Jenny Shircore has done the makeup and hair for Elizabeth and Mary Queen of Scots before. She worked on transforming Cate Blanchett into the grand Queen of England, not once, but twice for Elizabeth and Elizabeth: The Golden Age. So, when she was sent the script for Mary Queen Of Scots she at first said no. She’d already been down that road. It wasn’t until costume designer Alexandra Byrne helped her look at the story from another angle that she was convinced to say yes.
I chatted to Shircore about giving the film a modern touch and how she gave Margot Robbie smallpox.
How did Mary Queen of Scots happen? Talk about how you went from initially saying no to this and how you eventually changed your mind.
My good friend, the costume designer Alexandra Byrne who I’ve worked with a few times. We both did Elizabeth and Elizabeth: The Golden Age. She called me and said that she was going to do Mary Queen of Scots and wondered if I’d considered it. I’d actually been sent the script by Working Title and thought I wasn’t going to do it because I’d done the look before.
Alex said that it was a different film and that we could make it look different. I told her I wasn’t sure how we’d be able to make it look different because it’s the period and it was what we had to do. So, we met and she told me about her plans. She was going to add a modern twist to the costume and it lured me in. When I re-read the script, I realized it was indeed a different story and said yes.
How did you approach it to create this different look?
The thing with this film is that it’s Mary Queen of Scots’ film. The others were Elizabeth’s films. To actually tell that film, I also had to pay attention to Elizabeth’s life. In the film Elizabeth, we take her from being a young girl through to this mature woman. Always with Elizabeth, you have in mind that last iconic image of her with the wig and white face.
How we did it in the film, she said, “I have become a virgin,” and she dons that makeup. She shaves her head like a nun and puts the wig on. In this film, it’s written that she has smallpox and thought that was the route I’m going to go down to get Elizabeth to that iconic portrait. Alongside that, showing those images of Elizabeth, we have Mary’s story and how she arrives on the Scottish shores as a young vulnerable girl. Her destiny is firmly in view with her as the rightful heir to the English throne. Her determination grows while Elizabeth is becoming ill and depressed and feeling defeated. Mary gets stronger and stronger. We told the story of Elizabeth through her smallpox and thinning. Don’t forget that beauty was all. Power was beauty.
Alongside that, I designed Mary’s look to become more structured, cleaner while Elizabeth was going downhill. Until we get to the end where the two Queens meet.
It’s such a powerful scene where Elizabeth explains what she’s been through and the rest is history. Her mask is now about power. Never mind hiding the scars, this is pure power.
How did you create the look of smallpox for Margot Robbie?
It starts with weeks and weeks of research. I spoke to doctors. Once I got that under my belt and understood the various stages of it, I sat with Margot Robbie and wanted the spots placed in particular areas. Once Margot was cast, I called the director about casting the most beautiful woman in the world.
I changed her skin, eyebrows, and nose. How can I change Margot Robbie into that iconic portrait? I thought about placing those boils on her bottom lip and such. Wherever those boils were like you do, you cover them up, and that’s what we did. In covering the bottom lip, her lip became smaller. I used that to help me get towards Elizabeth and that iconic look.
It was all about where to put the scars. Working with prosthetics.
How long did it all take to apply?
When she was in smallpox mode with her hair falling out and all the boils and scars, it took three hours to apply. When she was young and pretty was probably around an hour and a half.
How did you reflect Mary’s power through her hair?
She arrives on the shores with a very European hairstyle. I don’t know if it’s picked up enough, but there was a light glow to her skin. You see her relaxed with her ladies in waiting and her hair is loose. It shows you that she’s a young girl. As she realizes she’s on her own, she gets stronger and determined so I played with her hairstyle and played with it to give it a more English/Scottish style. As that hairstyle took on, I made it higher and bigger. I used two layers at the front instead of one to give it more structure and to give it more strength. I also paled her skin. I wanted to keep that absolute beauty of Saoirse. I never wanted to put eyeliner or anything on her. She has this naked beauty and so we strengthened that look. We added some little shading but that was it. We didn’t want to compromise her natural look.
Talk about the hair shade here and how you made it different?
Both of the women were true redheads. We had two shades of red, equally beautifully and equally distinctive. We started with Margot. I felt a deeper shade of red would suit her. I felt Saoirse would suit a more golden shade. Both were red but both were complimentary to each girl.