How Margot Robbie Got a Regal Makeover for 'Mary Queen of Scots'

In the film, opening Dec. 7, the actress thoroughly disappears into the role of Queen Elizabeth I, complete with smallpox scars and a nose that gave her "added strength."
Courtesy of Liam Daniel/Focus Features

Makeup and hair designer Jenny Shircore won an Oscar for her work on 1998's Elizabeth, in which Cate Blanchett stars as the iconic English Queen Elizabeth I. But when Shircore was first approached to lend her talents to Focus Features' Mary Queen of Scots, which opens Dec. 7, she initially said no because the new film would again feature Elizabeth I — this time played by Margot Robbie — as she engages in a battle royale with her cousin Mary Stuart, portrayed by Saoirse Ronan in the film's title role.

But then Shircore reconsidered. "I thought, 'No, it's a completely different film,' " she explains, "and when I heard that Margot Robbie was playing Elizabeth I, I thought, 'Now, here's the challenge. This is what I want to do.' "

Not that Shircore simply wanted to spotlight Robbie's features. Rather, she wanted to transform the actress. "I wanted to work with Margot to see that we could get her, as beautiful as she was, to [look like] those portraits of Elizabeth."

In designing Robbie's look, Shircore's first question to director Josie Rourke was how far to take the transformation. "I said, 'I would want to change her eyebrows, her nose, her skin, her lips. I'd want to change all that. But do you want me to do that, or do you want to see Margot Robbie as she is?' " The director replied, "No, change her."

Shircore relied primarily on makeup to accomplish the makeover. "In this film, it's written that she has smallpox, which Elizabeth did have. We used that story point to scar her face," Shircore explains. "We had to get to those iconic paintings of Elizabeth I, where she had very narrow lips, practically no eyebrows. So we placed smallpox boils around her lips and into her eyebrows, so that once the smallpox boils had healed they would leave scars, and those scars were heavily covered with makeup by Elizabeth I and her ladies in waiting as they made her up."

Robbie also got a new nose. "I didn't think you could do Elizabeth with Margot Robbie's nose," Shircore admits. "I worked to get the right shape, which didn't actually interfere with Margot Robbie's look too much. I think it gave her an added strength as Elizabeth I."

Robbie also wore various wigs throughout the film. "Elizabeth was a redhead and so was Mary Queen of Scots. I had to have two redheads in the film, but two very different redheads," Shircore continues. "I thought about choosing a slightly deeper, darker color of red for Margot, because it suited her."

Shircore adds that costume designer Alexandra Byrne was creating "a more modern look for her costume, so we followed suit by giving Margot a slightly more modern look. In the same shape as the Elizabeth portrait, but of course Elizabeth has smallpox in her hair. So at that point, we thinned her hair out completely; we used a different wig. We slightly faded the color to look dull and brittle."

The most complex looks required that Robbie sit for up to three hours each morning in the makeup chair. Says Shircore: "She was fantastic. She cooperated, she worked with me. She went through all sorts of discomfort — when we needed to have a cast of her face, when we had umpteen trials and tests for smallpox."

This story first appeared in a November stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.