Halle Berry’s Shocking Transformation for Cloud Atlas


Siân Richards

With charm and creativity, Siân Richards has climbed to the top of the industry not only as a celebrity Makeup Artist, but as an entrepreneur. With the anticipated release of Cloud Atlas, a blockbuster that already has the press in a frenzy, Siân gives us a peak into her experience as Halle Berry’s personal MUA.

  • After months of dedication and hard work your artistry for Cloud Atlas will finally hit the big screen this October. Are your excited to see your work projected as a 30 ft x 70 ft image?

It’s always a combination of excitement and nerves. This film has ground breaking ideas and crosses genders, genres and preconceived cinematic ideas… And there is a lot of talk about it already! The first time I actually saw anything was when the extended trailer was released a few weeks ago, it looked so beautiful and was everything I had envisioned it being. It was a very emotional moment; so much love, passion and dedication was put into Cloud Atlas from all of us.

  •  What was it like working to bring a sci-fi fantasy novel to physical form translating the book’s detailed imagery to Halle’s makeup application?

Well, it’s not just a sci-fi fantasy story… its also a Thriller, Period Drama, Comedy, Sci-Fi, Love Story … so many genres all [wrapped into] one wonderful feature film! The Concept Art [for the film] was created prior to my arrival… As there were two units shooting, this meant that we had two Makeup/Hair Department Heads… I sat with both of the department heads and talked about Halle’s looks. As a personal, I like to collaborate with the H.O.Ds as I want the look integral with what they are doing. There is nothing that stands out more like a sore thumb than when the personal makeup artist does a different look than the rest of the makeup department. The Makeup/Hair designers were very relieved I was there to handle a principle actor and so I was left to design Halle’s makeups as I usually do… Character work is something that you create – I did it to fit Halle, not to fit an idea from the book. Though there were references made to the book in the aesthetic designs, when the book was written, those characters were not written with our cast in mind.

  • Was it intimidating to work on a film adaptation of a bestseller novel, one that enthusiasts have already created their own imaginary world for? How did you approach this fact when designing Halle Berry’s looks?

It wasn’t intimidating at all actually. Every film that comes from a book will have devotees that either love the representation of or don’t – like When Lord Of The Rings came out, I loved it and had been an avid reader of all the Tolkein books. So I obviously had the same creative vision as those who designed the looks. Someone else may not have had that [ same connection]… What was challenging was the knowledge that some of the makeup looks I did on Halle would get a lot of interest as I did things to her that she’s never done before. I did not have much prep time in Berlin, [so] I started sending  her mood boards and images as soon as I found out we were doing the movie – she loved them all thank goodness. Back in the early days, I didn’t even know how many characters she was playing as it was so hush hush. I knew she was playing Luisa Rey and Meronym, but trying to fathom the third main character was tough. Then one day, I called her manager and asked him if she was playing Jocasta, the Caucasian German Jewess, and when he said yes, a great big smile came on my face as I knew that this was going to be a challenging makeup. It’s not every day that you are called in to alter the ethnicity of one of the most famous African American actresses of our generation after all!

  • What were are biggest challenges you faced during the production of this film? What were your most memorable moments?

The greatest challenges were definitely not having any makeup tests on the big prosthetic makeups. I was literally shown the pieces the day before and the first time they were applied was live on the day of shooting! We had to push the envelope because, whilst this movie had a great budget, what they were doing with that budget was so adventurous … so time was always a premium…Also, I was the only makeup artist attached to one actor, and as such, the physical logistics of moving from unit to unit and unpacking and repacking the kits accordingly was something I never had to deal with. Although I had two kits, there are some things that you just need to have with you all the time, [including] the fail safes and things I have specifically for Halle.

Another huge challenge was getting Jocasta’s makeup right. In the August my first makeup test on Jocasta was done using Kryolan Dermacolour for the base. I loved it and photographed it on set with test lights, but they never shot it on film for us to see. Then I had to go back to the US for a week and whilst I was there, Daniel Parker did another makeup test using skin illustrator which they did not like. We did a third makeup test again using skin Illustrator which was not a success either… [at this point we were just a week out] from shooting Jocasta for the first time. Tom Tykwer, our director, wanted to do another makeup test the weekend prior to shooting. But I knew that the crew was exhausted and needed their weekend …we needed them fresh for Monday…. I went to Tom and took the very first makeup test that I photographed back in the August using Dermacolour and showed him the pic on my iPad. When he saw it he said ‘What is this and why haven’t I seen it before?” I told him the story and then I said to him – “Is this what you want Tom?” and he said, “It’s perfect, it’s exactly what I want”.. Then I said to him “Do you trust me? Because everyone needs a rest this weekend and I can bring it on the day.” Tom replied, “I trust you Siân and I know that if you tell me you will give me what I need on the day, then I know you will” and and he gave me a big hug I can tell you!

That whole weekend I went over and over the various stages of the makeup in my mind… I would go to sleep thinking about the makeup and wake up with a finished look in the forefront of my head! Come Monday I was exhausted. But we did it! And it worked. The relief was unbelievable I have to tell you. Anyone reading this who has been in my shoes will know exactly how I felt. How wonderful to have your director’s implicit trust.

My most memorable moments are: When Halle first arrived on set as Jocasta – the white woman – and had a full length 10 minute conversation with Andy and Lana’s Mother. Lana asked her mother if she had any idea who she had talked to and her mother replied that she thought it was just a very nice actress. Lana then revealed to her that it was Halle Berry…she was completely floored!! She didn’t have a clue while standing less than two feet away from Halle for 10 mins.

Another memorable, was when Halle told me how amazing my work was after we successfully shot on Jocasta, I burst into tears of relief and joy as I had been dreaming that makeup for weeks – and the whole set had gone bananas for the makeup. Even Tom Tykwer approached me and just hugged me for doing such an “amazing job” … I was very emotional about that makeup – I had put my all into it: my passion, my experience and my artistry. All the things that I had done throughout my career came into play for that one opportunity. This was a catalyst for me…

When Halle came on set as Older Native, Andy and Lana just loved it and John Toll the DP came up to me and hugged me saying ‘Nice Job Kid!’.. John Toll is an Academy Award winning Cinematographer – so to have praise from him was so precious. Nothing like having someone you utterly respect and revere complimenting your work.

[Even Tom Hanks was shocked] He laughed out loud and fell down to his knees when he saw Halle as Jocasta and later as the Indian Lady in the makeup trailer. He couldn’t believe that here was yet another character unfolding in front of his eyes… Tom had such a blast and so did Hugo Weaving who also loved seeing the transformations that went on – everyone was just loving the process so much – the makeup trailers were without a doubt one of the best places to be!!   We all knew it was so special and that were so lucky [to be part of] it.

  • What was your main goal in transforming Halle Berry’s character to Luisa Rey and subsequently to the post apocalyptic, Meronym?

Luisa Rey was set in the 70’s and was a feminist, so the makeup designs for her were [composed of mainly nudes]. Tom really wanted to see skin and also to see Halle in looks that she has not been shot in before. She had one ‘pretty’ makeup which was a professional look that she did when she would be in business mode – it was a look that was supposed to give Luisa a greater sense of self and professionalism as her character was somewhat insecure. My favorite Luisa Rey makeups were the post river plunge wet makeup where she had mascara coming down her and her body … glistening … her face just looked so raw! I loved it and I think it was actually a very editorial look – she looked SO amazing…

With Meronym I was told that Andy and Lana wanted her to have a different skin tone – but it had to be subtle, so I changedHalle’s naturally Golden Olive skin tone into a more red earthy brown. When it’s seen on camera it’s something that the viewer probably will not register because it’s so real. Meronym had Pro Bondo appliances too and I chose a selection that I felt best fit Halle, then added delicate metallic touches to them as they were supposed to be part of Meronym’s communication device that was integral to her body.

The main goal for both was to have it be believable and to fit the character.

  • Did you use The London Brush Company collection through out the production? How did they enable you to achieve the looks you were going for?

Yes of course!!! I used my entire collection of brushes for both glueing down and makeup application. The bent glue brushes I do were a godsend for the appliances and for any on set re-gluing around the nostrils. The Foundation brushes I make are so soft that they enabled ‘Invisible’ work as I designed them to be yielding enough to enable very easy blending. The Queen Foundation was a life saver for Jocasta’s face and body makeup. She was completely hand painted, no airbrushing, as I wanted a more organic feel. Airbrushing tends to be rather clinical as it’s too perfect in my opinion. The eyeshadow brushes too were a godsend as I was using strong eyeshadow colours for two of Jocasta’s looks and because they hold shadow so well, there was no fallout on her milky skin that I had just painted! The Ultra luxe brushes in my collection enabled extremely delicate colour application. Some of the other makeup artists wanted brushes after they saw mine and I ended up shipping some over for them too – the bent glue brushes were a particular hit.

  • What’s in store for you in the upcoming months?

Well, after being away from home for four months last year, this year, I stayed put and focused on The London Brush Company. I have shot numerous commercials including a large Nike campaign before The Makeup Show Chicago, and shot some press with Melanie Griffith and Antonio Banderas and a few things with Halle as well….. I need to focus on my brand and develop it. When I am away, it’s not possible. So I have made a lot of ground work with a product development sheet for the next 18 months at least! The plan is to go retail. My partner and I are working very hard right now.

  • Excited to return to Berlin, this time for The Makeup Show Europe?

I adoreBerlin- What’s not to love!!! I spent many months walking the city, photographing it, spending far too much money in it and just reveling the relaxed spirit of this beautiful city… My favorite spots are Soho House, Gretchen Club and Liquidrom… And I shall go to all three whilst I am there!


Berlin is just around this corner, we can’t wait to get the international community back together again in this city of style. Not only will Sian will be bringing her full collection this September to The Makeup Show Europe, but will be giving a keynote presentation, “Making Your Mark in The Makeup Industry.”

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