Career Conversations with Hair and Makeup Artist Jennifer Lamphee

Posted on: May 28, 2024

Photo Credit: Jenifer Lamphee

By Tahlia Norrish

Jennifer Lamphee, a 2018 AACTA (Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Awards) Best Hair and Makeup winner for Ladies in Black, has worked on almost 70 productions, including the upcoming Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes and 2018’s Pacific Rim: Uprising, hit Aussie TV series Bump and Mr Inbetween, and indie film classics Hey Hey It’s Esther Blueburger and Wolf Creek. Lamphee was also nominated not once, but twice, at last year’s AACTA Awards for Last King of the Cross and The Portable Door

Recently, we spoke to Lamphee to discuss finding those crucial first gigs, her evolution as an artist and more. 

Can you tell us about the moment or experience that made you want to be a hair and makeup designer? 

I was 16 and left school because I had an extremely creative brain. I went into hairdressing at a young age [as] an apprentice. I was always very good at painting and drawing, and it was something I could just do. When I was at the salon, I took night school in makeup and prosthetics and absolutely fell in love with creating looks. 

How did you go about finding work when you were first starting out? 

I started out by ringing designers in the industry and offering [to work] for free to gain experience. At the time, I knew nobody in the film or TV world, so I kept pestering people to give me a [chance]. Eventually, someone gave me a job and I started assisting designers at a very young age—I think I was 18 when I did my first TV show. Then, at 23 years old, I did my first design job on a film called Kiss or Kill. From then on, I was always working. Having hairdressing and prosthetics and makeup [skills] all went together. 

Can you walk us through what your pre-production process looks like after receiving a script? 

When I receive a script, I read it through and make notes on the characters and their journey—we call this a breakdown. Obviously, we always shoot out of order, so the hair and makeup breakdown is the bible that [ensures] the film and the continuity works in the edit. I work very closely with the director so I know what their vision is for the characters, and I present options and looks, whether it be prosthetics, wigs or makeup. Once I’m clear with the direction, I then work with the actors to come up with the characters for the show. 

Although we seldom have “normal days” on-set, what might a fairly typical shooting day look like for you? 

A typical day would be a 12-hour day. We would arrive earlier than the crew to get the cast ready for the shoot. Once they are ready, we film, and if there are any script day changes, we might change an actor several times within the 10-hour shoot, depending on what scenes we are filming. 

What projects or experiences would you say have caused the biggest leaps in your evolution as an artist?  

I would say early on, Farscape, which I designed for season 3. It was a show for the Hensons [Jim and Jane Henson’s pioneering entertainment company] which was sci-fi, and I had to design loads of prosthetics and wigs. That was over 23 years ago now. The other ones would be I, Frankenstein and The Wolverine—both huge turning points for me as a designer. 

After all these years and all these projects, what keeps you excited about your job? 

I love the way every script is different. It never becomes boring. You’re always learning and, prosthetic-wise, it’s ever-changing with new materials. I also love the fact that no set or location is ever the same. 

What pathway to the industry do you tend to recommend to the hair and makeup artists and designers of the future? 

You have to be passionate about the work. It’s long hours, and sometimes challenging with the elements. But begin with work experience and always bring a smile to the job. Find someone who you would like to work with and send them a CV. For hair, it’s good to be salon-trained and be an apprentice—it makes you very strong in skill. For makeup and FX, there are some really good courses. But the best training is on the job from your senior artists. 

What films or TV series spring to mind as ones aspiring artists should study? 

I would say the original Planet of the Apes. The craftsmanship and work still hold up today— especially given what was available at the time. 

Special thanks to Jennifer Lamphee for her time. Keep an eye on Lamphee’s Instagram to stay up to date with her latest projects. 

Tahlia Norrish is an Aussie-Brit actor, writer, and current MPhil Candidate at the University of Queensland’s School of Sport Sciences. After graduating from both The Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (Distinction, Acting & Musical Theatre) and Rose Bruford College (First Class Hons, Acting), Tahlia founded The Actor’s Dojo — a coaching program pioneering peak performance and holistic well-being for actors.

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