There are some special occasions in life and one of these presented itself when I had the chance to interview make up guru Peter Swords King for FACE4MAKEUP. Peter King, as he is also known, is an Academy and BAFTA Award winning hair and make up designer (he also has 7 BAFTA nominations) with a hugely successful film career behind him and numerous future projects in the pipeline. He has created hair and make up looks for many iconic screen characters and worked on films such as Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean and Star Wars, just to mention a few. He is also the Senior Tutor and Creative Director at the Bath Academy of Media Makeup (BAMM).
Peter asked if I could create a drag make up look for him while doing this interview and of course I accepted straight away! Peter was part of the Punk and New Romantic movements ,”I used to look like Boy George before George was known!”, so I knew he was not a stranger to a bit of eyeshadow and glitter.


Let’s find out more about Peter Swords King and his world.



Tell us a bit about your beginnings
I moved to Bath when I was just 16 and got involved with different theatre companies as a performer and even created my own company. I always loved make up and wore outrageous looks myself. I was well known locally for my originality and my passion for everything artistic. Bath was a city full of creative people and amazing fashions at that time. I used to hitch-hike to London’s Kinky Gerlinky and Blitz clubs wearing my ‘Marilyn Monroe’ look. I didn’t dress up for the occasion. It was just my ‘every day look’. In London I met loads of interesting people. I knew I wanted to work in something creative and not have a boring job.


How did you become a make up artist?
I’d just qualified as a hairdresser when a make up artist didn’t turn up to a shoot. I volunteered to do the make up as I used to wear so much myself anyway. That was the very first time I did somebody’s face. I left hairdressing soon after that because I didn’t enjoy working in a salon and decided to move to Bristol for a while. Then in Brighton I shared a place with someone who made wigs and within two months I found myself doing just that! Soon after I got involved with different operas and joined the Bristol Old Vic Theatre, which led me to design the original theatre production of ‘Phantom of the Opera’ doing wig and period work. It just so happened that I’d done an opera with Sue Blane (who designed the costumes for The Rocky Horror Picture Show) and she asked me if I could join her in a new movie she was about to start working on. One thing led to another and that’s how I started working on movies. I did wig making for over 20 years because at the beginning I was doing wigs and making movies at the same time but I gave it up in the end and concentrated on the films.


Why did you decide to keep working on movies and not move into another areas – like fashion for example?
I have always loved movies. I was a very well behaved child and the only time I would throw a fit was when I was told to go to bed before the end of a film because I was desperate to see the end. I really like 30s and 40s films, and love the black and white photography. I am a huge fun of Bette Davis because I absolutely believe she was a genius actress and I loved the way she looked. She was always prepared to go the extra mile to look right for her character. She shaved her hair to play the role of Elizabeth in an age when women wanted to look beautiful on camera. I do love fashion and have worked on various projects related to this industry – but my heart is with the movies.


Can you reveal the formula for your huge career success?
I think it’s a combination of talent and meeting the right people. I always put myself out there, that’s why I know a lot of people in the industry and society in general. The opportunities are out there for you to grab them and make them happen. When one happens another one will appear. You need to ‘get in’ and meet people. Also being in the right place at the right time is very important so an element of luck is always an essential part of the formula.



Tell us a ‘must’ when applying makeup?
If you’re working in either film or fashion your basic skills are really important. For me a ‘must’ is to be able to apply a flawless base, to create a beautiful skin, to use the right foundations. There’s no point having an amazing eye make up if the skin is not perfect. You need to be able to do a good face. Always less is more as long you aren’t doing a dramatic make up look. If you are doing a natural make up, cream blushers or stains are a much better option than powders. Powder is a much more made up look. You want to stick to everything that is creamy and then after that you can use something like a blot powder to remove the shine. With a natural make up you don’t want to make the person look too matte as real skin has a natural shine to it.


What are the major challenges with HD regarding the make up these days?
With HD you have to check the monitors at all times as the movies are shown on massive screens to the public. The makeup for every actor on set has to be checked before every take just in case something is out of place and doesn’t look the same as this will generate a problem with continuity.  We have to be very vigilant on set these days and this can be a bit exhausting when you are working on a project for a very long time.


What make up trends do you dislike most?
There is this new trend of not using as much CGI in movies these days. I’m happy about that as CGI is perfect when you want to create spaceships but can make some make up artists a bit lazy. When I did the last Star Wars movie (Star Wars: The Last Jedi is out on the 15th December) for instance, the director didn’t want to use any CGI on the actor’s faces, so this means that it’s down to your skills to do the job. A lot of make up artists have relied on CGI to hide the laces of the wigs but it’s a trend that is coming to an end. To a certain extent I think it’s a budget situation, but I also think that people are fed up with actors looking so perfect and actually not looking like real people anymore.


What do you think about social media – all these make up bloggers and influencers?
I am too busy to spend hours looking at my phone really. I do follow Pat McGrath because I like her products. When I am working I am too involved to follow any make up artists and I also like to have break from make up sometimes. I know it’s different for the younger generation. I think if you want to follow people for inspiration it’s great but social media can’t define how you are as a whole as loads of people spend all the time blogging to keep their number of followers. It is really important not to see what everyone is doing at all times and to compare yourself with other make up artists as this could be dangerous and not really constructive. Be inspired by certain people but let your thoughts be original. Be inspired by things around you rather than what other people are doing. I let my work speak for myself.


Do you think winning an Oscar is paramount in this profession?
Your work can’t be about thinking how to win any award. There is this famous ‘Oscar curse” when people stop calling you for work because they think you have become too expensive or they expect you to do ‘miracles’ in the next movie. An award on top of the mantelpiece is not going to pay the mortgage. Don’t get me wrong, all those awards are lovely and just the fact of getting nominated is something amazing and very enjoyable, but my career was never and will never be about that.


What would a make up artist need to become part of your team?
It’s all about personality and being capable to do the work. I would say that 40% is personal skills and the rest is personality. Remember we form teams that need to last from 6 months up to a year when filming a movie. I get hundreds of CVs but I prefer to work with friends or people I have been recommended, but if these are not available I will use students from BAMM because I trust the knowledge they have been provided with. l love having good time while working, creating an atmosphere where everyone feels part of it. I don’t like to tell people what they need to do at all times. I will discuss with my team what we are going to create, how we are going to do it and how the final make up should look like but it is all a team thing.