Make up Artist Magazine interview with Make Up Designer Christine Blundell.
“Love what you do and be good at it.”
“I have to say right away this career is not for the faint hearted.”
TOP: Caterina Murino in Casino Royale. Blundell was the hair designer on the latest Bond film.
BOTTOM LEFT: Behind the scenes on The Constant Gardener in Kenya. Pete Postlethwaite, make-up artist/hairstylist Lesa Warrener, Blundell, and Ralph Fiennes have a beer in Lake Turkana after work.
BOTTOM RIGHT: Karl Urban in Doom. Blundell was both make-up and hair designer on the film.
TOP: Kate Winslet in Finding Neverland. Blundell designed hair and make-up.
– Blundell on work –
“I don’t believe for one minute that people can work in this industry without enjoying what they do.”
I really think every now and again, you have to do a real stock-check of where you are in your car eer,” insists Blundell, “because I don’t believe for one minute that people can work in this industry without enjoying what they do. You have to enjoy it because of the hours that you’re doing, but you can also get wrapped up in doing bigger films where you’re well looked after, so I think you need to be able to go back and do some of the films that you really love doing. “When I did The Constant Gardener in Kenya, we were camping out in the most poverty-stricken place in the world, so you’re not going to say, ‘Is there a car to take me back to my nice hotel?’ You want to stay in a tent, because you’re actually working in the villages with the people, so it’s incredibly humbling, being able to do that.” Blundell, who won Oscar and BAFTA awards for her work on Topsy-Turvy as well as BAFTA nominations for Vera Drake and Finding Neverland, actually began her career working with punk bands in the late ’70s. After moving to London, she began doing high-end fashion hairdressing at a salon in London’s Kensington Market, eventually opening up her own salon called Scallywags. After a successful four-year stint, Blundell decided to concentrate her efforts on the film and television industry, investing her money from selling the salon into an intensive three-month make-up course at the Delamar Academy in 1989.
“After that, I got a job working on Phantom of the Opera doing a bit of prosthetics, when I got a call from London Weekend Television, who needed someone to go over to the Isle of Man with their make-up team to do some serious 1940s hair. That led to a couple of really good shows for LWT, and while doing that, I got a call from one of the girls I had met, who was doing a film with director Mike Leigh, so I sort of moved into film helping her do Life is Sweet. From there I ended up doing all of Mike’s films after that, and that’s how I got started.”
Working with Leigh has turned out to be one of the most enduring creative relationships in Blundell’s career, encompassing such films as Naked, Secrets & Lies, Career Girls, Topsy-Turvy, All or Nothing and Vera Drake. Unlike most projects that begin with a script, Leigh’s projects are based on a period of improvisation and rehearsal with his actors, during which the design team begins its work based on those conversations. “Mike rehearses his cast to the point where he feels comfortable that they understand their characters and history, and then we’ll sit down with the actors who take us through their characters, because you can’t just put a scar on someone without knowing how it happened, so everything has to have a history. That’s when we begin creating everything they need to go off and get into their character, so it’s a unique and collaborative way of filming.”
A notable example of that method is Topsy-Turvy, Leigh’s critically acclaimed biography of Gilbert & Sullivan, which Blundell worked on for nearly a year before the cameras rolled for the first time. “I remember saying to Lindy Hemming the costume designer, ‘If we’re going to do a period piece with Mike, we have to do our research so meticulously!’ because if anything wasn’t historically correct, we knew we were going to be dragged across the coals regardless of how good the film was.
“I had all the chorus wigs made by one person exactly the way they were made in that period, while the principal theater wigs were made by somebody else, and they were all hand-stitched. With the theater wigs, you didn’t know if the actors were going to be wearing them or sitting in the dressing room throwing them at each other because it was all improvised, so you had to have them made inside and out exactly how they were made at the time.
“With every leading actor, I had little hair wefts made up on long pins the way they were made at the time, and when I was doing my research, I wrote up loads of idiot boards for the rehearsal space so the actors would know things such as how people cleansed their face at the time.
TOP: Jim Broadbent as a 48-year old in And When Did You Last See Your Father?. MIDDLE: Broadbent, who is 57, ages from 48 to 74 in And When Did You Last See Your Father?. Blundell opted for a stipple make-up since prosthetics would have strained the film’s small budget.
Blundell and Constant Gardener star Ralph Fiennes stuff intestines into a fabri-cated body in the early morning to attract flies for an afternoon shot.
– Blundell on Doom –
“I was trying to work out what a nano-wall is, when I’d turn around and there was a Masai warrior outside my make-up tent!”
“For the theater scenes, I was quite strict that we could only use the seven colors that they were using at the time. I also asked our producer if there was any way that we could build a week’s training into the rehearsal period for all of the theater actors, so if they had to put on their make-up in shot, they knew what they were doing.”
For Blundell, the biggest benefit of working within Leigh’s improvisational style on Topsy-Turvy was that it allowed her enough time to research even the smallest details. “We had offices at the V&A, and I spent a couple of days at Charles Fox going through their archives and even found a couple of proper old theater colors that I got copied up. We had the Savoy, which was open house to us so we could come and go as we liked. “We also had the luxury of our actors being contracted to work with Mike for something like six months before we started filming, so you could say to them, ‘Okay, grow all of your facial hair!’ so you just had to worry about people coming in for things like [crowd scenes].
“With the main actors, you had to be very careful that everything looked real for Mike, so facial hair had to be laid on. If the actors didn’t grow a thick enough sideburn, like with Jim [Broadbent], his sideburns weren’t bushy enough, we had a washing line of hair that we would literally flick on to pad out the bottom bit to get the triangle shape. If any of the actresses needed wigs because their hair wasn’t long enough, the wigs and hairpieces had to be made exactly as they were at the time, but since we were only using three-quarter pieces, I could still use their own hairline.”
TOP: Karen Mok as General Fang in Around the World in 80 Days. “Her hair was made up of various hair pieces glued onto sponge, as she did some major dangerous stunts,” notes Blundell, who designed make-up and hair for the film.
TOP: Blundell won an Academy Award for the 1999 Mike Leigh film Topsy-Turvy. “For the theater scenes, I was quite strict that we could only use the seven colors that they were using at the time,” Blundell says of the period piece.
Although Blundell’s work on Topsy-Turvy drew enough attention to earn both an Oscar and a BAFTA, it was the massive amount of work that went unnoticed by the general public of which she remains most proud. “Nobody would know we used rose water on the actors that we made up,” she explains, “but we were making our own products at the start of it. I had the luxury of time to do that, because everybody was so supportive of the project and we all wanted to make this work for Mike being his first period piece.
“What was faintly amusing is that because Mike is so hugely known for the lack of make-up on his films, it was ironic that the first Oscars he received happened to be for costume and make-up.”
Blundell brought that same careful eye for detail to Vera Drake, starring Imelda Staunton as a well-meaning 1950s abortionist, whose work brings her into conflict with the law. Although the film’s make-up was ultimately nominated for a BAFTA, the deceptive subtlety of her work probably went unnoticed by the casual moviegoer. “But that’s what makes it nice,” she points out, “working hard to get an understated look. It’s not all about showing off what you can do.
LEFT: Daniel Craig in Casino Royale. Blundell was hair designer on the film, and mussed up his hair to the right degree of grittiness for numerous fight scenes. BOTTOM: Rachel Weisz in The Constant Gardener.
“At the start of rehearsals on Vera Drake, I asked all of the actors to bring in photos of their families, and the only reference we used was photos of people’s families in the ’50s. It’s such a little thing, but it makes a bit of a difference, like poor old Imelda with her hair net on, and that little Kirby grip on the side. I remember she came in really excited one day because she’d found one of her mum’s old hair grips that she used to sleep in, and when you saw Imelda all ready for bed, that would be in her hair, so it was those little things that make it all worthwhile.”
The last several months have been incredibly busy for Blundell, who’s been jumping from one job to another, including her first forays into sci-fi, working on Danny Boyle’s upcoming Sunshine and the video game-based Doom. “I just wanted to do something different and get lost in it a bit,” she says. “Sunshine is being re-edited right now and I think that’s due to come out in March. I bumped into Danny the other day, who seems pleased with it at last and ready to let the world see it.
“Doom was quite funny actually, because I was sent the script while in Kenya on The Constant Gardener, so I was trying to read it sitting in the little safari tent that was my make-up room. I was trying to work out what a nano-wall is, when I’d turn around and there was a Masai warrior outside my make-up tent! “What was great about Doom is we got to work with Stan Winston’s boys, so that made it all worthwhile. We were doing all the make-up and hair, while Matthew Smith did the prosthetics for us that covered the grey areas between what we were doing and what Stan’s boys were doing. Again, it was something that I never get asked to do, so at first I said, ‘Oh God, this isn’t me’ but eventually thought, ‘Hang on, this could be quite fun!’”
On the mainstream front, Blundell was recently hair designer on the latest James Bond adventure Casino Royale, working with make-up chief Paul Engelen, before moving on to the low-budget independent film And When Did you Last See Your Father?. She’s now acting as Naomi Watts’ make-up artist on the new David Cronenberg project Eastern Promises, which is filming around London. “Again, I’ve been lucky enough to bounce between big and low-budget films, and I really adored doing When Did You Last See Your Father? for [director] Anand Tucker. It’s an absolutely heartbreaking script, and it was really nice to do, especially coming off the last Bond film, which was obviously huge budget. We were trying to do it with paint work and wigs and things like old-age stippling, because we didn’t have money in the budget for all the aging, so if we couldn’t do prosthetics on everyone, we thought we might as well not do them at all.”
Apart from her film work, Blundell is also getting ready to open her own North London-based make-up school in the Camden area, with the first 14-week course scheduled to begin in March of 2007. “It’s a big venture,” she concedes, “but something I’ve wanted to do for the last couple of years. I’m certainly not going to stop my film work, but the idea is to run the school alongside it.
“The course is going to be £7,000 plus VAT and will cover all aspects of basic make-up application, basic hair setting, basic hair coloring … wounds and cuts, character make-up; I don’t think we’ll be touching on fantasy although we will be doing fashion. At the moment, I will be teaching hair extensions as well, because I use them so often and I think people at least need to know how to look after them. So it’s covering every aspect that I think is important to know to be a damn fine trainee by the time you come out,” she says.
“Towards the end of the course, there will be seminars where directors and lighting cameramen will come in as well as costume designers, who will discuss how everybody works together and where they expect make-up to tie in with what they’re doing, so the lighting cameraman will talk about which lenses and filters to use; the material I feel really hasn’t been covered. I just want to approach it from a little bit of a different angle, so I think 12 students at a time will be my limit, until I’m sure that the course I’m doing is as high a standard as I want it to be.”
As for the future, “I’d still like to be doing films;” reflects Blundell. “That’s where my heart is all the time. I’d love to do a western; I just think it would be great. We started doing Don Quixote, the Terry Gilliam film, which to this day is one of those bugbears where I feel that everything was in our grasp when the rug was pulled out from under our feet. That still feels like a bit of unfinished business, so I’d love to think that we could come back and finish it someday.
“As for my career in five years’ time, I’d like to think that I would be doing pretty much what I’m doing now; working on the occasional big-budget film and then jumping onto my low-budget films. I hope I’m still as lucky as I am at the moment, where I can pick and choose what I want to go onto.”
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– Blundell on Topsy-Turvy –
“If we’re going to do a period piece with Mike [Leigh], we have to do our research so meticulously!”
TOP: Three Little Maids from “The Mikado” in Topsy-Turvy.
TOP: Charles Simon with hand-laid sideburns in Topsy-Turvy.
TOP: Imelda Staunton (right) in Vera Drake, set in 1950s Britain. Blundell designed hair and make-up for the film and received a BAFTA nomination for her work.