Make-up isn't all about beauty, as Alison Jones discovers when she talks to an Oscar-nominated film industry expert.
“I think in England we are very good at period films and very good at blood. Our colours are good.”
Veronica McAleer’s statement sounds a little disturbing when taken out of context.
However, it makes more sense when one knows she is an Oscar-nominated and Emmy award-wining make-up artist, whose handwork has been seen on the likes of Judi Dench, Cher and, more recently, Paul Bettany.
Veronica, who has returned to her native Birmingham after years living in London has been Paul’s personal make-up artist for the past five years, travelling the world to different sets and transforming him into everything from a self-flagellating albino in The Da Vinci Code to a grief- stricken Charles Darwin in Creation.
“I love to work with Paul. He’s a fantastic actor and great person to work with,” she says. “Because of him I have had the opportunity to work in Canada, Mexico, Italy, Thailand, LA...
“He has worked on such a broad spectrum of films. Futuristic fantasies like Priest, where he has a tattoo and lots of little scars, to The Da Vinci Code, where he was an albino. I had to do all the wounds on his back, which I made my myself.
“That’s unusual. In America they would have three people to do that but I have always done prosthetics. Paul and I have done a lot of wounds.”
Veronica has enjoyed a jet- set lifestyle – literally. She was flown by Lear when invited to do Cher’s hair and then had to be flown back the same way in order to rush to the set of The Da Vinci Code.
“I really liked Cher,” she says. “We got on very well. There is a certain way you have to do things and that is just how it is, but you can adapt. That is what they want and you fit in.
“A lot of big actors, especially women, they know their faces and are a little bit more involved. They can be harder. You have to take on board how they feel and sometimes it can be a little dance.”
Veronica has also been to the Oscars as part of the make-up design team for Mrs Brown, with Dame Judi Dench as Queen Victoria, and then Shakespeare In Love.
“I made Judi up for Mrs Brown and I knew she was doing Queen Elizabeth (for Shakespeare In Love),” recalls Veronica. “Her nose is very cute. It wasn’t right for Elizabeth and I suggested my making a false nose for her. It changed her completely. Things like that have such an impact.”
Judi went on to win an Oscar for her portrayal of the proboscis-enhanced monarch.
Veronica was just thrilled by the experience of being at the awards.
“It is exciting, particularly to see people you wouldn’t normally see. I walked into a lift and Sean Connery walked out.
“You get paid to fly business class and are put up in a five-star luxury hotel. I had never been in a limo up until that point.”
Veronica did win an Emmy for The Life And Death Of Peter Sellers, which saw Geoffrey Rush transform into the ex-Goon over several decades.
“It was probably the most challenging film I’ve ever worked on as a make-up designer, encapsulating the changes in hair and make up fashions over the years and aging Geoffrey,” she says. “It was nice to win.
“You never think when you start your training in Birmingham what your opportunities are going to be.”
She has been working as make-up artist for more than a quarter of a century, after an inspiring visit to the old Pebble Mill studio.
“At the time they were filming a period drama and I fell in love with the empty studio, the sets. I remember it vividly.
“I felt the creative potential for me was tangible.”
She met the make-up artist at Pebble Mill and, following her advice, did a three-year hairdressing and beauty therapy course at Solihull College, then worked as a hairdresser for a year.