Daniel Phillips, hair and make-up designer, discusses his work on Victoria & Abdul

Daniel Phillips and make-up team work to get actors ready for shoot
Daniel Phillips and make-up team work to get actors ready for shoot

The Film

Daniel Phillips: “This is a film about a relationship between Queen Victoria and her munshi servant Abdul. My brief from Stephen Frears (director) was at the start of the film to portray upon the face of Victoria a sense of boredom, apathy to life and loss of her great love, her husband Albert. As her relationship developed with Abdul I was to then portray this by showing a ‘blooming’ of Victoria and softening of her look.”

Radiant look for Victoria played by Judi Dench

Judi Dench’s Make-up

“To achieve this, I took Judi back to no make-up whatsoever and then applied a pale translucent wash of color on her face. I then repainted to define all of the skin colors to mottle her skin. I repainted the veins and the blemishes and shadows—all with a view to harden her features and give an overall severe look. I accentuated all of the downward lines and shadows to give appearance of sadness.

“It was almost like doing a theatrical make-up and then scaling the application right back to accommodate the HD cameras. I avoided any eye definition, just a feint thinning of the eye brows in a downward slant. By keeping any warmth from the skin this then enabled me to gently introduce those warmer tones further down the story line as the relationship blossoms.”

Phillips does touch-ups on Dench
Phillips does touch-ups on Dench

Judi Dench’s Hair

“Judi also had two wigs. The first being more of a steel gray tone to work alongside the paler hardened features and the second wig was a warmer whiter tone which helped to lift the skin once I applied the softer warm make-up tones. By removing all of the downward lines and shadows and introducing a warmer foundation coverage this gave a complete contrast. Simply shaping the eyebrows back in to a soft curve, adding rose tones to the cheeks and covering the skin blemishes but still keeping the skin texture helped enormously.”

Victoria's severe look
Victoria’s severe look

Key Products

“All of the make-up used on Judi was Maqpro Cream make-up and Kryolan grease paint colors. I find that alcohol-based palettes are sometimes too severe on delicate skin, especially around the eyes. They’re fine for using on prosthetics but I’m not comfortable using them on facial tissue—especially not every day.”

Characters Bertis, Lady Churchill and Ms. Phipps
Characters Bertie, Lady Churchill and Ms. Phipps

Other Characters

“Along with Judi’s make-up all of the other actors wore a character make-up. It was a question of researching each character and finding a common feature that we could incorporate, whether it be the way the hair was dressed, or the characteristic of facial hair. Sometimes the actual characters really did not have much of character interest for us to go on so when that was the case we were able to elaborate a little and have some fun with their look.

“Facial hair played a big part to the look of this film and was particularly prevalent within this period of history. One of the big problems we have now is the HD camera. This is very unforgiving in our department. Even using HD hair lace/gauze does not save us from exposure! We ended up having to lay on all of the facial beards and mustaches with loose hair and Pros-Aide in order to eliminate a lace showing on camera.

Phillips perfects beard work on Bertie played by Eddie Izzard
Phillips perfects beard work on Bertie played by Eddie Izzard

Facial Hair & Wigs

“Wig lace is less of a problem because the frontal area is sitting on a firm forehead with less movement and therefore the lace can be ‘sandwiched’ between layers of adhesive and pressed down firmly to lose the lace edge.  Facial hair lace is different in that the cheek area is soft and very flexible and eventually forms pleating and puckering with each movement. I find by laying on hair with Pros-Aide this allows flexibility and durability over a longer period. There is also a joy to be had by applying beards this way and it’s amazing how proficient and speedy one can become. It’s really no more time consuming than applying a prosthetic piece and requires the same level of skill. Each make-up and hairstyle had to be carried out in a maximum of 1 hour 15 minutes. We really had to work fast and considering there has not been any computer clean-up on any of our make-ups I think my team did exceedingly well given the speed of the shoot.”

Abdul (played by Ali Fazal ) aged 10 years older
Abdul (played by Ali Fazal ) aged 10 years older

Oscar Nomination

“We really did not anticipate this movie to being nominated for an Oscar and we are thrilled that our work has been recognized this way. It’s a testament to good classic make-up and hairstyling and such an honor that the academy and its members appreciate this style of make-up, too. When starting this film, we never go through the process of logging every make-up on film or photo in the event that it may get through to awards. Maybe naive on my part but it’s never at the forefront of my agenda. We often are lucky to have a make-up test or see an actor a few days before shooting!”

Sir Henry Ponsoby (played by Tim Pigott-Smith) with a layed on beard
Sir Henry Ponsoby (played by Tim Pigott-Smith) with a layed on beard

Final Thoughts on Classic Skills

“We always set out to do the best work we can on every film I do. We are so pleased with the way the film looks. I have in the past felt people far underestimate the work involved in re-creating a period look. It’s usually just seen as hair and lipstick! Even the hotel waiter in L.A. whilst there for the nominees’ luncheon said to us: ‘Your film doesn’t have much make-up work in it’!

“This really is about skillful hair work and character creation and as much work goes in to this as any movie with a more make-up visual content. Often work is only considered worthy of awards if it has Big Bang make-ups to show. Subtle character work is just as much a skill in itself and is still an art form. I hope that our nomination gives hope to all of those make-up artists and hairstylists who have a love of back-to-classic skills.”

Follow this link for an exclusive video of Daniel Phillips describing the various looks in Victoria & Abdul. And return to our Oscar Watch page March 4 to see who wins!