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‘Mary Queen of Scots’ Hair, Makeup Artist Gave Substance and Style to Battling Queens

Jenny Shircore has done the makeup and hair of several queens over the years: Cate Blanchett in “Elizabeth” and “Elizabeth: The Golden Age” (she won an Oscar for the former) and Emily Blunt in “The Young Victoria.” 

In fact, she had to be convinced to do it again for Saoirse Ronan’s Queen Mary and Margot Robbie’s Queen Elizabeth in Focus Features’ “Mary Queen of Scots,” released Dec. 7, because she felt she had already thoroughly covered the period. It was costume designer Alexandra Byrne, her good friend and collaborator, who told her that this time was going to be different.

“When I first talked to [director] Josie [Rourke] about Margot Robbie, who plays Elizabeth I,” Shircore recalls, “I asked her if she would want her to look like ‘Margot Robbie’ on that screen or if I could change her — change her eyes, her eyebrows, her nose, her lips. She told me to go ahead and change her.”

The last time Shircore created the look for the character Queen Elizabeth, the queen didn’t have to suffer the smallpox she survives in this film. “I used that as my way to get Margot to eventually look like the iconic Elizabeth the First,” says Shircore. “I took the beautiful young girl and covered her in blisters and big open sores, which eventually burst and dried and left her with a pitted and scarred face.” 

Shircore made certain to put the blisters on the areas that she eventually wanted to cover up or change, and through that was able to make Robbie’s mouth smaller, her nose narrower and clear her eyebrows.

Along with Byrne’s costumes, Shircore aimed to add a modernistic touch to the film’s look. For instance, the queens’ hair is “more structured,” says Shircore. “Not so many fancy curls and things, not so many frills. This gave us a strength and a more modern feel.”

In order to transform the two actresses into character, the makeup team worked on them in their chairs for hours. Ronan’s fresh look was simpler to do, but her hair was more complicated and required two hours. For Robbie, on heavy makeup days, it was around three hours: There was a skin condition to create, a thinning wig that involved a bald cap underneath and, of course, the iconic heavy white makeup Queen Elizabeth I was known for. 

And since makeup in the 16th century was mixed with mercury and other dangerous substances, Shircore had to find the modern equivalent to stay true to her artistic visions. To that end, she worked with makeup chemists. “I explain how I want it to look, what I want it to do, that I need it to last for eight hours and that it needs to come off easily,” she says. “Then we worked it out together.

“There are so many talented chemists in the film industry [that make all these] palettes and glues and powders,” she adds. “If you need a little powder to make a character look shiny and wet, you go to them and they’ll do it for you.” 

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