Today I’m so excited to share an interview with a lovely lady who is undoubtedly one of the best and most successful makeup artists in the world, and I say this without hyperbole.
One of my sort, Morag was born in Glasgow and studied at Glasgow School of Art, gaining a degree in Mural Design. After graduation she moved to London and began training in Makeup at the BBC and now she works on Hollywood Movie after Hollywood Movie.
At the time of posting, she has been BAFTA nominated for a total of five movies, won two BAFTA awards – for “Orlando” with Tilda Swinton, “The Aviator” with Cate Blanchett, as well as a BAFTA Craft Award in 2008.
I think she’s possibly most revered by makeup lovers for her stunning work and enduring relationship with Oscar-winning actress Cate Blanchett. Morag has worked with Cate countless times, as her Personal Makeup Artist on incredible, iconic films like Elizabeth: The Golden Age, The Aviator, Carol, Charlotte Grey and so many more…
But her partnerships aren’t limited to Cate. She’s also worked on many international movies as the Personal Makeup Artist/Hair stylist to other brilliant, award-winning superstar actors and actresses like Tilda Swinton, Scarlett Johansson, Amy Adams, Sarah Jessica Parker, Emma Thomson, Hilary Swank, Jude Law, Liam Neeson and Jake Gyllenhaal.
And on top of all that, Morag has been the Department Head on lots of movies, which adds a different set of skills and responsibilities to the mix; design, budgeting, stock planning, hiring and being in charge of a large team.
She’s done it all and I know she will continue to impress everyone, from A-List actors and directors… to little old Mindfood Magpie, here. And… I’m sure, you!
When Makeup Queen Lisa Eldridge describes you as an “amazing, fantastically talented and truly transformative makeup artist” who’s had a “dream career!”, you know her work is worth delving into further. I’ll put a link to her CV at the end of the interview, please have a look and be awed…
But first, have a read of this and get to know her better. We discuss everything from her mum’s makeup bag, to imposter syndrome, to her favourite jobs and her tips for people who want to follow in her footsteps and people who just want to add products to their makeup bag that have been given her seal of approval.
She’s as interesting, lovely and generous as she is talented and I’m thrilled to share our chat with you…
Mindfood Magpie: I’m always intrigued to know how far back people are drawn to their subject… What’s your earliest makeup memory?
Morag Ross: My earliest makeup memory is my Mum using Max Factor’s Creme Puff powder and also Max Factor lipstick. The lipstick shade was ‘FIREBRAND’ and I actually still have one, which I keep in one of my makeup kits as a kind of nostalgic charm. The fragrance takes me back to my childhood.
Mindfood Magpie: You studied at Glasgow school of art. Do you still paint or create art, out-with your work?
Morag Ross: For the past few years I have been working with FOUND PHOTOGRAPHY, creating collage and other mixed media work. I love hunting for vintage treasures to work with, or just to save.
Mindfood Magpie: How did you go from art school to makeup?
Morag Ross: While I was a student at the GSA, I got involved – by helping to do makeup – for both the annual fashion show that the college organised, and for a couple of Glasgow hairdressers working at the Betty Riley salon. It was the tail end of the Punk Movement and the time of the New Romantics. Both makeup friendly times – I loved it and did more work on my face than at my desk! Someone suggested that I try for a place at BBC to train as makeup artist. I did, and I did.
Mindfood Magpie: What was your experience like at the BBC?
Morag Ross: It was a bit of a shock to my system at first because I graduated on the Friday, and was at BBC TV centre in White City on the Monday. It is a big institution, so adapting to that system and its rigours was a challenge. Nevertheless, I kept my head down, for the most part, and learned a huge amount. It was an amazing training in makeup, hair, SFX, working within a team, to a schedule, with designers, and the use of makeup for all broadcasts from kids programmes to period dramas.
Mindfood Magpie: Sounds like a phenomenal training. The BBC makeup artist training programme no longer exists, sadly. How do you feel about that? What would you do to enter the industry if you were one of today’s hopefuls?
Morag Ross: It’s such a loss that the BBC training programme no longer exists. It was, without a doubt, the best. Today, one of the best starts is London College of Fashion, followed by dogged pursuit of makeup designers you admire and aspire to work with. I think it’s important to take your time and learn from people whose work you respect. I can give that advice with hindsight, having rushed into the industry myself!
Mindfood Magpie: You are undoubtedly one of the most talented and successful makeup artists in the world. From an outsiders perspective, you don’t get much “bigger” than you. Do you feel like you’ve “made it” or do you ever still experience imposter syndrome?!
Morag Ross: A lot of the time I experience ‘impostor syndrome’! I think this comes with doing a creative job… There is always an element of self doubt, and an endless desire to improve what I’ve done. I always think it could have been better. But that’s a good thing – apart from keeping me awake at night! – complacency would be the end of the road.
Mindfood Magpie: What advice would you give to a budding artist who wants to follow in your footsteps?
Morag Ross: Try to work with and for makeup artists whose work you admire. Take your time, and enjoy learning from someone in charge who carries all the responsibility. It’s a protected situation, where you can be nurtured under the supervision and experienced eye of someone whose path you would like to follow.
Mindfood Magpie: What are the best and worst things about being a makeup artist?
Morag Ross: The best things about the job are travelling all over the world, and working together with incredibly talented people. The worst things are getting up at 3:30 am and working 15/16 hour days; that is truly exhausting. And friends, family, lovers getting totally fed up because you’re almost always out of town…
Mindfood Magpie: If you weren’t a makeup artist, what Industry do you think you’d be in?
Morag Ross: I love fashion and clothes so I would love to have been a stylist or a photographer. I collect photographs – mainly portraits.
Mindfood Magpie: What have been your favourite makeup jobs and why?
Morag Ross: Derek Jarman’s ‘Edward II’ is one of my favourite jobs ever. Very stylised makeup, hair and costumes – and the same team who did ‘Caravaggio’. Derek was a fantastic director to work with! It was a real joy and he was inspirational. I didn’t want my weekends off I loved every day on that film.
Mindfood Magpie: That sounds amazing. You’ve worked a lot creating period makeup. Is that by chance or were you always drawn to that style of makeup?
Morag Ross: I’ve done a lot of period films because I think once you become known for a style, you are asked repeatedly to work on films of that genre. It makes aesthetic sense. But right now I’m working on a contemporary film and I’m loving the opportunity to create a different look.
Mindfood Magpie: Have you had any makeup disasters?
Morag Ross: Makeup disasters? What are they? Ha! Sometimes an appliance might start to fall off, or a hair cut might be too short …. you just have to fix it! You always need a backup plan and you need to be able to sort things quickly sometimes and you learn lots of tricks along the way.
Mindfood Magpie: Are there products that are complete no-no for film?
Morag Ross: The most obvious no-no products for film are high shine or shimmers.
Mindfood Magpie: What are some of your favourite products for film?
Morag Ross: For film I love using LeMaqPro makeup, especially if we are shooting out in the elements, or under very strong lighting. I love highlighter pens for use on set to brighten or lighten once I see the actor under the lights. I like Homeoplasmine balm, for low sheen or to use as a salve, water in an ultra fine atomiser, a complete Dermacolour palette, all the Skin Illustrator palettes, the Bobbi Brown lip and concealer palettes are so useful also. But there’s a huge ever increasing market of products out there, so I’m constantly accumulating and discovering new stuff. Good palettes though, are a staple and with them you can do almost anything.
Mindfood Magpie: What are some of your favourite products for yourself in everyday life?
Morag Ross: I love SUQQU foundations (they also work beautifully on film) and adore SURRATT contour and highlight powders. Both brands are in my personal makeup bag and in my pro kit.
Mindfood Magpie: I love SUQQU foundations too! I must try the SURRATT contour and highlight! I imagine skin care is extremely important when you’re working on film? How do you usually prep the skin?
Morag Ross: Yes, skin prep is EVERYTHING! I use the SUQQU Gankin facial massage method – it wakes up the face, depuffs, releases facial tension and helps contour the structure. And INTRACEUTICALS oxygen facials are fanatastic prep before a shoot. Jade facial rollers are a great inexpensive alternative, and good to have in your kit.
Mindfood Magpie: Yes, I have a jade facial roller and it really does work. Now I feel like a pro, ha! Speaking of pro’s… what does it feel like to watch faces on huge Hollywood films and know “I did that”?
Morag Ross: It’s a great high to watch a movie that I’ve worked on. You forget the pain of the long hours and often freezing or boiling conditions, and seeing the script brought completely to life with the addition of music and editing is something that you can’t imagine while you’re making the movie.
Mindfood Magpie: What are your goals for the future work-wise?
Morag Ross: To keep working on diverse and creative projects would be just fine!
Mindfood Magpie: When will we see your work next? What are you working on now?
Morag Ross: This year I worked on ‘THOR RAGNAROK’ and ‘OCEANS 8’, so they’ll be up next …
Mindfood Magpie: I’m looking forward to seeing your handy-work on those. Thanks so much for your time, Morag, I’ve really enjoyed catching up on all things makeup with you and you’ve been so kind and informative!
Connect with Morag Ross:
Morag’s incredible CV: http://www.miltonagency.com/clients/RossMorag/ross_morag_uk.pdf
Hear more of Morag’s story on Sali Hughes’ brilliant ‘In the Bathroom’ series here: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=4L3r753FkW8
Or delve into her kit bag here: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=MPOhc_-BTcc