Sunday 08 February, 2015

We met Arwel Wyn Jones and Claire Pritchard-Jones


The inspiring power-couple tells us funny and exciting background stories about the amazing work on the set of Sherlock and Doctor Who.

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Without him, Sherlock would be homeless and maybe a member of his own network.
And Irene Adler’s bedroom would never have this elegant look.
He develops and creates apartments and tube waggons only to be blown up. He spots the ultimate locations and modifies them into unique exciting sets.

She does a job every fangirl wants to have. At least for a day. She is allowed to tousle Sherlock’s hair as she likes. Twist and diffuse, you’ll find out….
She creates amazing make-ups like bullet shots or scars that hurt when just looking at them.

We had the chance to meet the brilliant power couple Arwel Wyn Jones, Production Designer of Sherlock, and Claire Pritchard-Jones, Hair and Make-up-Designer at Sherlock. And just let us say – they are not less amazing than their works.

What we like to know first is how did they manage to get such a cool jobs. “[…]The only way to get in there was to keep studying and attending courses that were relevant”, Claire explains. She wanted to join the BBC since her early youth and therefore moved to London to make her way. Eventually, her dream became true when “I was accepted at the BBC for an apprenticeship scheme which is sadly finished now.“, she regrets. “I worked 2 years as an apprentice there and then was employed by them. Skills combined with a little bit of luck.

Arwel, on the contrary, did not attend special trainings or courses. He started as a runner making teas and coffees for people and just worked my way up. […] There are lots of people I know they’ve done it by going through college courses or through practical sides – equally is good. But it just suited me the way I did it.”

Besides their long experience both do have something very special, as Claire defines modestly: “You do have to have the artistic vein, you have to have the eye … creativity…. that has to be in you….”

Yes, indeed, it’s a cool job. But it’s also hard work. A fact many people underestimate. You see a lot of people now they start off in this industry because they like the idea of it but they don’t like to have to work for it. Arwel knows quite well. And Claire can only confirm: So although I’ve been training for four years prior to that I still started at the bottom within the BBC.”

Claire’s first major project was a Welsh television drama series called Teulu”, which means family” in Welsh. Here she learned a lot and her colleagues have been very supportive, as she emphasizes. Arwel’s way was rather a quite bumpy road to success. Because I didn’t have the college courses or the background or degrees or that stuff I found it very difficult to get work as design assistant or art director for many years. So I went and did a lot of commercials and steps like that” he tells us. But then it happened, finally, while he was still working on projects with Hayden Pierce, when I had a call to come in for an interview for art directing on Doctor Who. I went in and got that and started on the first series. And slowly from there I really did what I’ve always done and worked hard as much as I could.”

Doctor Who is the longest-running and most successful science fiction TV series, already iconic, with a worldwide fandom. Arwel was the Art Director for Doctor Who for 4 years, and worked on some episodes written by Steven Moffat. He then took over other projects such asThe Sarah Jane Adventures, a spin-off of Doctor Who. And he heard the rumours: A new TV series was planned. He already knew Sue Vertue and due to his collaboration with Steven Moffat he was a fan of his work. Arwel became part of Sherlock - even though I didn’t even see the script, I just knew of the concept.”

We ask why the set, especially the flat at 221Bwas changed quite noticeable after the pilot.

“There are numerous reasons for it”, Arwel tells us, continuing: “The brief itself was different but also it was a co-work […] so it wasn’t just me. […] It was very much a Sherlock traditional story with elements of the 21st century. But when they shot the pilot […] and watched it, one of the main things they saw was that actually it worked very much better when it was the 21st century story.” The brief needed to be changed and Arwel had “a completely blank canvas to start again with the set. [though] We couldn’t afford to discard the set completely so I had to work within some parameters”, Arwel remembers.


But it wasn’t only the set that got adjusted, also Sherlock changed within the new episodes. Claire tells us: “All Steven and Mark said to me was Byronesque.[She refers to Lord Byron]  They wanted him to look like a poet. […] he was a creature of the night, so he [Mark] wanted his complexion very pale.”  Benedict’s rough time schedule didn’t make it easy for Claire. And for each new series she had to deal with what previous productions had left over. Moreover, Benedict’s hair had grown again for each new series to get the length everyone loves with Sherlock.


How much freedom she has in designing, we would like to know. “It’s very script-led,” she explains. “We analyse the way the character is described within the script. And then we put our ideas forward to the producers and directors, they also have got their ideas. […] and then they cast the actor and they might have a completely different idea. So we work up until the last minute really […] And of course ultimately they [the actors] have to believe that they are that character. And we do the best we can to make them feel it.

Arwel hardly gets any requirements, just a kind of overall impression on how the set should look like. Some elements are defined or must be on-site, such as e.g. a window, because it is needed for a particular scene, “but, Arwel says the overall look I’ve been very lucky – they have always trusted me very much. But you collaborate with the directors as well so I don’t just go this must be the way it is. […] And more often they go out like “alright, ok, that’s nice”.

We are curious and bring up the iconic wallpaper. Did he choose it? Arwel smiles in a humble way when answering: “You get a load of sample books and go through them […] also walk-on places like pubs, shops. It’s mixing those things. […] The wallpaper itself is a little bit of personal triumph of me cos no one was really sure I was doing the right thing. Even […] Ed, the designer, said “I hope he knows what he’s doing.” …and also even Paul McGuigan said to me as we were doing it “oh, you know… if you are sure.”. And I was like “Oh, my God, right the case, this is definitely on my shoulders” it was one of this moments right for if this doesn’t work it’s my arse really… luckily not only did they work, they also became such an iconic part of the programme.” [We all laugh a lot about this story.]


Claire, too, remembers when she came to the set the very first time. Everyone was in love with the wallpaper and the flat. “You immediately feel that you wanna live there. You immediately feel to sit on the sofa, you can all sit and have a nap or a have cup of tea, with the teapot… and everybody just feels comfortable there, it’s just a lovely place to live.” Even the actors were quite enthusiastic. Arwel laughs remembering Una Stubbs (Mrs. Hudson) asking “How did you know it would look so lovely?” And Claire continues Una loves the flat, she loves the kitchen, the vintage units, the teapots…”

One of the
 funniest scenes in the flat was the filming of the explosion, Claire remembers, when Benedict was in between the two windows and then the curtain went as well as his hair when he was falling forward -
we had one go with that … one go – and it just worked! …one take only, it was awesome…it was brilliant. And he [Benedict] loved it and laughed like a fool afterwards… Cos we all just knew that we only had one go with it, it was such a unique set, we were not tend to do it again.”


As the fandom has to wait for such a very long time for each new season, we want to know a little bit more about the preparation time for an episode. We don’t do it by episode, we do it as a series.” Arwel explains. “For a series of three I would start normally 6 to 7 weeks before we start shooting. Around 6 weeks before we start the shooting we start building the sets, but it takes time to build them and brush and re-decorate them and dress them and everything… once you’ve started on episode one by the second week of filming you’re already on starting the prep for episode two.”

For Claire’s work there is little scope left,
two weeks, if I’m lucky” she tells us. She works very close with the costume designers, which is very important for her. Because she wants to know about the characters how much do they earn, what job do they do, what kind of life style do they have, what’s bringing them there… I think that actually leads to how that person styles himself as well.” And Arwel adds “even when we have characters in the script for a new set, for a location, you cannot start getting the things together until you know who they cast.” And we can only agree when he says The casting has been excellent over all. All the supporting cast through all three series has been brilliant.”

Both do not get any information about the cast in advance. The moment it’s announced Claire has about 2 to 3 weeks preparation time, including the reading of the script and all previous meetings with producers and directors to clarify the particular atmosphere of an episode. Yes, this is sometimes quite stressful, as she faces right now working as make-up and hair-designer on the new Doctor Who episodes.

Nevertheless, there is a lot of fun and laughing on the set. It is important to have fun together as the hours are long and the job is sometimes quite exhausting, as Claire mentions, giving us a lovely smile. What was the funniest ever, we want to know. The explosion as it was so spontaneous, Claire answers immediately. “And it was one of the first things we did on the set.” Arwel continues, ” It was the first week and we shot The Great Game […] then we did the Blind Banker and then we did A Study in Pink.” So you shot the episodes backwards, we are wondering? “Yeah, you often do that,” Arwel explains, ” you often shoot things in a back order. So when you first meet them on the screen it’s not the first time those actors have played those parts.”

Their amazing work has their quite unique signature. But “that’s the nature of your job, isn’t it?” Arwel laughs. Claire reveals that she loves most working with wigs. “I think this is my biggest passion. And to fool people…”, she winks. It is always an exciting job – and it always depends on the script, of course. “When he [Sherlock] was the homeless guy obviously he had a lot of dirt and grime and his hair was dirty and greasy; and when you see him as iconic Sherlock he has that flawless skin, there’s a lot of hidden specific shading…you don’t greed into detail, but there’s a lot of things that you don’t notice – it’s fine brushed make-up, it’s having it there and not even seeing that it’s there.”


Time was going by too fast, we’d wished we could have talked to Claire and Arwel for a bit longer. They both are lovely and inspiring, doing such great jobs and remaining that humble and down-to-earth at the same time.

We unfortunately had to finish the interview as they had to leave for the Baker Street Vienna Convention* where Arwel did an exciting panel and Q&A upon his work. You can watch Claire’s and Arwel’s panel right here.

Meanwhile let’s just end up here with Claire’s wonderful anecdote about her little tweet “twist & diffuse”. When just doing Benedict’s hair she was asked what kind of awesome job she was doing right at the moment – and while Benedict was just sitting there reading the script while getting his curly Sherlock hair made by Claire, she tweeted for short: “twist and diffuse”. And she could not imagine what kind of an explosion on twitter she caused by those three single words…. She still smiles upon that and yet can’t believe.


Thank you, Claire and Arwel! You’re awesome and we’re looking forward to seeing much more of your brilliant work. Well, we maybe won’t “see” it anyway… ;)

Watch out the whole interview – enjoy!

* The first Sherlock Holmes Convention Baker Street Vienna took place from 14 to 15 June 2014 at Vienna. To get further information about this year’s Convention visit Baker Street Vienna.

©Copyright pictures: Arwel Wyn Jones and Claire Pritchard-Jones

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