I am fiercely proud of British comedy and Lisa Cavalli-Green has the career I dreamt of, creating some of our most iconic and celebrated ground-breaking comedy characters where the makeup has undoubtedly been a significant part of each characters success. From The Day Today, Brass Eye, Alan Partridge Knowing me Knowing you, to Paul and Pauline Calf, Rock Profiles, Come Fly with me and of course the incomparable Little Britain. If you have watched TV in the past 20 years you will have seen plenty of Lisa's work and certainly marvelled at it. 3 BAFTA nominations, 4 RTS awards, 5 RTS nominations and a BAFTA win for Little Britain, which was the first ever award for a sketch show in the same category as accomplished dramas..unheard of at the time. From The Lee Evans Show, The Lenny Henry Show, Shooting Stars, Extras, Derek and The IT Crowd it is fair to say that Lisa has been the bar-raising queen of sketch comedy and character makeup and I'm thrilled she took some time to tell me about her career path, stories, filming advice and of course, her favourite products. 

Snapshot of Lisa's legendary career

MANW: How did you start your career and what was the progression it took?
LCG: I started my career back in 1978. I was incredibly lucky to be one of three girls taken on by the then ITV weekday provider Thames Television. Having already trained as a hairdresser, the in-house school taught us make up, prosthetics and all aspects of wigs, hairdressing, tinting etc. The course lasted 3 months and then we were trainees for 3 years. They took on 9 people in total over 3 years and all of us have done really well in our careers. Based at Teddington studios I had experience in children's TV, drama and comedy, with the odd trip to Euston to cover the live news. I also did a couple of films whilst with Thames as well. We had the most amazing training, while being paid, and the experience was invaluable.

Eventually Thames lost its franchise and I went freelance. I was again incredibly fortunate as one of my first jobs was to design the iconic satirical news show 'The Day Today'. There I met Steve Coogan with whom I was to go on to work with on the 'Knowing You Knowing Me with Alan Partridge' series. Comedy jobs snowballed from then on. I enjoyed the process of creating characters and after meeting Matt Lucas and David Walliams on 'Shooting Stars' I went on to do the 'Little Britain' series with them. I have worked with them on all their character based shows, which has been really exciting.

MANW: You mainly work in sketch/comedy TV and movies with a focus on character makeups, did you ever want to work in fashion or beauty, or even a serious drama?

LCG: I did have brief forays into fashion in my early freelance days but I love the relationship you have with actors and a script. 

MANW: Do you have a preference for the type of jobs and make-ups you like to do, and do you prefer the more comical characters makeup? 
LCG: 37 years on (it does not feel like that long!) I like to vary my work more. I really enjoy drama and have done more of that over the past years, the joy is being able to do both! Commercials are playing more in my life at the moment too. 

MANW: You have so many famous character makeups, everyone has a favourite Little Britain character. What is your process of creating character looks and how much say do you have in the designs? 
LCG: The process of creating characters is often just about compromise; the actor may have an idea, the producers, director and runner may well all put their views in too! For 'Little Britain' I took a great many photos of real people, mostly at car boot sales where the whole of human life will pass you by! All the characters in LB and 'Come Fly With Me' are based on real people. The most important thing about creating a character for a sketch show is that the viewer is not distracted by what they look like, so they listen to what is being said and laugh at the script. The look should just be right that the viewer accepts them and listens, so it's never really about making a big make up, more about a piece of a jigsaw that fits alongside all the other components. The costume, set, lighting, sound and direction are all part of it and it needs them all on the same page to make it work. I create their whole lives, where they live, how much money they have to spend and then we would only use products we knew they could afford. Having a good make up team with you is vital, no-one does a show single handed. I have been so fortunate to work with truly brilliant people who have become life long friends

MANW: How much do logisitcal issues come into play with character designs, were there any ever limitations on something you wanted to do? and how do you keep continuity on characters through so many series.
LCG: Time is most often the big issue with creating characters. There are often just one or two main artists and six weeks to shoot, as in the case of Come Fly With Me where there are well over 100 characters. The shoot day is 12 hrs so you don’t want to spend more than an hour in make-up first thing, I try to keep to an hour unless it is a big prosthetic. Money is the second big limiter. Making a budget fit is hard, you have to decide what characters to spend more or less on, some work better cheaper by doing less whilst others need everything. Keeping continuity is easy with digital photography, and although there are now Apps for this I still like a good old fashioned file! More of a worry is keeping track of all the tiny bits for each character, teeth, nails, eyebrows, plumpers etc for over 100 characters!

MANW: You have worked on some legendary shows, I still regularly watch old episodes of The Day Today on YouTube! Extras, Derek, The IT Crowd, working with Lenny Henry and Lee Evans, Shooting Stars, the list of comedy greats goes on. Can you tell us about some of the stand out moments of your career? 
LCG: There have been some truly outstanding moments in my career. My first ever day on set was watching Leonard Rossiter and Morcambe and Wise dressed as the Andrew sisters, miming to 'Boogie Bugle Boy of Company B' all in drag, it was so brilliant I wanted to clap at the end! Being in shot on 'The Kenny Everett Show' was another, it was a new thing then to show the crew and it was enormous fun. Making up Diana Ross and working with a live orchestra on 'The Des O'Connor shows, and winning my first RTS award and B.A.F.T.A for 'Little Britain' was just incredible. It was the first BAFTA to be awarded to a Sketch Comedy for which I was doubly proud. Being lucky enough to watch what feels like a private showing of performances by some of the most amazing actors in the world are often stand out moments for me, like watching Armando Ianucci making magic on 'The Day Today'. Many performances have moved me, Judi Dench's character talking about missing England in a film I did in Thailand and Ricky Gervais's speech in the 'Extras' Special series finale where his character is in a mock up Big Brother house talking about celebrity sticks in my mind. So many and all so diverse, what other job could give you so much?

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? 
LCG: Its such a different world to start out in makeup now. It it the most asked question on my email and the one closest to my heart. There are so many makeup schools of which very few are actually worth the huge sums of money they charge. People are forced to start a freelance career in debt which is very hard let alone trying to live and work in London. My suggestions would be;

1. Before you do any course have a good look at the type of career you want, don't just think you will do all types of make up, that does not happen. People who work in Film and TV do not do weddings or beauty, they are separate careers and it is a waste of money doing a large course when you are only ever going to do one.
2. Try to go out for a day with different people who work in the genre you want. If you find it hard finding and making connections to do this, THIS is what it's like when you work in the business until you build up your connections. Be resourceful. It's only when you spend time watching what the makeup person is doing that you will realise if it's for you.
3. Can you get up really early? Can you drive, have your own car, find your way around Britain? What are you like when you are tired? This is really important as working 15 hour days standing out in the freezing rain or snow is not uncommon. Can you do your own accounts? You will be responsible for all your invoices and accounting. Are you a naturally organised person?
4. Are you a happy giving person with the patience of a saint? Are you good with people? You cannot be shy.
5. If you want to work in television, and this is so important, YOU MUST BE ABLE TO CUT HAIR WELL, it is not enough to just dress hair. I have hundreds of CV's from trainees who have spent a fortune training who I cannot use because they cannot do hair. When choosing a school if you want to work in TV make sure that hairdressing is fully covered, you cannot learn hairdressing in 2 weeks! My advice would be to train in hair first properly, do an NVQ and then do a short course in makeup.
6. If you want to do prosthetics go and train with a company that just does prosthetics, that will be the only way you will learn enough to be employed to do the job.

Many people have a good career doing makeup for all sorts of other things, weddings, beauty, make overs etc. Just dont spend money doing a course that you are only ever going to use one part of, find the course that suits your career.

MANW: All artists have 'the wish list'; a face they would love to work on or a show or film they would have loved to have worked on. I would have loved to have worked on The Day Today, an absolute genius of a show with so many fun characters and wonderful makeups, and of course The Mighty Boosh which has brilliant makeup by the insanely talented Christine Cant. Who or what are yours?
LCG: I would loved to have worked with some of the greats, David Niven, Bette Davis, I bet she was a scream! Peter Ustinov and Fred Astaire. To go back in time and visit the makeup department on 'The Wizard of OZ' or any of the Busby Berkeley films just to see how they manage to get that many women ready first thing in the morning! I think we have come a long way in makeup and prosthetic design but some of the old Hollywood greats standard still amazes me.

MANW: On to the good stuff, what are your tricks for flawless looking skin?
LCG: My trick for a flawless looking skin is to be healthy; at well, sleep well and don't be too thin! Have a fine base and only use cover up where it's needed, nothing is more unflattering than thick caked on base. Add a bit of liquid moisturiser to the base on the neck area, if your face is a different colour to your neck you have the wrong colour foundation on! And cream blusher in a soft colour applied where you would naturally catch the sun makes for a healthy look. I am saddened by the amount of women who feel the need to botox their faces. Why do we feel that looking young is so important? Why are all the top (male) cosmetic surgeons not making themselves look younger? 

MANW: What are your top 5 holy grail kit products? 
LCG: My all-time favourite foundation was Lancome Color ID which they discontinued! So now I am a big fan of Le Maquillage. Paul Mitchell's 'Freeze and Shine' is a truly fab product and they don't test on animals. Dermalogica Barrier Repair for mending any skin problem and their Skin Smoothing cream to mix with foundation. Bio Derma Crealine H2O micellar solution, the first of the cleansing 'Waters', is an amazing product that removes all makeup without leaving a greasy residue so you can immediately apply another makeup. Lancome waterproof mascara stays on all day and doesn’t drop.

MANW: What's your best make-up artist tip to give women?
LCG: Don't be afraid to age, wear less makeup unless its for fun, eat well, sleep well and most importantly value yourself for who you are not what you look like or wear!.................you don’t have to look like a Kardashian!

MANW: Finally, false eyelashes - the longer the better or enough already they look ridiculous?
LCG: False eyelashes have their place, in period make-up you couldn’t do the 60's without them. If you are wearing them now, unless you are doing it for a fun evening look, only wear more natural ones or individual ones to boost your own. Make sure they are shorter nearer the corner of the eye and they should get longer as they go toward the outer edge so your eyes look wider..pantomime cow is not a good look! And remember that when you take them off you are going to feel bald!

For more info on Lisa visit her website here or you can see her IMDB page here.

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

1 comment:

  1. Great interview with lots of good information.

    I followed you on GFC and Twitter




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