Sian Grigg drew upon tricks from Titanic and The Revenant to create Kate Winslet’s make-up for The Mountain Between Us

As unique as the make-up challenges were on The Mountain Between Us, Sian Grigg couldn’t help but have a sense of déjà vu while working on the film. The past kept popping up every step of the way.

An adaptation of Charles Martin’s 2010 novel, The Mountain Between Us stars Kate Winslet and Idris Elba as strangers who forge an indelible bond as they struggle to survive after a plane crash strands them atop a glacier in the remote wilderness.

A low-budget independent film, Grigg served as Winslet’s personal, doing both her hair and make-up. Megan Tanner worked alongside her as Elba’s personal. And whereas the majority of the film is focused on the leads as they battle both their injuries and the elements, Grigg knew how important the make-up would be.

Elba and Winslet’s characters at the start of their journey

“We had to show on her face how tough it really was. The make-up had to tell the story of her suffering and her journey to get to civilization,” says Grigg from the set of her current film, The Little Stranger. “Usually, make-up is not as critical in telling the story. In this case, it was. It showed what they were going through.”

It was Winslet who asked Grigg to do her make-up. The two have known each other since working together on the 1996 film Hamlet. Winslet was the reason Grigg was hired for Titanic. Working as part of Tina Earnshaw’s make-up team, Grigg came along when the actress asked Earnshaw to work on the 1997 epic film. That’s where Grigg met Leonardo DiCaprio and became his artist of choice. She did his make-up for his Oscar-winning performance in The Revenant.

Elba and Winslet at the start of the film

Grigg’s work on that film, which also earned her an Oscar nomination, was a key reason Winslet wanted Grigg on The Mountain Between Us. With most of the action taking place in sub-freezing temperatures, the tricks Grigg learned on The Revenant would come in handy.

“She just thought I was a perfect fit for this, so she asked me if I would be interested in going back to the wilderness,” remembers Grigg. “Well, I thought, I have the Canadian Goose gear, I might as well. That coat turned out to be a good investment. I got to do two films with it.”

Grigg’s sense of adventure was sparked by the opportunity to travel to Invermere, British Columbia, where the film shot. “Having the privilege of flying in a helicopter to a glacier was amazing,” she says. “Some people pay a lot of money to do that. I got paid for doing it—it was a win-win.”

Grigg touching up Winslet’s make-up on set

Twelve days of the shoot took place on the glacier. Accustomed to the cold from her time on The Revenant, Grigg believes she was better able to cope with the frigid temperatures on The Mountain Between Us. Still, on occasion, the thermometer dipped to -35 Celsius. Simply keeping the make-up warm was a challenge.

“It was just Meg Tanner and I,” continues Grigg. “We had such a fun time together. We were in the middle of nowhere on the mountain. We each had an insulated container and worked out how to keep our stuff warm.”

Because of the remote location, running back to the make-up trailer for supplies wasn’t an option. And from past experience, Grigg knew that time was of the essence. Even if the make-up could be kept warm, sooner or later, it was going to freeze. And that meant working as quickly as possible.

“I got it down to a fine art. You put the make-up on early, early in the morning and hope that you don’t need to redo it,” Grigg explains. “I had ironed out a lot of problems on The Revenant. which did make it much easier for me. I just made sure that it was on really well and that I didn’t have to do touch-ups during the day. You just can’t.”

Winslet and the elements

Prosthetic pieces were needed for the injuries Winslet’s character Alex sustains during the crash. And again, The Revenant came into play. Hany Abu-Assad, Mountain’s director, referenced the wounds on DiCaprio’s character in his discussions with Grigg as to how far they should take the wounds, cuts and broken bones.

The pre-production schedule was tight and didn’t allow for Grigg to pre-make any pieces. The day Winslet came in for a face cast was the only day Grigg had to do a make-up test. So, she used the swollen eyes and deep head gash she had in stock from previous productions. Grigg even applied a few pieces she has used on DiCaprio in The Revenant to Winslet’s face to illustrate exposure to the wind and cold.

“We had different stages, but I went for it because I knew I could bring it back,” explains Grigg. I think it was really good to do that test because Hany thought he wanted something like The Revenant. Then when he saw it, he knew that was too much for our story. I absolutely thought it was too.”

Ultimately, Winslet sported a swollen eye made of two pieces of silicone—one for above the eye, the other below. The actress also wore a couple of bondo cuts on her face. To show the leg trauma she suffered in the crash, Grigg applied a long gash to Winslet’s leg. A prosthetic piece made of reinforced silicone gave her ankle the appearance of having been injured. The piece slipped over Winslet’s foot and Grigg hid the edges under Winslet’s pants and socks. “It was really easy to apply,” says Grigg. “It was like a sock that you just pull on.”

Elba and the elements

The prosthetic pieces were created by Tristan Versluis in London. Budget limitations meant Versluis couldn’t travel with Grigg to Canada. On set, Canadian artist Brandon Allen assisted in applying the prosthetics.

Knowing how difficult it would be to manage the prosthetic pieces during the outdoor scenes, Grigg adjusted the make-up to ensure that wouldn’t be an issue.

“By the time she actually exits the plane, I had those pieces off and I was just using color and texture,” says Grigg. “My experience made me realize that up on the glacier there would be nowhere to do changes. I had to have something that could be changed fairly simply without having to get pieces on and off with glue and things like that. So that was my plan at the start and it worked quite well actually. We did have changes, but they were all color and blood effects—easy enough for me to do.”

When it was time to show how the cold and wind of the mountain were taking its toll on Alex, Grigg drew upon techniques she had developed during her Titanic days.

During the icy, ocean climax of that shoot, Grigg discovered paraffin wax is a great way to replicate the look of the frozen moisture that forms in the hair and on the eyebrows when someone breathes.

“It looks like droplets. You can drip it in. You can build it up. It reacts in the same way as the references I saw of frozen beards, hair and eyebrows,” she says. Another advantage of paraffin is that it is very low maintenance. “I didn’t have to touch it throughout the day.”

Because paraffin can irritate the eyes, it can’t be applied to eyelashes. Instead, Grigg has come up with another way to give them the frosty look of someone who’s been out in the cold for a long time.

Elba at the crash site

“I found icing sugar and water is the best thing for that. It’s completely innocuous. It’s not going to hurt the eyes and stays all day,” continues Grigg. “When you start your career, you pick up little tricks—this was a Titanic trick. You know it’s not going to let you down.”

In fact, Grigg learned that it worked a little too well. “That was one of the hardest things to get off at the end of the day,” she says. “I had to make sure that I got some nice hot towels to get it off.”

The feeling of déjà vu was strongest while filming one of the last scenes on The Mountain Between Us. The script called for Alex to fall through the ice and be submerged in water. The scene was shot in a water tank on a Vancouver soundstage.

Winslet and her K-9 co-star

“It was two in the morning and Kate and I were laughing. It was like being back on that blooming ship again,” remembers Grigg. “There we were, weighing down her clothes. We did just that for six months on Titanic.  It was like, ‘Oh no, here we go again!’ We knew exactly what to do. We were saying, ‘No, we’ve got to do this. We need more weight.’”

The scene also reminded Grigg why she admires Winslet so much. She was soaking wet, jumping into a water tank fully dressed in the middle of the night, and throughout it all, she is joking about it.

“The poor thing, she is such a trouper. She has such a great sense of humor,” says Grigg. “It was just so funny we had to laugh. It was like a flashback to Titanic. We’ve got a few more wrinkles now, but it’s just the same old thing.”

The Mountain Between Us opened Oct. 6.