The magic of Hollywood partially comes from the Magic Wand, or makeup brush, held in the hands of Ms. Ve Neill. What the imagination dreams, can be brought to life by this woman who needs no “bibbidy bobiddy boo” o r “Abracadabra” to accomplish what some consider impossible. Revered by those such as Tim Burton and Steven Spielberg and whose work is imitated by thousands around the globe, Ve has set a standard in makeup artistry that has deemed her the nickname “CGI Queen” in the film industry because her work can be matched only by CGI and special effects.
Ve began the voyage of her career while working on the first Star Trek film. She brought the Klignons to life and used that stepping stone to gain notoriety by diving into the challenge of Tim Burton’s groundbreaking film Beetlejuice. While most artists would simply stare in bewilderment at such a character; Ve relished in the opportunity to venture into the unknown. Ms. Neill is a totally self-made woman whom at the tender age of five knew in her heart of hearts that this was what she wanted for her career. “My next door neighbor was a makeup man. He used to make me up every Halloween, that’s what made me want to do this,” Ve states. And succeed she certainly has! After the huge accomplishment of Beetlejuice, she went on to tackle everything from Dick Tracy’s comic book characters, to joining Burton again in Edward Scissorhands, where she coincidentally and unbeknownst to her emerged on another long relationship with actor, Johnny Depp.
What sets Ve apart from other talents in her field is the gift she has for creating iconic images that are copied and repeated by any and everyone in the costume and role-play realm. When asked what she thought about thousands trying to replicate her work by recreating her characters, she marvels, “Wow, I hope they are having fun with it. Never did I think that would happen when we started.” Yet it has, Jack Sparrow has become one of the most popular characters following Elvis to ever be impersonated! A combination of Johnny Depp’s genius and Ve’s creativity has given birth to a living and breathing icon that is recognized in any country traveled around the world.
The normal inquiries that follow about her work were greeted in a wonderful manner as Ve opened up a minuet peek in the insight to where the magic begins. Many Jack Sparrow’s spend hours trying to recreate the look that Ve put together on Johnny, but how long did it actually take Ve to apply Johnny’s makeup on the set for Captain Sparrow?
It took about 20-30 minutes for the Captain Jack character if his tattoos were covered. If he showed his branded scar and sparrow tattoo that was 30 minutes more, but that didn’t include his wig that was another 20 minutes. It took longer for his (Johnny’s) hair and makeup on Sweeny Todd. I did both for that film.
Did Johnny and also Geoffrey have any say in the original concept for their characters?
Johnny and I discussed his makeup for the very first one and it was never brought up for change after that. Johnny and I pretty much knew what we wanted to do from the beginning and then Geoffrey just let me do what I wanted and Gore loved it.
Spending a bit more time in the past year with costumers and aspiring Jack’s, this writers next logical questions was, what is the main differences in Jack’s makeup in the three films? What changed and what became a challenge?
Well, as far as I know, his makeup didn’t really change at all. His eyes may have gotten darker but that’s just because we liked it. The painted on eyes for Pirates 2 was for the cannibal scenes only and that was the real change.
For the shots in the scene “funny ‘ol world isn’t it?” where Jacks makeup seems to be a bit lighter than the scenes filmed later, a question that had nagged forever and needed to be answered; what brought on the change for the rest of the film?
No particular reason, it just depended on how much we smeared I guess. We really didn’t pay that much attention to it.
Jack isn’t the only character that has brought about curiosity from the film, Tia Dalma appeared on the scene and brought about a whole new challenge for females this time to recreate and so the logical question about Tia’s inspiration was asked to her architect…
I wanted her to still be somewhat attractive, other than the teeth which the director really wanted, so I thought some sort of painted effect in a tribal fashion would work to set her apart and of course she needed those dreads!
Ve has a new Pirate Palette that is available to all for purchase on the internet. It has created quite a demand among those who long to get the look, “just right” and who strive for that perfect Jack. So which one of the Palettes works the best and does it matter which one is used for which Jack look desired? The answer was a bit amazing, “ohh any of the pirates palettes work for Jack, it doesn’t matter.” With the success of the Pirate Palette, will a “Sweeny Palette” follow soon to be coveted? Ve finally lets out the secret of Sweeny’s look, “No, there was no illustrator used on that makeup. It was all airbrushed on with water bead “Kett” airbrush makeup.”
Johnny has talked about his perception of the Sweeny character and the inspiration behind the look for him, so what does Ve have to add about what she believes her work contributes to the character portrayal?
I believe that makeup plays a big part in any actor’s character roles. It enables them to take on a new persona and that helps them become that character.”
A noticeable difference on Sweeny in the film is the differences in his eye makeup and shadowing in his face. Why did she feel that the makeup had to be varied throughout?
In some shots we wanted him to appear more troubled and angst, so we darkened them for certain scenes.
Working throughout the years with Burton and Depp has become a wonderful habit for Ms. Neill, who relishes in every piece that she completes with the duo. A makeup artist spends almost more time on the set with the actor than any other individual on a one on one basis. Because of this fact, a great inquiry is her opinion on Depp and what she has found to be unique about him. What stands out to her about his personality?
Well, without getting too personal. I have always found him to be one of the most down to earth actors I’ve ever worked with. He is generous to a fault with his knowledge and his wealth. For example, he helped a young girl recover from Leukemia by paying for all her treatments in Mexico and didn’t even know her. She was just brought to the set to meet him by a friend of mine. She couldn’t get Make a Wish to bring her so my friend called and ask if he could and JD said, ’yeah sure’ and the rest is history. She wasn’t supposed to live past a few weeks after she met him and that was now over three years ago.
What is it about Tim Burton that intrigues Ve?
Tim is an artist himself and has great vision. He always allows you to do one step beyond. I love that about him.
How much of the characters final appearance is her conception?
Well, Tim’s drawings of characters all have dark circles around their eyes. It’s up to me to make that work on each individual character I design for him.”
Ms/ Neill has been awarded many different recognitions including both numerous Emmy and Academy awards for her brilliance, but when asked what character makeup she is most proud of;
Gosh, I really can’t say off the top of my head. I did a lot of testing for the film AI on Jude Law before we came up with his look, so I guess I would have to say that makeup. Thanks to Stephan Spielberg for that, because he had a very definite idea of what he wanted and gave us plenty of time to get it.
Is there an actor that she has not had the opportunity to work with and hopes to in the future?
I could make a big list, but I think I would like to actually work with more female actors so I can also be known for my beauty makeup.
So, what is the thing that Ve enjoys most about her job?
Seeing the actors get in wardrobe, walk on the set and become that character.
After all the glorious accomplishments that Ve Neill has achieved, if she could be remembered in one sentence what would that be?
I was told I would never make it and my response was, ‘Just watch me!’.
Interview by Lizzy Garcia