‘Legend’ Make Up Designer – Christine Blundell – In Conversation

Hi Film Folk

This week, Oscar-winning writer/director Brian Helgeland‘s new gangster film, Legend, is released starring Tom Hardy.

Film Doctor visited the set and chatted with Oscar and BAFTA-winning make up designer (and owner of the Christine Blundell Make-Up Academy), Christine Blundell, about her craft and career!


Christine Blundell working with Tim Spall for 'Mr. Turner'
Christine Blundell working with Tim Spall for ‘Mr. Turner’


What’s your family background? Do you come from a creative family? 

My family background is a bit eclectic actually. My Dad was a car dealer and my Mum breeds dogs and we traveled a lot when I was growing up. It wasn’t a creative background but we moved a lot, so I got very used to getting on with people quickly and new situations.


At what point in your life did you realise that make-up was your calling?

I’ve never realised it was my calling. It’s something that I kind of ended up doing. I love doing it. Hairdressing was always my thing, and I never actually thought I’d be doing it in films – it didn’t occur to me that films might be ‘open’, I didn’t know anyone who worked in film, I had no relation to anyone who worked in the media industry. It was an industry I knew nothing about. I’m the first one in my family to be in this industry.


So was there a stage in time where you saw it could be a reality? Was it overnight or did you take one step at a time?

Well, I’ve never had that Eureka moment [laughs], this is what I happen to be doing. Every now and again, I think “I’m really lucky to be doing a job that I enjoy so much”, but my whole career pathway has never been quite structured, as maybe some people.

If I’m talking to my students now, I’d always say do a 10-year plan and decide where you want to be in 4 years, 6 years, etc. However, I’m saying that with the reflection of my own career, I’ve never given myself any guidelines. To an extent, everything that I’ve done, I’ve kind of almost fallen into.


Tom Hardy in Legend © 2015 - Universal Pictures
                                              Tom Hardy in Legend © 2015 – Universal Pictures


You started with a hair salon?

I’ve always done hairdressing. When I was 15-16, I’d cut my friends’ hair. Then I was of the generation where punk rock started. I was a punk: played in a band and worked with a lot of bands at that time – did everyone’s hair.

Then it all went on from there, really. Got to own a hairdressing salon, then had to decide whether to open a chain of salons or do I sell up while it’s doing well and move back into London? I was missing being in London, so I went back, did a make-up course and was lucky enough to start working on pop videos, assisting for a while; then I got into TV stuff with LWT.


In those days, what would you say was the key to getting those jobs? Luck? Proactivity? Recommendations?

It’s kind of a combination of all of them really. I know that my hairdressing helped me get into the London Weekend because at the time London Weekend were going freelance and the fact that I was a hairdresser and they were doing a production set in the 1940s and needed someone who would do short back and sides.

A lot of it was being quite resilient – you know, you get a lot of knockbacks in this industry and you have to be prepared. Nothing is a given. You might be told your own a shoot but until they’re shouting wrap, you don’t know for sure.


You’ve done some TV recently, haven’t you? Is there a huge difference between working in film and TV?

I do bits of TV, yes. Because I have my make-up school and obviously I have a few friends that are producers – a very good friend of mine is Gina Carter, who runs Sprout Productions with Stephen Fry and I usually get involved with them at an early stage and oversee and manage some of their productions for them. I namely do it so that I can get my students and graduates to work on them.

I think, as time’s go on, there isn’t such a huge difference between the two. The thing is, now television has kind of opened up to masses, really, in terms of the stuff that they produce. Like television series – they have really, really gone upmarket; they’ve really upped their game.


Tom Hardy in Legend © 2015 - Universal Pictures
                                               Tom Hardy in Legend © 2015 – Universal Pictures


You worked on HackersWas this your first overseas job? How did you end up doing that?

Oh blimey [laughs] It was, yes – it was in New York. I think it was Jolie’s [Angelina] first film. It was with a lovely British director called Iain Softley. He wanted quite a high-end look. I went there with Liz Daxeur, who specialised in fashion and I was kind of the film side of the partnership. We went over there for 9 weeks, before they started filming, just to do research, stayed in a lovely penthouse just on the edge of Central Park.

I was doing all the haircuts and colouring. I remember Angelina Jolie came in with long hair and I wanted to do it like a Manga character – she just let me hack her hair off. If you look at the film, she’s got a really mental haircut, which she was really up for me doing.


So how closely do you work with actors when designing the look?

Well, I think, when you work on a film, you kind of automatically create a relationship with your actor. I don’t really do personal beauty, as I have a team that I work with and I like to know that I’ve got that kind of a back-up. But you do have to build a relationship with your actor very early on. It’s very much a collaboration; what they want to have done and what the director wants – I have to get the design going from that, really.

When you’re building the character initially, you kind of need to let the actor talk it out, tell you what they’re thinking. You’ve got the script, so you read it and you lift out anything that you think is relevant to your storyline. You get a rough timeframe of how long the story is going to span out, whether they’re going to age or anything like that; whether anything essential happens to them – e.g. they get a beating or they might get a scar that would carry on in scene 50 or whatever. So you have that as your guideline – I usually have those notes in front of me and when the actor arrives, we have a private session between us.

We’ll discuss the journey of their character throughout the film; we work out what could feasibly happen. I also have the schedule, to see how feasible it is to actually make that happen. Obviously, there’s time allowance and patience, and things like that.


Tom Hardy and Taron Egerton in Legend © 2015 - Universal Pictures
                         Taron Egerton and Tom Hardy in Legend © 2015 – Universal Pictures


At what point do you come in on the process?

With Mike’s [Leigh] films, as soon as he says he’s making a film, I’m basically on it. He’ll have a little meeting with his essential, core crew – which is myself,  Dick Pope, Suzy who does the set design, Jacqueline Durran, who does the costume design; he’ll give us a brief outline of what he wants to do, which is always very ‘sketchy’.

Then, from the moment he starts rehearsing with his actors, we’re at the end of phone, should he need us. The thing with Mike is, it’s always very low budget and we’ve worked long enough with him to understand his process well. So, we very much commit as soon as he starts rehearsing, really.

It’s a formula that works. I did my very first film with Mike  Life Is Sweet. It’s very unusual in this industry to have a group of filmmakers that you kind of reunite with every couple of years – and it’s a lovely thing. We’re all freelancers and it’s a lovely feeling to know that you’ve got that ‘filming family’. And as much as all of us go off and do big budget films, we all want to come back and get into the filmmaking that we know and love – which are Mike’s films.


Speaking of family, how have you managed to juggle work/life?     

How have I managed to be a working Mum for 17 years? [laughs] It’s just something you have to factor into the equation. As much as I love my career, I’ve always wanted to be a Mum, as well. But also, I never wanted to give up work to be a Mum.

I was lucky enough to have done awful lot of traveling – with work and on my own – before I had kids, so by the time I did have kids I was more than happy to set up home, work it out. Yes, I’ve always had to employ a nanny or someone, to be with us, because of the nature of what I do. But I just kind of factored that in. It’s just something I’ve built into the equation.


For anyone who doesn’t know, could you explain the difference between a Make-up Artist and Make-up Designer?

A Make-up Designer essentially designs the whole look and the Make-up Artist works to the Designer’s instructions.


Students working at Christine's Make Up Academy
Students working at Christine’s Make Up Academy


What are the typical challenges that crop up on set with Hair & Make-up? 

There are always challenges when you’re on set. The more experienced you get, the more used you get to thinking about those things. You just have to talk to the relevant people to help you out.


Do you think there are common mistakes that Directors/Producers make with the Make-up department?

Not really. It might happen on student films, when people are not quite aware of what we do, but when you get to a certain level of filmmaking, I think everybody is respectful of what everybody does. For example, if we need time, they know that we don’t ask for it very often, so that means we do really need it.


Is there one common trait that you’ve noticed amongst particularly successful directors?

Something all directors share is their own uniqueness. They don’t work with each other, so each of them has their own way. Like, working with Danny Boyle was very different to working with Guy Ritchie.


© 2015 - Universal Pictures
Tom Hardy in Legend © 2015 – Universal Pictures


What advice would you give to an aspiring Make-up Designer starting out today, hoping to achieve what you have?

I think just be resilient. And if you have the passion to make it work, it will work, but you have to really want to live the dream. I run a make-up school and the mantra is always that we can teach everyone to be a really good trainee, but we can’t get you out of bed. That means that you’ve got to really want to do it. Nobody else is going to bring that to the table, you’re in charge of it.


What advice would you give to a Writer/Producer/Director, trying to get noticed today?

Again, I think it would be exactly the same advice I’d give to anyone wanting to get into make-up or costume. And you have to bring your own uniqueness to it. It’s kind of about bringing something that has your own personal stamp on it. There’s so much ‘formula work’, if somebody can bring something that’s unique to the table, then everybody’s going to pay a bit of attention.

And take on board advice, what people say to you. I always say to my trainees, even if you think you know more than the person telling you about it, just get on with – because there will be one point, further down the line, when you’ll be in charge and you’d want things done your way. Just have a good manner – personality caries you a long way in this industry.


What can you tell us about your school, The Christine Blundell Make-up Academy?

My school’s the best [laughs] I opened my school 7 years ago. The reason I opened it is because I didn’t feel that other schools at the time were offering up-to-date make-up training; I didn’t feel trainees were being taught what they needed to know. They were coming out with portfolios which were totally irrelevant; I kind of needed to know that they could break people down, make them look dirty, make them look like they lived on a street in Victorian London, and I needed them to know what a 1st AD was and what a Gaffer was.    

Legend poster

Legend is out Friday in the UK and 2nd October in the US. If you’re interested in training at Christine’s school, have a look here.

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