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On Set with...Jan Sewell

by Natalie Wright
On Set with...Jan Sewell

Meet the Armouries Own - Makeup Designer (extraordinaire) Jan Sewell

Our Director and award-winning Makeup Designer Jan Sewell boasts an impressive resume, working across huge blockbusters and critically acclaimed films such as The Theory of Everything, The Danish Girl and Everest. Here we talk to Jan about her career highlights and what advice she can share with those wanting to follow in her footsteps.


What first attracted you to work in the makeup industry?

I would like to think of myself as a creative and at one point, I very much wanted to become an interior designer. I had a place offered to me at The London College of Furniture. I changed direction to make-up when I saw a BBC program called 'I Claudius’ 

It had ageing make-ups, which at the time was amazing and I hadn't seen before and I thought "Wow someone does that for a living”. I waited for the credits at the end and the next day I rang the BBC switchboard to asked if they trained people to become make-up artists.

One year and a hair course later I joined the BBC; it was a fabulous training ground.


Everest Jan Sewell

Have you found any productions you worked on to be particularly challenging? 

All productions come with challenges, which is certainly why I do the job, but I would say the film Everest comes to mind. It was so physically challenging as well as artistically.

We shot on Mount Everest, going as high as the Monuments to the fallen climbers, which is just under base camp. Also in the Dolomites in Italy, where we had avalanche warnings and had to abandon one location rather quickly because of this. 

I also had to reproduce the effects on our actors of being on the summit, as we shot these sequences on 007 stage in Pinewood Studios. The director Baltasar Kormákur is Icelandic and he absolutely knows what real ice and snow looks like, so I really had to raise my game to get the frostbite and snow effects correct.

 Everest Jan Sewell

Do you have a production you are especially proud of?

I don’t have one production. I am extremely proud of The Theory of Everything, Everest and The Danish Girl. All of them come with fantastic scripts, talented directors, essential collaborations with other departments, Costume, Production Design, Special and Visual Effects.  Most of all, amazing, actors who make my work look twice as good!

 The Danish Girl Face Chart

How was your experience working with TV comedy legends such as French & Saunders, Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson? 

All of those comedy geniuses pushed me into being brave with my designs, always asking me to do more. It's such fun to collaborate with such talented people, to help them visualise the characters they had created.

The Theory of Everything Jan Sewell

Can you describe the techniques you used to transform Eddie Redmayne into Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything?

This make-up was about scale and, as I have eluded to before, about collaborations with other departments. I worked very closely with Stephen Noble, the Costume designer, and JP Kelly, the Production Designer.

As Eddie’s amazing performance as Stephen Hawking developed, I needed to make it appear as if he was shrinking and twisting as well as slightly ageing.

Stephen slowly increased his clothes and JP increased the wheelchair by 40% to help give this illusion.

I had three different wigs made by Alex Rouse, different mouth plumbers and teeth to help twist Eddies jaw made by Chris Lyons, and prosthetics made by Kristyan Mallett to change his head shape, make his ears bigger, therefore making it look like his face was shrinking and ageing pieces for the last few scenes. All thoughtfully put together as we shot, as usual, out of sequence.

Danish Girl Jan Sewell  

How did you go about ageing Felicity Jones’ character as the film progressed? 

Subtly, we had tried small prosthetic pieces, but they didn’t work, so it was mainly done with changing her hair. We used lots of different hair pieces in the process and small amounts of stipple. Felicity’s character helped me show the timeline within the film, as we travelled through the 1960’s, 70’s, 80’s and into the early 90’s.

  AB FAB Jan Sewell

Are there any specific character makeups you enjoy creating the most?

Edina and Patsy…. say no more!


Lastly, how do you feel the makeup industry for TV & Film has changed over the years? And do you have any advice for aspiring artists in today’s industry? 

Yes, it has changed a lot. It’s more competitive, the standards are higher as we embrace the digital age. Be passionate, never feel there isn’t something more to learn.

Take every opportunity offered to you and don’t get disheartened if it takes time; a true make-up and hair artist takes years to develop their craft.

And…get used to setting your alarm for 4.30am!