The Scoop on Margot Robbie’s Major Makeover for Mary Queen of Scots

Margot Robbie transforms into Elizabeth I in Mary Queen of Scots | Credit: Liam Daniel / Focus Features

If you didn’t recognize Margot Robbie in this month’s blockbuster Mary Queen of Scots, you’re not alone—and Jenny Shircore thanks you. The award-winning hair and makeup designer, who’s worked on films like Notting Hill, The Secret Garden, and Beauty and the Beast, was the mastermind behind Robbie’s complete transformation as Elizabeth I, as well as beauty looks for Saiorse Ronan as Mary Queen of Scots and the rest of the cast. We gave Shircore a ring to get the behind-the-scenes scoop.

Margot Robbie completely transformed in this film. What was that process like?
When Margot was cast, I asked the director, Josie Rourke, Do you want me to leave her alone, or do you want me to take her down the road of the Elizabeth look? She chose the latter. We started with Elizabeth the young girl, who got smallpox and nearly died. When you get smallpox, you get the most horrific boils and blisters, and if you survive, you are left badly scarred. I put those boils and blisters around Margot’s nose, eyebrows and mouth, which Elizabeth I would eventually cover with thick white makeup. Margot could be in the makeup chair for three hours for those looks. Another side effect of smallpox is that it makes your hair fall out, so we had a thinning wig on Margot, which was a dead, dull brittle color.

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Credit: Liam Daniel / Focus Features 

But eventually, she is caked in makeup and wearing elaborate wigs.
The makeup gets heavier when we see her meeting Mary Queen of Scots. At that point, she has cut her hair off and she wears a wig because, as she says in that scene, she is jealous of Mary Queen of Scots, who is beautiful and strong. She pulls her wig off to show Mary what she’s done so she could look beautiful to meet her. From there on, Elizabeth always wears wigs and her makeup becomes heavier and thicker until we get to the very end. It’s not just makeup, it’s a mask of power. She puts on a mask as queen for her parliament and her people. The entire look is quite imposing. It’s beautiful, it’s strong and it’s queenly.

How did you create Saiorse’s look? Was that as complicated?
It’s very non-fussy. Saiorse’s look loses that European feel once she returns from France to Scotland, and takes on the strong English fashion sense. Her makeup was fresh-faced and freckly when she arrived and during the course of her stay in Scotland, it strengthens, but without looking like makeup. We used fake hair pieces that we rolled around tiny frames of wire and hair lace to create various shapes. This is what they would have done back then. I made them slightly more modern—slightly bigger and slightly higher to give her the strength she would need as she made her case for being queen.

Credit: Liam Daniel / Focus Features 

What was the beauty trend of that time?
What happens over and over again through the ages is that if royalty—or these days, a celebrity—has a particular fondness for a look, everybody follows them. But back then there was always a reason for why they had a particular look, and it was usually pretty practical. Elizabeth’s reason was scarring and hair loss from smallpox. People followed that look—it didn’t necessarily exist before her. As usual, it can become ridiculous.

 

Plus, watch Margot Robbie show off her "hot" Mary Queen of Scots look on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon: