An interview with Christine Cant, makeup artist for Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie

An interview with Christine Cant, makeup artist for Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie

Sweetie darlings

Text: Renée Batchelor

Veteran makeup artist Christine Cant reveals the secrets to creating the looks of Edina and Patsy, and why she still loves doing makeup after all these years

Christine Cant is a makeup artist with a dream resume, having worked in British film and television industry for over 30 years. An all-rounder with an affinity for character makeup, Cant's credits include television shows Absolutely Fabulous, I'm Alan Partridge, The Mighty Boosh and The IT Crowd as well as a BAFTA award for television for Agatha Christie: Poirot. Most recently she worked on the new Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie with her friend Jennifer Saunders, using M.A.C makeup. Here she reveals the highlights of her career, the worst part about being a makeup artist (hint: it's the hours), plus her own makeup must-haves.

When did you decide to become a makeup artist?
I trained to become a makeup artist at the BBC in 1981, but my interest in makeup goes back to the late 60's and early 70's. I struggled with very bad acne and I found that by covering with makeup and emphasising my eyes and lips, I could distract people (especially boys) from my chaotic skin. I studied painting at art school in the 70's and mainly painted and drew people, I was always interested in fashion and style so makeup felt like a natural extension of that.

What are the best and hardest aspects of your job?
Let's start with the worst bits. When that alarm clock goes off at 4:20AM. It's still a shock even after 35 years. We work extraordinary hours! Another thing that doesn't get any better is packing and unpacking my kit. I have so much gear and different productions require different tools and products. I could go from a contemporary crime drama — no wigs and plenty of blood — to a period comedy — loads of wigs and not so much makeup. I wish it was just a matter of chucking a few bags onto a truck. I imagine that if I had specialised in just one aspect of this process it would be simpler, but I just wouldn't get the same satisfaction if I wasn't able to produce the entire character's makeup and hair. The best bits? Just about everything else. Every day brings a new level of excitement to create these new faces and unique characters all the time. We get to see some wonderful and interesting locations where I get to paint faces and sculpt hair every day.

AbFab is back! What keeps you working on the project and how did it all begin?
Honestly, my relationship with Jennifer (Saunders) is the main reason for keeping at it, but the work is a treat, too! All those extraordinary characters! I didn't do the original television series; I came to it after 'French and Saunders'. I worked on one of the specials called 'The White Box', which I received a BAFTA nomination for. Then I had the opportunity to do three standalone special episodes in 2012, one of which was for the Olympics. The show is a delight to work on — it's lovely to imagine fashion and life through the eyes of Edina and Patsy.

Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie

Does your work on a film like this always begin with a script? Describe how the look of the characters develops.
The script isn't always the beginning but it is central. The dialogue gives an insight into how the characters think, which in turn gives me clues into how they might feel about themselves. From there, I can make decisions about how they might want to appear to other people and how I want the character to look. Then all the other factors come into play. Who will be playing this character? What does the actor physically look like? How do they feel about what I would like to do with them? Does the arc of the story dictate certain practicalities? The skill is to be able to be creative within these, and many more boundaries.

What is your most memorable part of filming and why?
There are many! Watching the sun come up over the sea with a warm croissant in my hand at Ville Franche. Having lunch in a seafront carpark at Cap-Ferrat with Barry Humphries in full Dame Edna mode. The sight of 80 glorious drag queens walking in file to the Vauxhall Tavern during the morning rush hour in London. How lucky am I?

What is your favourite makeup look from the film and do you have a favourite character?
My favourite makeup look from the film is "Lubliana'. She's the richest oldest woman in the world. Visually, I was inspired by Diana Vreeland. I wanted to reference a style maven from another era to place her in an unthinkably old age group. It was quite a complex makeup look. A full face and neck of old age stipple (we had neither the budget nor the time for a full prosthetic) then beautiful makeup on top of the wrinkles. Arched brows, a gold blend of M.A.C Eye Shadows, M.A.C Fluidline in Blacktrack, and sets of M.A.C False Lashes on top lids, and topped off with a great big wonky red mouth. All topped with the classic Vreeland black hair. As always, my favourite characters are Eddy and Pats.

Absolutely Fabulous The Movie

Tell us how you collaborate with the rest of the team on the film. Who do you work closest with when setting looks?
Mostly the three design departments. Production (sets), Costume and Makeup work together to make sure that we are all seeing the character in the same way. A simple example, "would a woman who wears that lipstick chose that throw for her sofa?" are common conversations on set. But ultimately I confer with Jennifer. If what I'm thinking makes her laugh it's usually worth going for!

What do you love most about your job?
I love actually physically doing the work. I am still stimulated by the way I can alter the way a person looks just by adding or changing a colour. By varying the shape of the lips, for example I can change the perceived character of a person in a flash. It's still exciting and mesmerising to me.

How do you stay inspired?
Each production is a new story with a new cast and new crew so it's easy to stay interested! You would have to be very jaded not to enjoy that. Inspiration wise, every face is different and every day a face can change. You know how a hangover can change your face, or lack of sleep can make you look so different? As artists, we're faced with new challenges every day. Literally!

Share your best beauty tips....What would be Eddie and Patsy's beauty tips?
My beauty tips start with fresh and prepared skin. Be sure to exfoliate and moisturise. Don't sleep in your makeup. A red lipstick is always a yes and a smile is a great face lift. Eddie doesn't have tips. She's just too busy, darling. She does have Christopher, her hair and makeup person who gets her ready whenever she goes out. She probably doesn't know what he does but it works somehow. Patsy gets lots of free stuff at the magazine and chucks it all on the way she has done since the 70's.

Name your three must-have favourite M.A.C products and why you like them?
I love M.A.C Cremeblend Blush in Posey because it's very natural. It seems to suit every skin colour. I just alter the density when applying and rub it right in. M.A.C Pro Longwear Paint Pot in Quite Natural can be used for most as well. It shapes and shades the eyes in a very subtle way and on camera it looks great. It can also be used in a contemporary fashion style too. I like to set it as a base for other more dramatic colours as it stays where you put it all day. I even apply it to the brows, too. Of course, I have to have a favourite lip colour. M.A.C Lipstick in Russian Red is the perfect red for my Scottish skintone and tends to combine well with most tones. But the best part is it doesn't move once you apply.

Tell us about your relationship with M.A.C. When did it begin and how did they support you on the film?
I honestly can't even recall a time when I didn't have a relationship with M.A.C. What I enjoy about M.A.C is how generous and supportive but unobtrusive they are. As a company, they allow me to test run loads of products I might not think of trying. Their product portfolio is so extensive that no matter the look I am working to create, I can find the perfect M.A.C product combination. 

Absolutely Fabulous will be showing in local theatres from 25 August