Make-up/hair designer Paul Gooch gives us the whimsical details on Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
Tim Burton takes on the best-selling young adult novel by Ransom Riggs, about a World War II-era teenager named Jacob Portman (Asa Butterfield) who discovers a school on the Welsh coastline filled with children of unusual abilities, under the care of the mysterious Miss Peregrine (Eva Green).
“The cast is mostly children,” notes make-up/hair designer Paul Gooch, “although we did have Judi Dench, who came in to do a cameo; and Samuel L. Jackson plays a creature in the human form, so he wasn’t tied to the 1940s period, because he’s a ‘live forever’ creature-person. We could really only tell the period story with the kids, who live in the same day that keeps repeating over and over again, so we tried to tell the period with their hair and make-up, with their peculiarities taken into consideration as well.
“Some of the names have been changed from the book, but Olive [Lauren McCrostie] commands fire, so we made her a redhead to tie into that. Emma [Ella Purnell] floats in the air, so we made her a pale blonde to look more air-like and ethereal.
“We gave Judi Dench a classic ’40s ’do, but her character turns into a bird, as does Eva’s, so their hairdos tried to suggest birdlike qualities. I put black and white stripes through Judi’s hair to reflect her bird image.
“There’s also a pub in Wales where we had a handful of extras to whom we could give a real ’40s look. And there are other characters that come in, who are mostly baddies like Sam Jackson; they’re eternal creature-like shape-shifters, so we weren’t tied to the period with them at all.”
As with previous Burton films, Gooch worked closely with Oscar-winning costume designer Colleen Atwood to determine the look and color palette of his characters. “Colleen does masses of drawings,” he explains, “which is a great help getting my ideas together. I see what she’s doing with the clothes, which is governed by the period with films like this, so that’s a good starting point, and then maybe you go a bit sideways and come up with something that hasn’t been done before that gives a flavor to whatever the character is, like the characteristics of the birds.
“Tim might say, ‘I think she should have red hair!’ so I’ll give him 12 versions of red hair on wig blocks, so he can have a look at them, and we’ll get the actor in and try some of them out, so it all gets boiled down that way. Tim isn’t very specific, but I actually find that quite liberating, because you’re free to imagine and suggest stuff. Hopefully I’m pretty good by now at interpreting fairly quickly what it should be, and then getting to the point.”
“With Eva Green, I think I did 12 different hairstyles that I thought would work for this character, suggesting that she is a bird as well as a person. We tried them all out on Eva, and [Green’s hairdresser] Orla Carrol was there and so was Colleen, and then Eva and Orla went away and more or less locked themselves in a room for two weeks and came out with the shape that evolved from that. And then Tim and Colleen had a look at it and we all talked about it.”
Because of his predominantly young cast, Gooch chose a team that he knew would be good with children. “A lot of adults are not good with kids,” he says. “A lot of film people don’t have children, because they don’t have time.
“The most complicated kid to work with was little Claire [Raffiella Chapman], who’s the kid you see eating the turkey leg with the mouth on the back of her head. She came along to the first fitting with straight, waist-length beautiful blond hair, but I knew Tim wanted her to look like a Victorian doll, so that meant the classic ringlets, shoulder-length at the most. I also knew these kids were going to be saturated half the time, because they have to go under the sea to get into their ship, plus when they go through the time loop, it’s raining for the day reset, so I basically decided not to use this child’s own hair.
“I didn’t want to use a wig because the lace in the front is terrible for children, who can’t cope with it, and it doesn’t sit well on young skin, so I did a three-quarter wig, which was entirely in the style. We had one made in nylon so she could swim in it and it wouldn’t change shape, another that was a mixture of hair and nylon that would slightly drop but wouldn’t look artificial, and then one made of real hair, which is what she wore when she was dry. Because of the time constraints of a child’s working day, we were able to wrap her hair out of the way, get the three-quarter wig on, do a little bit of make-up and she was out of the chair in half an hour.
“Olive [played by McCrostie], Asa, Ella [Purnell] and Finlay [MacMillan] were over the age of 18, so we didn’t have time constraint problems with them. The boys had their hair cut in the ’40s style, so they were very quick. And Little Pixie [Davies], who played Bronwyn, had her own hair with a few wefts stuck in.”
Gooch is happy with the experience on Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. “It was a delight to do,” he says, “because I had a great team of really talented people and I think we pulled off something amazing; fingers crossed other people think that too. The whole thing was lovely and I really enjoyed it.”
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children opens Sept. 30.