Transcript Interview Arwel & Claire

Claire, you told us yesterday (at the Baker Street Vienna Convention*) that you wanted to be a make-up artist since school. You finally became one of the best. How did your education/training help to get you where you are today, doing all these fantastic projects?
Claire: Yes, when I went from school I always wanted to be part of the BBC but the only way to get in there was to keep studying and attending courses that were relevant; so I started with a beauty therapy course, then I went to London to do a Greasepaintcourse which had modulesof theatrical make-up and special effects and hair dressing. Then realised that I have to do more hair dressing. Then I was accepted at the BBC for an apprenticeship scheme which is sadly finished now. So I worked 2 years as an apprentice there and then was employed by them. This was the easiest way, it’s not that easy anymore because you have to pay more for private courses. And they tend to be shorter courses and don’t teach as much of all the aspects of what we need to do for TV. I was in a very lucky position then.

Arwel, is there a production school, special courses etc. to get ready for your job?
Arwel: There are lots of different courses for production designers, even University degrees – I have none of them. I started as a runner, making teas and coffees for people and just worked my way up and as it happened at that time were I was I went to the art department rather than carried on through production. I found it suited me better. So this is how I worked my way up. [Comment interviewer: So a learning by doing?] Yes, yeah, you know, there are two different ways for doing it. 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.

Claire: I think he is being quite modest ‘cos you do have to have the artistic vein, you have to have the eye … creativity…. that has to be in you….

Arwel: It is a good grounding because you also doing….you also understand everyone else’s job because as a runner you have to deal with all the different departments and by that you have a great understanding of what everyone is doing. And I think that helps – and has helped me since. It can also be frustrating when you see some of the younger ones come today who think they deserve it all and they expect it all but you know how hard you worked.

Claire: Yes, you have to work hard for it.

Arwel: 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 towork for it.

Claire: In all I probably studied for four years before getting into the BBC doing various courses and then I started at the bottom as a trainee. So although I’ve been training for four years prior to that I still started at the bottom within the BBC. And I think what they don’t teach people is to set etiquettes and how to deal with other departments, heads of departments. That is a ranking system and you have to respect that as good of reason. You know, a lot of young people coming in think they can have the attitude to leave at 4pm….but you know, there are long hours and long days, everybody gets tired you have to be able to adapt.

Claire, you worked on such fantastic projects, right now on Doctor Who. What was your first big project?
Claire: It was a Welsh television drama and I’d worked for this production company as a make-up assistant before. This drama has been running for a couple of years and I was called by the producer and she said “I really think you’re ready now. I’d like talk to you about the project.” That was a programme called “Teulu” [which means “Family” in Welsh] and that was a good learning place for me because I think they respected me to give me the freedom to design but also they were very supportive as well, that was good. And actually it was during the second series when I got my interview for Sherlock. I hadn’t been a designer very long before Sherlock. But I think people can just sense thatyou are the right person for the job.

Arwel: 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. Lots of designers wouldn’t employ me because I didn’t have the right background. So I went and did a lot of commercials and steps like that where I started designing quite young. And then, as a freelancer it comes and goes as well, sometimes you’re not working …and I had a quiet few years and then I went back to art directing with a designer called Hayden Pierce and had a couple of jobs with him, which is 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.

You have already worked with Steven Moffat on Doctor Who – how did you join the successful BBC series Sherlock then?
Arwel: I worked on Doctor Who for four years as an art director. And then I started doing some other jobs coming in such as“The Sarah Jane Adventures”, the spin-off of Doctor Who, so I designed two series of that. And I‘ve heard rumours of this project, the Sherlock project. I only worked with Steven on a couple of episodesof Doctor Who as Russell T. Davies was writing on the show at that time. But I’ve been lucky that I’ve been involved in all of four out of the five or three of the four of Steven’s episodes on Doctor Who, so I knew how good his writing was anyway. And I’ve met Sue a couple of times in a couple of lunches and also I was always a fan of Sherlock Holmes stories from on when I was a child.
And I went up to Ed, who was the main designer on Doctor Who and I said if you’re happy I’d love to go and do this and he said “Sure, if you’re sure.” And I was going well, yeah, I think it’s gonna be one of the few things that are gonna get bigger than Doctor Who. [Claire: It was the pilot, wasn’t it]. Yeah, the pilot. I just thought it’s one of the few things that could take me away from Doctor Who and be as interesting if not better. I didn’t even see the script, I just knew of the concept. So they were happy for me to do that. So, on the pilot it’s a co-credit between Edward and myself, and then from Season 1 on it’s when I took over completely.

You mentioned the pilot. It was quite interesting to see the changes in the set from pilot to the first episode. What were the reasons for these changes?
Arwel: There arenumerous reasons for it. The brief itself was different, just that way, but also, like I said, it was a co-work between Edward and myself, so it wasn’t just me. The layout for the set for example was already kind of designed ‘cos I was finishing off Torchwood: Children of Earth. So I left that a couple of weeks earlier to come to work on Sherlock. And to that point they already started designing the set. So I had not much input on that point.
But also the brief was that it was very much a Sherlock traditional story with elements of the 21st century. So when they shot the pilot and everything, when they watched it, one of the main things they saw was that actually it worked very much better when it was the 21st century story. So when we came to the new series, not only had the brief from the BBC changed – they wanted a 90minute and something bigger, far more elaborate than what was originally thought of – but also the design brief had changed. It was very much 21st century story with elements of Sherlock. So a complete change of the set. It really gave me a completely blank canvasto start again with the set.

Other than with elements of the structure we couldn’t afford to discard the set completely so I had to work within some parameters but some things I changed anyway like the split level floor in the pilot. It didn’t work really ‘cos most of time you don’t see it, so you see someone walking across and then see him…[Arwel makes a gesture how somebody’s getting smaller and smaller when walking around]…drop down. And also it’s a nightmare to work in… you need to track across… you need the cameras… And I got rid of the arch which was wrong for the period, instead of ancients flock more textures… The apartment itself was a transitional space because it was a rental, so everyone who stayed there has left a mark so we went back to maybe the earliest point, maybe the 40’s, rather than before it was back to Victorian, mainly Victorian feel and then elements of modern. Well, not back at kind of the 40’s really but maybe a couple of touches are turning you back to Victorian but it’s 40’s, 50’s, lots of 60’s 70’s and then these elements of modern day… So that’s why there are so many different textures and feels and looks.

Benedict’s hair was very short in the pilot and he looked incredibly young. How did make-up and hair design changed from season to season, what was the challenge for you, Claire?
Claire: We came on very late stage really and unfortunately Benedict didn’t have the length of hair that they wanted and because it was a pilot the budget wasn’t really there for wigs and anything like that. So everybody was just a little bit on…how to identify Sherlock’s look. You know it’s a big thing and once it’s established there’s no going back. All Steven and Mark said to me was Byronesque. They wanted him to look like a poet. And Mark was quite stuck on the idea and mentioned briefly that he was a creature of the night, so he wanted his complexion very pale. But that isn’t a kind that always works. So if you look back on it on the first two seasons he looked very young and I think it moved on and they progressed to mature it a bit more.
My problem is that Benedict is so busy that when we come to each series we have to deal with whatever is left over from a previous production. So given it time to grow his hair to the length that we all love it with Sherlock, producers, writers, directors and all the fans love his mats of curly hair even he was not so keen on it [we had to laugh a lot about that as we, too, love Sherlock’s curly hair!]. He worked with it but he did find it a bit difficult to deal with for himself every day, it’s fine when I’m styling it for him and he just not has to think of it but I think he finds it how to manage by himself so that’s the only reason.
So unfortunately I just have to pick up where another programme has left of and then I’m looking out cos I got no inklings to see these… Every time I see him now with that short hair I panic in case they say well it’s gonna happen next month [Claire laughs]. But no, we just have to deal with each series, trying keep it like as we all like it now.

What do you like most about doing make-up? Is it more hair design or make-up you like to do?
Claire: I mean the thing is at the moment now being on Dr. Who it’s the ultimate job for me to be honest. Because you work across the broad, you’re doing everything. I can’t say anything unfortunately about the work I’ve been doing the last couple of months but it’s literally been across the spectrum of everything you can possibly do and also the collaboration working with the Millennium Effect Team – you know where they do all the big monster make-ups but then we are all in the same touches and things that we add that actually sort of make it a believable creature, part human and part alien as well. So there is also cross-over there, it’s brilliant. At the moment, I think I am kind of there.

Do you have a lot of freedom in designing, how you do designs or are there a lot of specifications you get?
Claire: It’s very script-led. Obviously 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 we may have a good image in mind and then they, of course,cast the actor and they might have a completely different idea so they won’t continue over it with him. So we work up until the last minute really – how they are comfortable, how they feel the character, is it right for them – because obviously that can affect the performance. And of course ultimately they have to believe that they are that character. And we do the best we can to make them feel it.

Arwel, what about the specifications you have to deal with within your work? Do you get clear specifications?
Arwel: Well, no they never specify what overall-look it should have, there might be specifics in the script that dictate some elements that must happen and must be available like any spare window here or something like that that has to be there for a specific moment. But 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. You go with directions of things about “this is what I’m thinking of doing this and this.” And more often they go out like “alright, ok, that’s nice”.

So when you made the decision upon the famous wallpaper, how did you come across it? You go to a shop or…?
Arwel: Yes sometimes. Or you get a load of sample books and go through them and go kind of “alright, that maybe or this…”. It is also a very good resource to have a lot of antique papers that are online you can have a look at … it’s a bit of everything, also walk-on places like pubs, shops. It’s mixing those things.

Let’s talk about that lovely and by now already famous wallpaper… The fans are crazy about it, it’s one of the most iconic parts of the series. What do you think about that?
Arwel: 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 I found out later, when the wallpaper being put up that Ed, the designer, was walking through the studio and said to my decorator “I hope he knows what he’s doing.” [we all laugh a lot about this anecdote]…and also even Paul McGuigan, the director who was very much into these wallpapers 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 definitelyon 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.            

Claire: When I walked onto the set and the crew loved it as much as the cast. 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. And the one thing I noticed as well was the wallpaper that turned to be on the fireplace wall and by the mirror you do get the reflection of the state of behind. And I kind of looked at that and I thought oh eh, that’s clashing a bit… and even when they didn’t get anything in there, but of course they know it looks brilliant, the contrast of the two patterns together, it gives you that depth. As a set to work on you feel like you’re in a real building, in a home.

Arwel: Una said, when they were on the set for the first time: “how did you know it will work? How did you know it would look so lovely?” [laughs when remembering this]

Claire: Una loves the flat, she loves the kitchen, the vintage units, the teapots…when I got the chance to see it, one of the funniest moments was that explosion when Benedict was in betweenthe two windows and the curtain went, and his hair went, and so just being in that room put the fabrics on the window and if it all works, we had one go with that … one go – and it just worked! And the fabrics just blew and the hair went…one take only, it was awesome…it was brilliant. And he loved it and laughed like a fool afterwards, didn’t he, it was so good. 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.

How much of preparation do you need in average for one episode?
Arwel: We don’t do it by episode, we do it as a series. So 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; and also the prep for the specific things for the episode. But once you’ve started on episode one by the second week of filming you’re already on starting the prep for episode two. That’s why it’s important to have such a good team around you … [to Claire:] is the same with you, isn’t it, you have a little bit less prep time over all.

Claire: Yes, two weeks, if I’m lucky…

Do you work very close with the costume designers?
Claire: Yes, I really really love working with the costume department, I think it’s so important. First to establish a character you’ve got to think and I can say I always wanna know how much do they earn, what job do they do, what kind of life style do they have, what’s bringing them there – and I guessed about them asking me questions. I think that actually leads to how that person styles himself as well. And again it’s all the same with the script…

Arwel: I’m fascinated about what you say because 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; it’s difficult a kind of actually pinpoint what the character is. Once you know the cast you know ah alright… you can start to decorate, but until that, you know…

Claire: I think oh God wouldn’t so and so be perfect, I hope they cast this person, that character he’d be brilliant. And then they turn up with somebody I can’t fall, I don’t see it, I don’t feel. But then, once the costume arrives, once the hair gets into shape and once you see the set – you think oh yeah! That’s well; now I know why they cast this person…

Arwel: The casting has been excellent over all. All the supporting cast through all three series has been brilliant. [We all agree unanimously upon the amazing cast of Sherlock.]

Do you get any information about the cast selection in advance?
Arwel: No, we don’t.

Claire: And we are not allowed to contact anybody until they’re sort of being contracted or the legal step is being done. So that’s why for me it’s usually quite late. Because all those things I have been completely…we are not aware of all that, but that happens quite late for me so I’m lucky if I get them. We usually have them a week before filming for rehearsals, read troughs – that’s when I get to see them.
I usually get a sort of 2 to 3 weeks preparation before the start of the series. And that’s for all the script reading or the very early meetings with the producers and directors to set the tone, basically, the toneof what the episode is, whether it’s quite dark, quite humorous or whatever it is – that kind of give you those ideas and then as I said the casting comes …we could do after that; and we get the team on board and we all get up to speed. And once we start shooting then the prep overlaps to the shooting so we do as we go along then – and that’s quite tricky sometimes.
Actually now on Doctor Who it’s such a big machine and there are so many people involved – very stressful, week in between… ‘cos one block, we shot 2 episodes in one block with that director, and then the next block with another two episodes with a separate director and producer so ‘cos they are full steam ahead they want everyone up and running and they want their priority. But of course you’re still giving that priority. So there’s that week that cross over week in between, that is insane. And of course you wanna make sure that you are givingeverything a 100 percent. So this is what’s quite stressful.

What was the funniest moment you can remember?
Claire: Well, as I said the moment with Benedict in front of those two windows and the explosion ‘cos it was so spontaneous…

Arwel: …and it was one of the first things we did on the set. It was the first week and we shot The Great Game – it was the first thing we shot, we started off with The Great Game then we did the Blind Banker and then we did A Study in Pink.

Claire: Yes I think he wanted to give the boys the chance to get into the roles.

It’s interesting to hear that you shot episode 3 first and then backwards…
Arwel: Yeah, you often do that, 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. And in the second series we shot Hound first, then Reichenbach and then Belgravia. Yeah, so that was 2 – 3 – 1.

Claire: I think initiallyespecially with series 1 they didn’t want the audience to meet Sherlock and Watson without them having timeto work together and have that kind of chemistry… I think this was a good way they did it; I think the boys appreciated that.

They seemed to have fun.
Claire: Yes we do have lots of funny moments I mean you can’t really fight them I suppose. Because on a daily basis, you have to laugh. It can be such a stress the job and the hours are long …  
And in the pre sequence when he saw his long wig on he was doing a bit air guitar on the make-up truck. So that was great fun. There is often fun and games … so generally we do really enjoy our jobs.

Is there a special “Claire signature” make-up? Something that makes a make-up identifiable as one of yours?
Arwel: Well that’s the nature of your job, isn’t it? In fact, there isn’t…. it’s specific to the job…

Claire: My little tag on twitteris help the people feel the part or something like that. It’s working closely with the actor to make sure that they are completely comfortable and also this fine brushstroke because lots of people I have worked with in the past when I was an apprenticetheir make-up was so much heavier, the wigs were so wiggly – I love working with wigs; I think this is my biggest passion. And to fool people…

Arwel: ….and persuade directors ‘cos you have directors that don’t want wigs, and it’s the same with US. Some directors don’t want sets ‘cos they believe they look like sets or that in first case they will look like wigs. So it happens persuading these kinds of people … if you do it properly it will be the right thing…

Claire: …because directors often come and are really unsure when I say I want to wig them “oh no, no, I don’t want any wigs; I don’t want any facial hair” … and I say no, just let me, I know you may have …. Oh no we have had bad experience with wigs, they take too much time, they look awful, it’s never convincing. And they think it takes too much time in the morning to put them on, too much maintenance during the day… and I say please just let me do it. And then we did a series with Ruth Jones who is quite famous for a series inthe UK calledGavin & Stacey, and then she went on straight to another drama, “Stella”… so she started talking with the DOP about this dyed hair and all the maintenance. And the DOPwas shocked in the 20th episode and on episode 7 she then had a make-over and she wore two wigs, the first one and the second one, and the DOP at the end of the 20th episode could not believe that either them were wigs. And he’s looking down the lens, he’s the one behind the camera and he said “I just can’t believe that!” And I said that they were, they were both wigs and neither of them was her own hair. And at the end of the series he told everybody they were. So it’s about that you don’t see it…

Arwel: Marc, one of the main lead actors on “Stella” said to me at some award ceremony orsomething was coming up. And he said: I suppose the problem with you two – and he was referring to both of us – if you do your job properly no one sees it.

Claire: When you’ve got your set and you translate it to take it to the studio and its need to be an office block in London and you succeed, nobody ever knows about the set. So in a way you do all the technical which you don’t know that it’s even a wig.
With Benedict it’s a lot of depending on what the story is. When he 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 – which goes again against the some awards because they think we haven’t been much there.

Thank you so much for taking the time to do this lovely interview! We enjoyed very much meeting you.

* The first Sherlock Holmes Convention Baker Street Vienna took place from 14th to 15th June 2014 at Vienna.