just on the glossy covers of posh magazines, but even on inside pages too, perhaps to illustrate promotional features or prop up some weak fashion advertising pitch. Often again, another passing tout from a model or make-up artist

    Throughout the 1980s multi-million dollar make-up advertising campaigns, chances are each young lady, alongside every gentleman would be "caked n baked" in make-up Sophie Ward had been photographed promoting, say for Revlon.

    Shopgirls bought this stuff by the tub-full, because they saw Sophie wear it and thought, " ... Wow, Superdrug, gotta buy that brand of make-up she wears. And then I'll look as beautiful as she does ... thanks to this miracle make-up"

    In other words, they all wanted to look as good as Sophie Ward. Gee, it's no wonder Frank Sinatra sang about the "Young and Foolish" - hardly surprising

    Right then. So, my question is, without sounding like a Complete Warren, tell us, What role does make-up play in the life of the off-stage Sophie Ward, please?

    Warmly, from Trevor Malcolm

  5. Ah, Paul, that will inspire me to write a new post on some glorious tricks over the years. Never had to tape my eyes though, Catherine, poor them, sounds very uncomfortable not to say unnecessary. Welcome, Peter, good to have you here. And Trevor, you are quite right, I'm not big on make-up in my day-to-day life, but if I didn't get to play at work then who knows? Maybe I'd be permanently plastered.

  6. Thanks for posting the last few pictures. A question for you: on all the latest pictures of yourself you have posted, your hair is dark. At first I thought it might be for a role (Amanda?), but maybe you have permanently turned into a brunette?

    ;o) Paul

  7. Hi Paul. I had my hair dyed quite a dark brown for Book of Blood and then let it grow out. And for now I'm back to my natural ditch water.

  8. Photographic Model, Sophie Ward, Face of the 1980s

    Best-kept Secret Makeup Tip ...
    White Sludge and Cucumber Slices

    Labelled the “Face of the 1980s” makeup must’ve made you money to spend on wine, women and song. Not that there’s anything shameful about squandering a few quid on singing, mind you

    During the 1980s, everywhere readers looked. Illustrated advertising campaigns? Sophie Ward. Promotional features in posh, upmarket, glossy magazines, turn the page and there you were again, the beautiful Sophie Ward. Each time, flogging more makeup to the masses. And becoming the “Phwoar Man’s Favourite

    Now, after reading the delightful story, submitted by Paul Nicholas, revealing how Ginger Rogers, filming “Swing Time” (1936), managed to eventually get her hair-shampoo scene to work – by resorting to sploshing a mix of soap suds, egg whites and whipped cream, wherever needed, I wondered what similar indignities had Sophie Ward suffered, for the sake of her Art

    Admittedly, my choice pre-dates your adult acting career. But I do still have the A4-sized glossy page here in front of me now, published to illustrate some Vogue or H&Q promotion about natural ingredient skincare for ladies who wish to look their best, but on a tight budget

    Sounds so far, so good, Sophie. Except I am looking at a smash closeup facial portrait of you, towel wrapped round your hair, until all that remains is your face baked in white sludge, apparently to moisturise the skin. Oh, and – did I forget to mention? – two large slices of fresh cucumber, one covering each of your eyes

    The specialist in makeup claims plonking lumps of rejuvenating cucumber there, won’t in fact make Sophie Ward look “a right lemon”

    No sir, but it will ease nasty, early-morning puffiness women who party hard all night long, tend to suffer around that extra-sensitive eye area of their skin. Fancy, all reach for the mushy sludge and cucumbers, then?

    Scarey-looking stuff, too. Makes you look as if you’ve taken abit too seriously auditioning for a walkon part in some 1950s Samuel Z. Arkoff low-budget, Hollywood horror B-movie

    Had it been a casting photo, I feel sure this portrait of Sophie Ward would’ve given both Boris Karloff's Frankenstein and Bela Lugosi's Dracula multiple nightmares, so fearful this might be their next “leading lady” – send them both doolally, for sure

    Hope the mid-1980s picture in question has long since been erased from Sophie Ward’s memory. I bet you a quid it hasn't - and how gracious and thoughtful of me to remind you of it

    On tour, what happens if a fan turns up at a theatre stage door, with the offending photo in hand, for you to autograph “Sophie in her Cucumbers” - you’ll squeal out loud and run, honest you will. Makes sense to, your best bet, I reckon

    Trevor Malcolm


  9. Hey...I loved doing that shoot! A girl will go a long way for a free facial.