Sian Richards is a UK born and bred make-up artist who has worked all over the world designing and working on films, commercials and red carpetsFrom classic UK shows such as Prime Suspect and Silent Witness Sian made the massive leap to Hollywood, where she is now based. Sian has worked with huge stars like Helen Bonham Carter, Helen Mirren, Michael Keaton, Gerard Butler, Hugh Jackman, Antonio Banderas, Jennifer Tilley, Emily Blunt- the list and movie titles go on. She is also personal makeup artist to Halle Berry and Melanie Griffith, with whom she has two forthcoming movies: Cloud Atlas and The Grief Tourist. Sian also has her own makeup brush line 'The London Brush Company'. We grabbed ten minutes to hear about her fascinating career and, of course, share some of her pro tips. 
Snapshot of a 22 year career

MANW: Hi Sian, how did you start your career and what was the progression it took?
SR: My interest began from childhood, my father was a makeup artist working in film and I grew up around makeup rooms and film studios. My father passed away when I was twelve, so I never had any further influence from him but I phoned the BBC before I was ten to ask about their makeup course. They told me I should study at school, take hairdressing and call them back when I was older, they told my parents I was the youngest person to ask about a makeup career! After school I did an Art and Design Foundation course at Wimbledon Art School and took a hairdressing course at night. After that I applied to The London College of Fashion and took their BTEC HND in Theatrical Studies, which focused on makeup. At the time the only other courses were Greasepaint and Delamere Academy, I think LCF was the only course that did fashion as well as theatrical/film special effects. 

I graduated LCF in 1991, I took my portfolio all over London and showed it to commercial directors and photographers and started working for free/portfolio stuff. At the end of that year I moved to Manchester and ended up working for my friend Colin Ware in his garage making the Della Mornay body for the first ever Prime Suspect. I had wanted to focus solely on makeup effects but the film industry went into recession and hardly any features were shooting, so I knew I needed to diversify. I joined a model agency in Manchester and my path took me into fashion where I ended up travelling the world doing photo shoots for ad campaigns and commercial work.

MANW: It's extremely difficult to move from fashion into film, how did you make your move? 
In 1995 I had my car stolen with my makeup kit in it and lost my ability to work. I went back to London, took out a loan, bought a second-hand kit from a retiring makeup artist and started all over again. I knew no-one but this time I had a good portfolio and my work was really varied- I had done everything from editorial, special effects, body painting, wigs, fantasy, character etc. For the second time I took my book around London, networking like mad and I started to get booked on commercials and stills. I had lots of fun and met many incredible people- I shot Duran Duran with David Bailey for heavens sake! I remember meeting the band at Simon Le Bon's house and thought I had made a tit of myself telling them how delighted I was to be working with my favourite band from the 80's, but they seemed to like me because they booked me for months after that.

I also hooked up with a production team that did runway shows all over the place so I travelled with them. Runway has to be one of the best disciplines to getting your speed up and to this day I know that I am so fast doing makeup from having to turn out 18 models. I was still doing a lot of musicians and album covers and, in 1998, I designed my first movie starring David Bowie and Goldie. I had never designed a movie before, nor had I broken down a script, but I had worked with Goldie and hung out with The Metalheadz and he knew I loved special effects. The movie had tons of wounds and beaten up makeups so he asked if I could do it, I got the job and that's where it all started. Breaking down a script is not brain surgery after all, I broke it down, hired my two crew and away we went to the Isle of Man for eight weeks. That was the first time I had been away from my one year old son, so that was also a learning curve! I've done movies ever since and travelled the world in the process. I'm very lucky and very, very thankful for each and every job. 

MANW: Are there any differences to working in England and Hollywood?
SR: The difference across the pond is that the Americans know this is a business and the structure of the working day reflects that. As it is mainly union run (something we once enjoyed in the uk) we get proper over-time, meal penalties, holiday pay etc. Creatively speaking, American movies tend to find their way on to the cinema more. There are so many films made in the UK that no one sees or knows of in the US and that is a real shame because the work coming out of England is of a very high standard. The other noticeable difference is that we don't wait for light in California. I remember DOPs looking through their eyeglass at the clouds counting the seconds until the sun would emerge so they could match exterior light.. In 8 years, I think I have seen that happen once! 

MANW: You are accomplished in all areas of the industry, including special effects. What are you favourite types of jobs and why?
SR: Obviously jobs where I can have creative freedom are more desirable but there is a lot to be said for surrounding yourself with good people who don't moan and back stab (I have seen a lot of that over the years, on both sides of the pond). Ultimately, the best jobs are the happy ones, the ones where you go to work and love every single moment and laugh a lot and where everyone is respected and their talent respected and the job is done with ease. Those are my favourite jobs.

MANW: What is the process of creating a characters look and how much say do you have in the designs? 
If the studios run the movie then often the department head has to comply with the studio requirements which, sometimes, is not the best way but it's the way that has to be followed. Independent movies give a lot more creative room for manoeuvre. When I designed Halle (Berry's) looks for Cloud Atlas the prosthetics had already been approved by the department heads but I designed the rest. I love working with Halle, she tells everyone I'm the boss but she has a really good eye and I always ask for her contribution. She usually defers to me on all things character or surreal and I always want her input on all things straight makeup wise, I'd be an idiot not to ask someone who has so much experience. Everyone with a creative eye has valuable input and I love that Halle and I become a real team. 

When I'm designing a movie I read the script a few times, but it's only when I know who the cast is that I get the feeling for the design of each individual. I discuss colour palettes with the production designer and I check out what the costume designer is thinking, so that we can all blend our ideas into one perfect scenario. When I hire my crew I always hire people I love and respect and I show them what I have in mind. When we do makeup tests I want their input too, it's important for your key team to feel valued and for their creativity to be recognised. Someone may have an idea that I might over look, so I embrace everything and we try it all out. Eventually it all finds it's own level because when the cast come along for the test they often have ideas also - and at the end of the day they have to feel comfortable and perform in this makeup, so we make it fit everyone's needs. Also, some directors have a really strong idea of what they want, which is great. It's great working with directors with a vision, but then you have other directors who leave it all up to their department heads as they really only care about the performance. That's also nice because then I have total creative freedom. So it's a win win all round in my opinion!

MANW: You worked on some incredible people like Helen Mirren and Sir Derek Jacobi. Can you tell us about some of the stand out moments of your career?
SR: There have been so many fun moments that stand out. Halle Berry and James Darcy at 3am the final night of shooting Cloud Atlas in Dusseldorf sitting in chairs of wheels doing the waltz. Melanie Griffith and Hugh Jackman at 4am tangoing in a house once owned by Sinatra. Sir Derek Jacobi - or Del as he likes to be known, being word perfect in his summing up speech as a barrister in The Jury. He was unbelievable - and nervous. The late great Rod Steiger telling me blue jokes in a worn out swimming pool somewhere in south London dressed as a 1930's gangster. Standing 100 feet up, on top of a Mayan Pyramid in 120* heat in Mexico, looking down at 300 body painted extras filling the city below for Apocalypto. Watching Tom Hanks play with my 3 year old daughter, Alegra, in the makeup trailer and somehow managing to make himself as small as she is and enchanting her - and everyone watching in the process. I could go on..

MANW: You've been in the industry a long time, how do you think it has differed and what advice would you give to new artists starting out? 
SR: I suppose 22 years IS a long time, I never think of it that way. In fact I never think I have done my best work, I still think I'm in my early 20's!!! It's different now because it's mostly shot digitally which is unrelenting. Since VFX came along things that were practical makeups are now cgi, and actors tend to prefer the old ways let me tell you. Look at Star Wars in 1977 and the last one, you'll see the evolution right there. TV has also changed, there are a million more cable channels and the internet has changed programmes that are now made just for the web. Celebrity has changed; where once film stars were revered and given privacy there is a new breed they call celebrities- people with no acting talent whatsoever who get on the tv either as hosts or something else who are then elevated via the media and paparazzi. Jordan would have been 'Jordan Who?' 20 years ago. I prefer those days to be honest, nothing like a bit of mystery to create reverence. My advice for new artists would be; never settle for mediocrity, stay humble and be grateful for each and every opportunity that comes your way. You are lucky to be paid for your passion and most people do not enjoy that luxury. DO NOT EVER TAKE THAT FOR GRANTED.

MANW: All artists have 'the wish list' of faces, shows or films they would love to have worked on, mine is 'This Is England'. Is there anyone you would love to do, or are there any shows or films you would love to have worked on? 
SR: I would have loved to work on Lawrence of Arabia- with my father! and I would have loved to work on An American Werewolf in London- hilarity and horror rolled into one. Anthony and Cleopatra- Burton, Taylor, Cecil B De Mille.. need I say more! Oh and My Fair Lady with Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison.

MANW: On to the good stuff, what are your tricks for flawless looking skin?
SR: Water and sleep are a must - and a good aesthetician. Facials are really important.

MANW: What are your top 5 holy grail kit products? 
SR: Cosmetics A La Carte Matte Miracle and eyeshadows, London Brush Company makeup brushes, Kryolan Dermacolour 24 colour palette, Kanebo Sensai Brush Type Concealer, Rosebud Salve, Christian Dior Automatic Eyebrow Pencil. Oops that's 6!

MANW: What's your best make-up artist tip to give women?
SR: You wear the makeup, it doesn't wear you. Keep it simple, clean and elegant.

MANW: Finally, false eyelashes - the longer the better or enough already they look ridiculous?
SR: If false eyelashes are done properly they should not look false, it's how you do them. The effort you put in to the application shows in the finish. I use about 3-4 different lengths and custom cut them to fit my actor. But that follows for any work, our job is to create illusion.

Find out more about Sian Richards on her IMDB page, get her brushes at The London Brush Company or chat to her on Twitter.

If you liked this interview and would like to read other leading industry makeup artists stories have a look at the rest of the 'Meet The Artist' series here.

1 comment:

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