holby.tv talk to Marcus Whitney who is a long serving but ever passionate Make Up Designer on CASUALTY.
How long have you worked for CASUALTY?
I started when I was 19 and now I’m 35 so what’s that? 16 years. I started as an assistant and worked my way up – now my job title is Series Make-up Designer. I’m working on CASUALTY for a few more weeks, then I’ll be working on a different show. I work on different shows depending on what work I get offered. For example, I’ve done around three years of work on Being Human. But I’ll be back to CASUALTY in 6 or 7 months time!
What do you think about the CASUALTY set being re-located to Cardiff? Have you had to re-locate too?
There were a lot of people who were worried – and Bristol has been my home for 15 years and I thought ‘oh no, please don’t leave Bristol!’. There was a lot of trepidation and people were scared, but CASUALTY were great. They’re very loyal to the crew. When we did move it was really hard work, it took about three weeks to move everything to the new studios.
The prosthetics room that we had in Bristol that we used all that time was absolutely tiny, but the room we have now is about 8 times bigger! It’s got a lot more facilities, a lot more storage, and everything’s brand new and fresh.
We are settling in now though. Sometimes on the Set I forget and think I am still in Bristol! All the same make-up people still work in Cardiff – some are staying in B&Bs and some are commuting like me. I commute Monday to Friday, but as I’m Head of Makeup now I don’t get much chance to do filming – instead I tend be involved with the booking of the make-up artists, booking the prosthetics people, all the scheduling, and sort out each character’s look – I might take them shopping one day….
So do you deal with general hair/make-up as well as the gore?
Yes – I look after all the main actors and sort out their hair-cuts, and just their general look. So for example, I might be working on Sunetra’s eye-makeup, deciding how her hair is going to be, if she wants a haircut…. but we do the gruesome stuff too.
Because we have this new prosthetics room now, we have all the time and materials to make everything look even better. I think that’s part of what the audience love about CASUALTY – the gore!
So there’s a room full of blood and body parts at the set?
Yes! We’ve got two prosthetics rooms… we’ve got the big room that have big ‘dentist’ chairs that the actors can sit in and have casts taken and we’ve got another room, it’s like a store-room. It’s on a corridor now where everyone who comes into the set has to walk by it and every time you see someone walk by they just stand there and look in amazement! We’ve got 22/23 prosthetic babies in there…. we’ve got everything – decapitated heads, arms, legs… open heart surgeries – we’ve got about five or six of those.
We had a little boy actor about six years old here during the week, and he kept coming in for a look, it
must have been like a dungeon or something! There’s loads more in our store room – we have a full blown adult woman prosthetic, a small boy… it’s endless!
Do you ‘re-use’ things or create new prosthetics for each episode?
We try to recycle as much as we possibly can. We did an episode in Cambodia quite a few years ago now, and we had a little Cambodian baby made in England that we flew out there to use. He’s been used in about five or ten episodes since then, keep an eye out for him – he’s the one with the black hair!
We also had an animatronic baby made recently and we got two puppeteers to come in and work with it, and that will be on screen in five or six weeks, and it was superb! It was one of the best I’ve ever seen used. It’s a premature baby and every finger moves on it’s hand – it’s legs move and it’s head rocks and it breathes… it’s superb. We haven’t got the hours to film with real babies which is why we use these. We had a baby made recently and it’s lucky we did because the real baby was ill on the day and couldn’t come in to film, so we ended up using the prosthetic baby all the way through! It was really good, like a waxwork. We had pictures of the baby and sculptors made the face exactly right.
How did you decide that this was what you wanted as a career? How did you get into it?
It was purely through watching CASUALTY as a kid, I must have started watching from series 1, 2, 3… I loved it. They used to show a lot of behind the scenes documentaries as everyone always wanted to know how things were done, and they were fascinating. I got the chance to meet Sue Kneebone who worked on the earlier series of CASUALTY when I was 13 years old. She’s a make-up designer and has won a BAFTA for it. I told her I was really interested in that kind of work, and she advised me on what GCSE’s to take, and that I’d need to study hairdressing. I took her advice, and over the years I pestered and pestered her to let her know I was still interested! Eventually I applied for a trainee position with Granada. I didn’t get it and was really disappointed, but the next day I
got a call from Sue who offered me two episodes of CASUALTY, to assist her. And that was that; I assisted Sue for years and years… she was brilliant, everything has to be just right when she is working on it. She taught me so much.
What do you enjoy most and least about the job?
I enjoy the blood and gore! It’s the highlight of the job, it really is. We get the chance to create such a range of prosthetics that you’d never have a chance to have a go at on other shows.
Also my colleagues – I enjoy working with Jane Hazlegrove who is just beautiful and Matt Bardock; from the moment they walk in until the end of the day you’re laughing with them.
The worst is the hours, getting up at half 5 and not getting home time until 8 at night sometimes, especially now I drive to and from Cardiff. I suppose that has to be the worst thing – I can’t really say anything bad about it – I love it and it’s a massive part of my life.
What kind of injury do you most like recreating?
That’s a good one! I like creating stand-alone prosthetics, like open heart surgery, a pregnant belly… but I also like breaking the actors down and making them look like they’ve been through hell – just the straight make-up, like with Sunetra, Charlotte, you have to make them look really rough, like the fire episode – that was brilliant. They were all sweaty and dirty! But they love it as well – it’s so unlike them. Sunetra is usually really glammed up, she has to be, so to be able to break her down and make her dirty and grease her hair up, that’s fun.
And burns, prosthetic burns… I love doing those. Pete Salt, our medical advisor, is just the best ever. He’s got a medical background and he’s the person that the character of Charlie is based on, and he’s really just a lovely guy. He always tells us how the prosthetic should look, like that the skin should look grey… the other day he came in and told us that a prosthetic was completely wrong! I think it was a mangled leg or something, but he said it looked so bad that it would have to be amputated if it was real life, which wasn’t in the script! He has the overall say.
Do you watch CASUALTY to see your handiwork – or do you just watch it because you enjoy the show?
I watch it because I love it – I always have. I went through a stage where I was away from CASUALTY for about a year and a half and I missed it… although sometimes you’ll walk in from work and hear the music and think ‘oh no!’ and then I’ll have to record it and watch it on Iplayer! It is a brilliant show. It’s going to stick around, isn’t it?
I do notice with episodes I’ve worked on, I’m always casting my eye and making sure the make-up looks right, that it’s all perfect and I’ve not messed up anywhere.
Do you have any favourite characters or episodes from over the years – ones that you’ve worked on or just as a viewer?
There’s too many to mention! There’s Boiling Point….that’s always been one of my favourites. And I did really enjoy a Barbara Machin episode, it was the one where Josh got stabbed. It was done in real time over 50 minutes so the characters had to look the same as the episode developed – if they got blood on their face it had to stay there for the rest of the episode. I just thought the acting in that episode was great. We did a major prosthetic as well, that had never been done in CASUALTY before, which was like an open heart surgery, but they did it both sides and cut through the sternum, so we had Josh practically in half on the table and it was just brilliant! Ian [Bleasdale] and I were really good mates, when he was on the show we always used to go for drinks.
Another to mention is Maxwell Caulfield, top man! They seem to always get such brilliant artists in to play main characters. There’s been so many I’ve enjoyed working with over the years, like Martina Laird, Sorcha Cusack, Clive Mantle, Loo Brealey, Caroline Langrishe… people you get to know over the years, all these fantastic people that you get the chance to work with. And then you’ve got the guest artists as well, I could come in to work one day and be working with Norman Wisdom!
Have any of the actors ever been ‘grossed out’ by how real the prosthetics look?
ALL the time! Most of the time it’s the ‘sick’ that does it, and injuries that involve pus, and maggots! A lot of people do get grossed out by that. And burns, they seem to be the worst, a lot of people are so scared of burns. Recently there was a character that was badly burnt across their body, and we had to do a scene where a scalpel was inserted into the burn to release the tightness. That wasn’t very nice!
Some of the production team have to look away sometimes, they can get quite squeamish. And a couple of actors have fainted on me in the past!
Body parts that are mangled beyond recognition can also be pretty gruesome?!
I remember working on the episode with Anna’s legs… the train crash. I loved that episode, we had such a laugh. We went up to Peterborough to film it. I had a van full of prosthetic dead bodies to feature in the wreckage of the train, and in the early hours of the morning I drove to the shop. On the way back I realised I hadn’t put the back of the van down, so I was lucky I didn’t lose any ‘bodies’! I think people who drove past me might have been a bit disturbed too. Yes – that was a brilliant episode. We had about 150 extras, everyone was covered in blood, the train was covered in blood…great fun.
Can you give us any hints about some of your prosthetics we’re going to see in up-coming episodes?
There are some burns coming up, quite a few burns coming up. I can’t say much more without giving any storylines away!
Lastly, have you got an interesting fact to share with us?
We store around 20 different types of blood! There’s eye blood, congealed blood, wound fillers… even edible blood; mint, chocolate, strawberry… for people who have to have it in their mouths!