Gold Make-Up Artist Jennifer Lamphee Talks About Making Zac Efron Ugly in This Interview

Jennifer Lamphee’s work as a hair and make-up artist is unparalleled. Sharing the 2018 AACTA award for Ladies in Black, Lamphee’s has also brought the world of science fiction to life with Pacific Rim: Uprising and The Wolverine, while also presenting the impact of the rugged Aussie landscape on characters in Leah Purcell’s The Drover’s Wife: The Legend of Molly Johnson and Anthony Hayes Gold.

In the below interview, Lamphee talks about her working relationship with Anthony Hayes, the difficulty of working in the extreme November heat in South Australia, and mucking up the face of Hollywood legend Zac Efron.

How did you come to work on Gold?

Jennifer Lamphee: I have known Hayesie for close to thirty years. I’ve worked with him a lot as an actor. He rang and said, “I’d like you to do Gold.” I said, “Send it, I’ll have a read.” I started to read it and I was like, “Oh, this isn’t the desert, is it?” He goes, “No, babe, it’s the desert.” I go, “Oh, where are we going, Port Augusta?” “No, further.” Being Australian, you shoot out in the desert so many times, and you always think after the last time, “I’m not going back there, it’s just too hard.” I said, “Okay, I’ll do it. I must love you or something.” The desert can be its own force.

Obviously [Hayesie] was directing and acting in it and I know Susie Porter equally as well. The only one I didn’t know was Zac, of course. I said to Hayesie, “Is he nice or is he going to be tricky?” Because I’m like, “If he’s gonna be a [pain], it’s gonna be just so difficult.” He goes, “No, he’s really up for everything, Jen.” I was like, “Cool, then I’m sure we’ll have fun.” For Zac, he’s pretty much in every scene and had prosthetics on his face every day with no rest for his skin. With all the elements in the desert, it was quite a tricky process.

Hayesie, because I know him so well and he knows my work so well, handed the whole [make-up] aspect over, “Do your thing.” As a designer that’s gold. I said, “I’ll do it, but you tell me if you’re not happy, or whatever.” He literally handed me the ball and I went for it.

What time of the year was it shot?

JL: It was in November! I was like, “Dude, do you know how hot it’s gonna be out there?” He goes, “Yeah, it’s gonna be hot.” I kid you not, 51 degrees [ground temperature] was probably one of the coolest days we had, to the point on that clay pan, because there was nothing to shield you from anything, it was 64 degrees on one day on the actual clay pen. It melted the soles of our shoes and the grips’ tires on their utes. It was intense. Every day you just didn’t know what was going to happen.

[We shot in the actual] dust storm that was in the movie. Zac said to me, because he was weirdly off grid, there was absolutely no way his management or agent would let him out in that. They would have just come in and gone, “Absolutely not.” You know? So he said, “Let’s do it.” It was so gnarly and full on. At one point, I said to Hayesie, “There’s no coming back from this. Whatever happens, this is how he’s going to have to look for the rest of the day.” He’d have to get in the shower. He was covered [in dirt]. He was such an amazing sport and never complained. He was there, he was in it.

As for me, you couldn’t ask for better. We had masks on and goggles, and he did in between [takes]. We washed out his eyes and things like that. He’s probably still got a lung full of the desert. He was such a trooper, he went there. He said never in the States or anywhere else would they have allowed him to do that. Weirdly, he was quite excited by that too, I guess being off grid and just getting amongst it.

I think he likes doing projects like that, where he is taken out of that A-list Hollywood celebrity world. Where he just can be him. We were all living away, even the accommodation was pretty no frills. I remember we did a location move further from Leigh Creek up to Marree or further. I got the wrong address, and I rock into where Zac’s accommodation was, and he’s moving into this tiny, shack-like thing. I go, “Oh my god, is that your accommodation?” He goes, “Yeah,” and I go, “Oh, Jesus, imagine what mine looks like.” His was pretty bad. And he was laughing! Of course, mine was ten times worse. There was no accommodation with frills, but he was fine with that. He said it was nice because on weekends, he could party or go out with the crew. He said he hadn’t done that since he was about sixteen because somebody would take a photo and put it somewhere. We were all in this weird little bubble together and everyone was so respectful of his privacy and our privacy. I suppose it was more his privacy that we all were just so respectful. I think Aussies are not as starstruck.

How far away from the set were you located?

JL: Because they wanted to get 360 views, it was always a drive. Once you left the comfort of your makeup van, you’re not coming back until it’s wrapped. I suppose it was always like a half an hour, forty-five minute drive into the clay pan. You didn’t have any sort of creature comforts. Even with the dust storms, you’d get these things that were called whirly whirlies and you’d see it coming, and everyone would just be holding on to the top of the [tents]. It would go through you, and you’d be hammered with dust, and then it would pass. What you don’t see in the film was that [there were] bright blue skies the whole time. It was hot.

These are characters who are out in the elements for a long period of time. How did you design and build the make-up for them?

JL: Before they arrived, we did lots of tests. We had a set double. The main problem I was concerned about was if I made anything with silicone prosthetics, that [with] that amount of heat and that temperature [that] when an actor sweats, they were just going to lift off. I made them out of a hard silicone called Probondo. I also knew that being out in the elements, I had to turn over the prosthetics. We had all different stages, so I had to refill them to make sure that they would set, and we would put them on his face. They’re a lot more hardy or robust than a normal prosthetic. I knew that they would probably last the heat, the sweat and all the things that go on with the elements.

I had done a lot of research with medical photos, like burns and blisters, and then there’s always the creative licence as well. I had boxes of different sorts of variations. First, you get the watery blister, [which] we called stage one, and then the progression of what would happen if they just kept getting more burnt. We had done tests on a double, and I’d show Hayesie and go, “What do you think? This is when he first feels them at the back of his neck.” I didn’t want to waste time, so we were in good shape by the time [Zac] arrived. We knew what levels [to use] and how far to push it. Hayesie would come and see the tests of how far we could push it.

The main thing was [Zac] is so handsome, and his eyes are like crystals. His skin is so beautiful. That character [also] had a couple of old scars from an old injury. I’m thinking, “Oh I’m gonna have to really break his skin down and make him look terrible.” So, it was really a process of trying to knock out the perfect skin. I used a lot of inks and waterproof products because everything else is just going to melt off. It was tricky. It was hard to keep him at a level of looking fucked up, even just as his character with no burns with that amount of heat. The same with Hayesie. We had to stuff up his skin, and he’s a really white boy. I was concerned about him burning more to the point because it was so hot out there. You have to do all the things with sunscreen and things like that, but then you also had to layer up all your stuff over the top. It was high maintenance, but it was fine.

The same with Susie. When we did her first camera tests, I stuffed up her skin and made her skin look broken down. I bleached out her eyebrows to just make something look a little bit unusual. Even on camera tests, being Susie, she still looked so beautiful. She’d flown back to Sydney after the test, and then she was coming back again. I rang her and I said, “Porter, you look too beautiful, hun. I’m gonna have to stuff you up more. I think you’re gonna have to be full tilt ugly.” And she goes, “Oh Lamphee, I might have to digest that.” I’m like, “Well, you digest it and call me back.” I was saying we should do a harelip or a bung eye or something. She rings me back, “Okay, I’m in.”

She plays two sisters; one we just sort of bleached her eyebrows out, and she didn’t have any prosthetics, and the second one, we sort of did the harelip. I couldn’t do just a harelip because, in this climate, it would insult the harelip community, so it wasn’t like a traditional harelip. Then I made some prosthetics that drooped one eye, and she had an old scar as well. [With] that sister, I coloured all her hair and I had made some dreadlock pieces, so it was a very subtle shift. She really went with it. She’s very white too, so I was concerned she was going to get burnt. She didn’t. You’ve got those elements and then you had the dust and the wind. For blue-eyed people, when you’re in the desert, it’s almost like shooting in the snow. The reflection was quite hardcore on their eyes to not have sunglasses on, because they’re light-coloured, so it was quite full on.

We wanted everyone to be a part of that environment. Some of it developed further as we were out there because of the actual elements and the dust, but it was very important to take the city out of them. It was really important to break them down and to make them look like they were from that land or environment.

When you’re out there, shooting in an actual dust storm, how do you pivot on the go?

JL: We shot in it, to be honest. We weren’t supposed to be shooting the dust storm that day. At that point, I think he had some of the bubbles and the blisters on, so we just sent the runaround to go back to unit base to grab more prosthetics and we’ve quickly made Zac up under a tent and shot the dust storm because we had one. At that point, because it was so full on, I was like, “Hayesie, just so you know, whatever happens is going to happen. I don’t even know myself what’s really gonna happen.” He was covered [in dust]. I said, “We’re not going back to what we were gonna shoot earlier. We can’t.”

Is it easier shooting on digital so you can see what you’ve got right there and then?

JL: Yeah, it does. I have my own sort of monitor. Because it was digital, we had an editor onsite too that would basically transfer the data and then that night you’d get emailed them. We didn’t have phone reception or internet, but we all did have these device things that we could use so we could watch the dailies. That was great, because it made it easy for us to track all the stages, and all the detail. Continuity was great because we had it right there. We even had freeze-frames of the shots. When Hayesie went into the edit, it was easy for us to have all the continuity and all the levels flowing so well, because we did have all the digital data and had access to it every day. That was a blessing. I’d be really holding my breath or my fingers crossed if we didn’t have that. I don’t know how I would have done that, to be honest. To just keep the consistency of the continuity would have been a nightmare.

Was it shot in script order or out of sequence?

JL: It was out of sequence. We did try to shoot most of it in script order, but it was dependent on the art department and location because some of the builds, like the plane set, weren’t ready. The production designer [Sam Hobbs] was often building while we’re filming. He did an amazing job. For example, he used onesies for the dogs, but they had their own feet out of the thing and the onesie ended at the neck, because we had to mange them up. Not me, personally. I did supply the blood but that was in their sort of territory. We couldn’t shoot the dogs until they were completely ready. Some days we couldn’t use the dogs because the ground was too hot for their paws. We were always ready on the fly to just throw out a call sheet and not do what we were planning to do that day because the environment wasn’t going to allow us, you know?

Zac’s skin was under that many prosthetics every single day, you had to be so gentle just removing it because you wanted to preserve his skin for the next day. One day, [Zac’s] skin didn’t take it. Like we put it on and it was really stinging. I said, “Mate, we can’t go there.” The producers came in and they go, “What do you mean, he can’t?” And I’m going, “His skin is burning underneath. His skin needs a day of rest, we’re going to have to shoot something else.” Which is weird, because as a makeup and a prosthetic designer, normally it doesn’t matter. You just do it, right? I’m like “I’m not gonna burn an A-lister’s face just because. I’m telling you, we can’t do it.” Now we’re all freaking out. They were like, “Okay, okay, okay.” They were very respectful of me saying that “No, we can’t.”

You had to do things on the fly. We all sort of weirdly chipped in as a team. Every department had at least one day where everything went to shit just because of the environment. We all just band together and no one got annoyed or frustrated. We’re just like, “This is what’s going to happen now, we’re going to do this.” For me, I had everything prepped, and everything was ready. We’re in the middle of nowhere. There was no shop, like a corner store.

How do you prepare for UV protection how do you give the actors the rest and protection that they need post-prosthetic application?

JL: Once you remove something, it normally takes twenty-four hours for the pores to close. Usually, the schedule wouldn’t be so gruelling. For four weeks it was pretty much just Zac, Zac, Zac, Zac. On other shoots, they do factor that in and they get that chance for their skin to rest. I think about two to three weeks in, he day that it was stinging his skin wasn’t even getting the twenty-four-hour turnaround to shut the pores off. It was only getting maximum twelve, to be honest. Once you took the prosthetics off, we tried to do it as gently as possible, and then moisturise, sunscreen, get him to try and have a good night’s sleep, and away we’d go again. It would just be a gentle process.

As for the sunscreen, all of them were zinced up with clear zinc, head to toe first. Then we put the prosthetics on. It was hard to keep the sunscreen in that sense. Obviously, you couldn’t reapply a cream over the top of the prosthetic. We did try it once and they went weirdly purple. I was like “Oh, that’s not a good look.” It was touch and go there for a minute. I think it was the zinc oxidising with the colours. I thought, “Christ, we can’t use that.” We had sunscreen sprays. Then Zac’s really particular with his paraben free stuff. I was like, “Dude, it might not be paraben-free – I’m just saying – out here because we need to use a spray which has obviously got a paraben in it. But I need to protect your skin.” He was like, “Yeah, I know, I get it.” Some of those products just don’t cut the mustard out there. Then we had umbrellas, so whenever they could rest off or while a shot is setting up, they were under as much shade as we could find them. With all those elements, you don’t want your leads to get burned, and especially Porter and Hayesie because they’re so fair. Zac is very olive-skinned, so he wasn’t a massive concern, but Susie, I mean, she doesn’t even do sun in Sydney, let alone 51 degrees.

Originally when she’s burning in the flames, she was supposed to be in a whole silicone cover, like a bald cap. But it was too hot and too dangerous to put her in a bald cap fully. With that amount of prosthetics, it was too dangerous with that heat to have no escaping of the sweat. We had to think of another way to do the bald cap. I ended up using a wig and then sticking bald bits in, because at least then the heat can escape a bit. Otherwise she would have dehydrated and it would have been too dangerous. We had to make that call on the fly going, “Oh shit, what are we going to do?” I have one makeup artist with me, Beth [Halsted], who I’ve worked with for about ten years. We work well together. She was a great wingman, she just went with it. Whatever was going to be thrown at us and what we would have to alter for comfort of cast and stuff, it was ambitious, to say the least.

No one complained. Sometimes it’s like “Jesus, it’s fucken hot.” But no one complained. Everyone just dug in. I think because it was such an arthouse movie, it felt like we were making something beautiful too, because everyone was there with love, and no one had any egos, not even Zac. I think that’s what made it special. Every day we came back completely hammered and you’d go, “Oh, mate, that was good.”

Do you have any advice for people who are looking to move into the field of make-up design in the film and TV industry?

JL: I do. Obviously, people have done makeup courses. In fact, this is how I get all my assistants. Usually, on big films, even when I was doing The Wolverine [2013], I’d get the students out from the schools or people would email me their CVs, and I always say, “Do you want to come out?” Because people also don’t know that it’s not glamorous. It’s twelve- or fourteen-hour days. Some people are cut for it, and some people just aren’t. I always say do as much work experience on everyone’s shows as you can. I swear to God, if you’re great at it and you’ve got that right temperament and you love it and you’re creative, you will be hired.

I remember being an assistant and at one of my first jobs, there was all these dead bodies. The makeup artist and designer made me go see a dead body at a morgue. I was like, “Oh!” It was like [retches], but I did it because I was passionate about it. I think it slightly scarred me a little bit. Back then, there wasn’t so much internet and Google, we were still using Polaroid cameras. There certainly was no playback. It was like stand behind the DoP so we knew what he was seeing. Now, at least you can Google. For Gold, I had to Google dog bites and attacks. Some of it was so gnarly and disgusting, but you had to pick your moments of when you could reset. Definitely not over lunch.

Andrew F Peirce

Andrew is passionate about Australian film and culture. He is the co-chair of the Australian Film Critics Association, a Golden Globes voter, and the author of two books on Australian film, The Australian Film Yearbook - 2021 Edition, and Lonely Spirits and the King. You can find him online trying to enlist people into the cult of Mac and Me.

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