Both Emmy and BAFTA nominated for House of Saddam, and winner of 2 RTS awards, for nearly 40 years Marella Shearer has been behind the scenes of many of our most loved British comedies and television dramas. These include 80s classics Cannon & Ball and Dempsey and Makepeace, and some of the most popular shows of the 90s; Game On, French and Saunders, The Vicar of Dibley, Gimme Gimme Gimme, My Hero and Drop The Dead Donkey. Some of her recent work includes the brilliant drama series Mr Selfridge (Season 3), Whitechapel and The Paradise. Currently working on 'Unforgotton' a crime drama for ITV, Marella took the time to tell me about her career, her highlights, her best tips and of course share her favourite products. 

Snapshot of Marella's legendary career

MANW: How did you start your career and what was the progression it took?
MS: I started my career at The London College of Fashion and then went into fashion working for Mary Quant and IPC magazines. In those days you needed a union ticket to be able to do commercials and film and, as I didn't have one, I applied to the BBC to join their makeup training scheme but I was only 20, and you had to be 21. I was lucky enough to get onto the training scheme at what was then London Weekend Television.

MANW: You mainly work as the makeup department head in TV and fillm, did you ever want to work in fashion or beauty?
MS: I have no desire to go into beauty or back into fashion. I enjoy doing Drama as you are following a story and developing characters, I love making the written word come to life.

MANW: Do you have a preference for the type of jobs and make-ups you like to do? Do you prefer designing or being personal to one person, and do you prefer straight or effects makeup?
MS: I wouldn't like to be a personal as I like being at the head of a team and having the say in how a full cast create their characters and I like helping my team achieve how they develop the looks for their allocated actors. I've been very lucky in my career not to have been pigeonholed and I can turn my hand to period, contemporary, gritty and comedy. I like the contrast different projects demand and I am equally happy putting on a prosthetic piece or a period wig. More than anything I like it when people don't notice my makeups as that means they think they are real, you only really notice hair and makeup when it's wrong and stands out on the actor.

MANW: 'Linda La Hughes' look from Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie was fantastic and one of my favourites, the look was perfect for her character. What is your process of creating character looks and how much say do you have in the designs? 
MS: Linda La Hughes look was a collaboration between myself, Kathy Burke and the costume designer. I like the actors to have a lot of input into their look as they have to feel comfortable in how I make them look. When you take a person out of their comfort zone and change their face, teeth, hair etc, it's very important that they believe where you are taking them to fulfil that role. I've been told I stare at people, especially on the tube, but really I'm just storing up ideas.

MANW: You have worked on some legendary TV shows, Cannon and Ball, French and Saunders, The Vicar of Dibley, Gimme Gimme Gimme, MI-5, Foyles War, Mr Selfridge. Can you tell us about some of the stand out moments of your career?
MS: I have been very lucky with some of the shows I've worked on. Doing Sharpe in India was amazing, and hard trying to keep things looking period in that heat. House of Saddam was a very gratifying job recreating Saddam Hussein and his family, again shot in the intense heat of North Africa. The Honourable Woman with Maggie Gylenghall again was a great challenge as the director also wrote it and subsequently had very strong views about how each character should be as they were all his babies. Doing the makeup for Tommy Cooper who died at my feet was also an insane memory.
Shooting a film in Pakistan during the Gulf war was pretty weird, and doing a film in the rainforest in Borneo, where my whole team were lady boys, was pretty mental too.

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?
MS: I have been in the industry for a long time and I think the biggest change I've seen is how little time we now get to prep and shoot a project. It's all become so expensive to make anything. I think it's sad that there are hardly any training schemes to help new people into the business.

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 French and Saunders, so many fun character makeups, and The Mighty Boosh.. incredible makeups by Christine Cant. Who or what are yours?
MS: I don't really have a wish list as such because I've been privileged to have worked with so many wonderful cast and crew. I've travelled all over the world and I've laughed and cried, grown and learnt. You never stop learning, there is always a new technique or product to try.

MANW: On to the good stuff, what are your tricks for flawless looking skin?
MS: Flawless skin is rare, which is why most people need our skills. On a positive note I would say a good beauty regime and plenty of water work wonders.

MANW: What are your top 5 holy grail kit products? 
MS: So the top 5 things in my kit are; Stilla cream blushers, a good skin primer, my PPI Skin Illustrator palettes, Viseart nude lip palette and Chanel loose powder.

MANW: What's your best makeup artist tip to give women?
MS: The best tips I can give to women is good eyebrows frame the face, use cheek and lip stains for natural healthy looking faces and try to grow old gracefully. There is nothing sadder or harder to deal with than actors who can't cope with the ageing process.

MANW: Finally, false eyelashes - the longer the better or enough already they look ridiculous?
MS: As to false eyelashes I am so over the daisy cow look with ridiculous extensions, huge brows and shockingly white teeth, I really long for more natural beauty to shine through.

For more info on Marella you can see her IMDB page here or follow her on Twitter 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.

You can follow me on Twitter here and Instagram here (@anniemakeup).

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