Speaking from her home in Hertfordshire, just before she was set to jump on a plane to Ireland to work on the final season of Game of Thrones, we caught up with Oscar winning makeup artist Lucy Sibbick to talk about her work on transforming Gary Oldman into Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour.
This isn’t the first time Lucy has worked on Game of Thrones, having worked with Barrie Gower FX on the production in the past, “it is nice to be back,” said Lucy with an almost audible smile, “it’s lovely… every year a lot of my colleagues go over to work on it, so it’s great to go back this time and be with this amazing team.”
Of course I wanted to find out what she knew about the new series, and naturally she kept pretty mum. But it’s hard to say if she knew much of anything at all, saying, “to be honest, a lot of it is kept secret from us. We know what makeup is doing… but unless we are on set (which we’re not), we don’t know what is happening (in the scene).”
But we were here to talk about Darkest Hour, and our chat came just a month after she’d walked away with the trophy for best makeup – a win which surprised few following the incredible transformation of Gary Oldman into Winston Churchill – a performance which also won him his first ever Oscar. I asked her to look back on the day.
“It’s very stressful for girls to get ready… obviously I’d never done the Oscars – I’d done the BAFTAs, but the Oscars are a level of their own. When you’re there, at first everything is welcoming… they give you a lot of champagne. But then it’s very scary waiting for your category to be announced.”
“When we won, it took me a bit longer to get to the stage than the rest of the team, with those high heels on. I honestly don’t know what happened – there was so much happening, so many people, so many faces – so many people out the back, I don’t know how we don’t hear them during the broadcast. Back there you do all the additional thank yous, then you re-watch the moment back on stage. Then there’s the photographers that take the pictures of you. And then you go through to the journalists section… it looks like a call centre of journalists… and you answer questions. And then you get led back to your seats and you fit in some champagne as best as you can between everything.”
“It was like an hour to get back to my east after I won the trophy. I just wanted to get back and watch the rest of the awards! My boyfriend said he talked to the seat fillers, saying “my girlfriend just won”, and they said “I’m not supposed to talk to you but congratulations.”” Needless to say, it was a surreal experience for the accomplished artist.
While she said the win was still a surprise in spite of all the acclaim and wins in the leadup, Lucy did acknowledge the achievement, and the difficulties of the work. “Obviously Gary (Oldman) doesn’t look like Winston Churchill, so it was a hard job to sculpt a likeness – his eyes are in a different place to Winston’s for starters… but I think it came down to the beautiful prosthetics created by Kazuhiro Tsuji (the prosthetic makeup artist who reportedly came out of retirement for the project).”
And naturally, she’s her own harshest critic, remarking, “you look back and say you wish I did this and wish I did that, but that’s being a perfectionist. When you’re on the set, you’re watching all the close ups, you don’t know if it looks good. You just want to do the best job you can do. Honestly, there’s not many scenes I look back and think that’s not right. Together with the work that we did and with Gary’s amazing performance, I think we did a good job.”
And that job was a lot of work, for not a lot of people, “on set, it was just myself and David (Malinowski), because Tsuji was in LA – he just wanted to do the design, and the sculpt and then have it applied by other people. So the biggest challenge was that we were a small team, and then I have to look after Gary’s hair and makeup on set. Hair is someone’s entire job. Having to do that PLUS prosthetic makeup is incredibly difficult. The time frame was the challenge, everything had to be perfect – Gary allowed me to maintain his hair and makeup all day – he called me his umbilical cord. Not all actors would have let me do that.”
But being able to be an umbilical cord for an actor isn’t something you can achieve over night. The only reason she was able to make it work was because of working on countless projects over the years, “you learn over years and years of working, when things go wrong – what goes wrong and what shortcuts you can use.”
And everything is a team effort, and Darkest Hour is more than just Gary Oldman’s makeup, “Ivana Primorac and her team… Flora Moody, Heather Manson, Jenny Watson… they had so many people to make up, and lots of them had wigs done so well you’d never know! It’s really difficult to get period make-up looking natural, and they’ve just done a beautiful job of everyone who’s in the film. Together I think we did a great job.”
Darkest Hour is on DVD, Blu-Ray and Digital now.