Working tirelessly on Netflix’s Golden Globe- and BAFTA Award-winning series The Crown—which recently wrapped production on its second season—makeup and hair designer Ivana Primorac has been responsible for recreating some of the most significant and studied figures in modern history, crafting looks for characters in an elevated world where appearances are of utmost importance.
The first two seasons of The Crown span nearly two decades, meaning that Primorac was responsible not only for transforming Claire Foy’s Princess Elizabeth into Queen Elizabeth II—refining the simple, uniform look that the Queen has maintained throughout her life—but also for progressively aging the actress and her onscreen counterparts as the series proceeds.
With prior credits in the film world including Pan, Steve Jobs, and The Imitation Game, Primorac confronted extreme challenges on The Crown, primarily due to the logistical complexities of television series shooting in multiple countries at once.
Speaking with Deadline, Primorac explains all the visual elements that went into creating the Queen.
How did you get involved with The Crown?
To be honest, I pretty much do everything that [director] Stephen Daldry’s ever done, and that’s how I got involved. It was something that evolved from doing the play with him, that [series creator] Peter Morgan’s also written, called The Audience, that we did on Broadway and in the West End.
Then, this idea happened, and they really tried to persuade me to do it because they needed quite a substantial transformation for the actors. The way Stephen works, he’d rather hire actors who are good actors, rather than people who look like the people they need to portray, so he relies on me to do the rest. That’s how I got talked into doing it.
Was there a thorough research process when it came to the period portrayed, and the different kinds of looks the characters take on over time?
Yeah, this period and the people in question are very well documented. There’s lots and lots of footage of people and certain political situations that we touch upon in Season 1 and Season 2. We sifted through these masses of material, and then decided what we wanted to do.
There’s a nice character juxtaposition that establishes the Queen visually, as we see the contrast between her look and that of her sister, Princess Margaret, who is a bit wilder and freer in her demeanor.
Yeah, exactly. They were two totally different people, and as the circumstances developed, and Elizabeth became the Queen, Margaret became more of a private person, who followed fashion, and also followed her heart very much. She wanted to get married and have a happy, private life, so they look very, very different.
It was nice to get Princess Margaret to look more fashionable and more up-to-date, and the Queen became what we now know—her look that she adopted for the rest of her life. It almost became her uniform.
The way soldiers would wear their uniform, that’s how she worked her look, and it’s never changed—it’s her armor. It was really fun to play with those two events that happened in their lives.
Wigs were quite prevalent in The Crown, applied to both men and women. What is the process of applying wigs to shape your characters?
To achieve the likeness and the spirit of the time and the aging process, we had to resort to doing wigs.
Matt Smith’s not a blonde, so we tried to get as close to the real characters as we possibly could. There are certain particular ways that the Windsors look—strong hairlines are very typical of the siblings. With Edward—and His Majesty, as well, before he died—the passage of time was very important, so the hair also got grayer.
We had many wigs for all the actors that made them resemble the real characters more, because of the way the hair is worn, and the way the hair is, but also to show the aging process. Especially when you’re talking about all the prime ministers and people that everyone knows, we tried to do as much of the way the real people look as possible.
Season 1 encompasses almost a decade of Queen Elizabeth II’s young life, and the series’ second season will jump ahead even further in time. Could you expand on the process of aging your actors for Season 2?
Claire Foy went through a huge age span, from before she gets married, and before she becomes the Queen. In Season 2, she’s in her forties, so the age span is quite large, but also, a lot happens to these characters in those years, politically and privately.
We tested all the makeups and made sure that we could portray the age that they needed to be efficiently, and we also tested different cameras and lighting effects, and also sorts of technical things. All our choices were based on what we needed to achieve.
When you have different styles and different decades, and different makeup, and a different palette, and different hairstyles, and different hair colors—and then more makeup, and different kind of lipsticks—all the good old trusted makeup techniques of aging are very useful still to this day. You don’t have to do prosthetics to be able to age someone.
At present, thick, natural eyebrows are in style, and Claire Foy’s seem notably thinner than they might be in real life. Did you thin them for the series, and what was the actresses’ response to this endeavor, knowing that eyebrows don’t always grow back?
It’s very true. [Laughs] What we tried to do is to achieve the proportion of the face to be similar to people that they’re playing, so the height of the forehead, the eye shape, the face shape.
We tried to play with those proportions, so we made sure that the eyebrows kind of served the purpose there, as well. I think modern eyebrows, they’re quite bushy, but they’re kind of painted in, so I think we’re lucky that period eyebrows are very [different]. It’s easier to look at the period eyebrows and keep it the same as they would have been worn in that time.
In this period, it was fashionable to have pointed nails. Did you manicure Foy’s as she stepped into the role of the Queen?
Yeah, we did, but we did something that I think looked right. Princess Margaret’s nails were always done, and very fashionable, and we kept Her Majesty very plain and natural.
I’ve got photographic evidence of Her Majesty the Queen having red or pink nail varnish, but we chose not to do that. We kept her very, very simple, and actually utilitarian.
You know, she was always very simple. She always wore the same shoes. She always had the same handbag. But the reason for that is to achieve the kind of uniform look. So, we just shaped the nails in the period way, and then left them natural.
What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced on the series thus far?
The challenge on the series is that it’s so long, and it takes place in so many different times. The challenge is that you have four directors shooting at the same time, and many units shooting in different countries. You never finish any episode at any particular time, so you’re constantly going back and forth.
Those are the huge challenges that I don’t think ever happen in any other show. It’s not just doing makeup and hair—it’s making it all run smoothly because when you do these shows, you certainly have to do 10 hours of television in seven months, and many different locations.
Making sure that you have a system which actually works for the show was the hardest thing to develop. The actual makeups themselves are not that difficult—well, they’re not for us.
The Crown has an interesting architecture to it, such that by Season 3, you’ll be working with an entirely new batch of actors. Are you excited by the opportunities the series presents, in this sense?
I think it’s fantastic to do something like that because I think as they’re getting older, you couldn’t have these actors play those decades coming up. They’re too young.
It’s quite nice to move everyone on, [with] a different set of actors who could play the same characters. You need to capture a different decade and get into what they might be like, and what were their worries, what were their problems at the time.
What happened with their family life? Who joined the family? What was politically going on in the world? All of that can reflect into what they’ve become, and I think that is a good challenge for Season 3. You have to give the viewer an idea of what happened to these people.
With John Lithgow in The Crown and Gary Oldman in Joe Wright’s upcoming film, Darkest Hour, you’ve worked on projects involving two very different visual interpretations of Winston Churchill.
I designed the show, and I designed everyone else’s look, but I had absolutely nothing to do with Gary. Gary worked with Kasuhiro Tsuji, who designed his makeup way before I joined the show, and there were prosthetics used to achieve the exact likeness.
When you have a film like Darkest Hour, you can go for the exact likeness. If that makeup took three and half hours to apply, we had to do something [on The Crown] that would take 20 minutes.
It’s a seven-month show, and as I say, you go from different unit to different unit. We had Churchill having a stroke, and all sorts of things, so what was important to me was that when John Lithgow walked into the room, you knew exactly who it was. It was undoubtedly Churchill. That’s what I think was the success of that makeup. It’s not an exact likeness.
Now, I think [with] Gary Oldman, it’s pretty amazing, and he looks very much like him. But on the other hand, he’s still Gary Oldman, and his proportions are slightly different than Churchill’s. It’s artistic license, and I think what they’ve done is incredible. I’ve never seen anything like it.
But a show like [The Crown] has different challenges, and certainly, John Lithgow couldn’t do the show, being in makeup for three hours. It would have been impossible. Those limitations make you quite creative.
You also worked with Bryce Dallas Howard on “Nosedive,” a critically lauded episode of Black Mirror taking place in a world ruled by social media and the illusion of visual perfection. Was that a dream job, with relation to your craft?
Yeah, certainly. I was lucky enough to work with Bryce on one of her first films, which was The Village, with M. Night Shyamalan. It was really nice to see her after all those years.
That episode of Black Mirror was great fun to do because it was dependent on this fake world of perfection. That was our aim—[Howard’s makeup] was colorful, and sun-kissed and perfect, basically, and then we slowly go through her demise.
It was quite good fun to kind of plot that demise, and destroy the whole world, and the look, at the same time.