As part of an ongoing series that began last year with an exclusive screening of Darkest Hour on Nov. 20, members of the Los Angeles make-up community were given a unique opportunity for an advanced look at the upcoming film Mary Queen of Scots. Making the event all the more special, the night’s presenters—Make-Up Artist magazine, M.A.C., Focus Features and Working Title Films—arranged for the film’s hair and make-up-designer, Jenny Shircore, to fly in from England to offer insights as to how she transformed Saoirse Ronan into the title character and Margot Robbie into her archrival Queen Elizabeth I.
Held at the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood, California, the evening began with drinks and hors d’oeuvres in the lobby of the venue’s Silver Screen Theater. Leonard Engelman, Pati Dubroff, Alex Noble, Robert Kato DeStefan, Vanessa Blanchard Lee, Caroline Hernandez and Victoria Vesy were among those who came to hear Shircore. After catching up, everyone adjoined to the theater where Make-Up Artist magazine’s publisher, Michael Key, sat down to talk with Shircore.
“We love being able to do these [screenings] because it’s a unique way for us to celebrate the art of what we do,” said Key as he introduced Shircore. “It’s the first time that I’ve had the privilege of interviewing Jenny onstage. Hopefully, it won’t be the last. If you’re doing a period film, she is going to be on your shortlist of artists you want to talk to. She is one of the most prolific period piece artists of all the people I’ve interviewed.”
“For me, the film is about two powerful women, two queens and the special time that they knew each other,” Shircore told the audience. “We had to draw a point and counterpoint between the two. They were jealous of each other. They loved each other. They hated each other although they had never met. And they affected each other because of power. They both wanted the power and the same throne. In telling the story, we had to show how they affected each other.”
Shircore explained that her main challenge was taking Robbie from the beautiful actress so familiar to movie audiences to the iconic white-face, red-haired Queen Elizabeth I everyone envisions from her portraits. Key asked Shircore if she ever considered using the make-up materials of the day for total authenticity.
“You can’t use those materials because they were filled with zinc and mercury,” explains Shircore. “Women have died wearing those make-ups. You use modern facsimiles.”
The 30-plus minute conversation covered a range of topics, including Shircore’s close relationship with her crew, how she acquires her make-up materials, and one of her favorite places on set. “I go to the crowd area. I like being there. I love it,” she said. “Because if the crowds don’t look right, forget it. I spend a lot of time there, checking that the period is right. And I enjoy the atmosphere in there.”
As wigs and beards are such an important element to the Mary Queen of Scots look, there was an extended discussion about the challenges of lace work.
“Having worked in black and white TV, I used to pride myself that I could glue quite heavy deep lace and you wouldn’t see it, even in the close-ups,” says Shircore. “But it’s changed these days. With digital that becomes more difficult. The lace that’s now used for wigs frays. You can’t touch it. It lasts only two days and then it’s gone, and you need the wig to be re-fronted. Film, you can still use a heavy lace. So, for the film, I had the wigs made with a heavier lace. You can really stick the lace down and make the hair look like it’s coming out of the skull.”
Shircore also revealed that she has only done one film in the United States. She was hired by Madonna for the 2011 film W.E., which told the story of the love affair between King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson. Madonna wrote and directed the film. “I loved it. I loved her,” Shircore remembered. “We filmed in England for a while, and then we had things here in the states, so I came with her.”
Towards the end of Key’s talk with Shircore, the discussion turned to collaboration and when to defer to the decisions of a director or performer and when to stand your ground. When Key asked Shircore how she chooses between the two, she answered that she has to trust her eye. She’s willing to listen to anyone and everyone on a film set about a look, but with all her experience, she just knows when something isn’t right. And she isn’t afraid to defend that feeling. As an example, she revealed a situation that arose while filming 1998’s Elizabeth where Cate Blanchett played the iconic monarch.
“We were three weeks into shooting. And, as you know, Elizabeth is a redhead. One of the many producers came up to me and said, ‘Can we change her hair from red to blond?’ And then she said, ‘You know, they don’t like redheads in America. We’re going to have to change her hair from red to blond. Can it be done?’ I said, ‘If you want it, it can be done. And it won’t be me who does it. I’m leaving.’”
Elizabeth’s hair remained red, and Shircore won the Oscar that year for Best Makeup.