A Day in the Life of...

Peter Swords King, Hair and Makeup Designer

Previous films include 'The Hobbit', 'Pirates of the Caribbean', 'King Kong', 'Nine', 'Lord of the Rings', 'Golden Compass', 'Love and Other Drugs', 'The Lovely Bones' and 'Nanny McPhee'.


You were the founder/partner in the one of the most respected wig companies in the world 'Owen King and Co' (now 'Peter Owen Ltd'). How did that come about?

I was living with a friend who was making wigs for a gentleman called Peter Owen and I became interested in the techniques used to create these beautiful heads of hair. After a few weeks of practicing Peter Owen asked if I could help him out with an order and knot (the technique of attaching the hair to the wig foundation) the back of a wig in three days. So having had no sleep I completed the job and our friendship was formed. Peter asked if I would join him at the Welsh National Opera and that is where I started to understand the art of makeup and wigs. My background was hairdressing so it was a natural progression. For six years I designed shows and wigs before a friend asked me to design 'The Draughtsmans Contract' and thus I worked on my first film. As the number of films increased and the theatre diminished, Peter and I decided to found our own wig company to cater for the demand in wigs. More recently I have left the company but it still operates in Bristol under Peter Owen Ltd.


If you could choose another career what would it be?

A shoe designer. I was always sketching and designing shoes as a kid. Terry de Havilland and Thea Cadabra are two of my favourite designers.


What has been your most challenging moment in film?

Probably having to stick a prosthetic penis on a woman for 'How to Lose Friends and Alienate People'. Luckily I didn't have to do the applying but the build up surrounding the whole scene was never going to be easy!


Do you have an actor that you would have loved to have worked with?

Without a doubt Bette Davis.


What are the key characteristics you think are needed to be a success in the film industry?

- Be observant. Look at what you are doing. Does it look right? Take a moment to step back and really look at the whole package.

- Personality. This is incredibly important. You have to be able to get on with just about anyone in a neutral but fun way. Ones own personality has to be relatively flexible in order to make things work for long periods of time in a confined space. You can't be highly opinionated and start arguements with actors/crew for example.

- Diligence. Be concerned about your work but don't be a pain. No one likes fussy hair and makeup artists who get in the way. Know when to stand back and leave it.

- Leave your ego at the door. There are too many huge personalities on a film set to be throwing your own into the mix.


Do you have five makeup items that you couldn't live without?

If I had the list below I would be content to do pretty much any makeup.

- Bobbi Brown BBU/Lip Palettes

- MAC Eyeshadow/Blusher Palettes

- Loose Powder/Powder Puff

- Six brushes

- Suqqu Eyebrow Pens

- Matthew Mungle Creations Palette


What are your up and coming projects outside of Designing?

I am working closely with BAMM (Bath Media Makeup) to create a really elite hair and makeup course. One that sends its students out into the industry knowing about set etiquette, modern techniques, beautiful applications and the industry as a whole. For example, one of the hardest makeups is a 'no makeup makeup'. I want to teach subtly and the ability to recreate a period in time without letting modern influences and opinions alter your vision. We are also extending the course from 15 weeks to a year.


What is your greatest achievement?

Surviving! Getting to this point in my career and being sane! When I first started I never in a million years expected to win an Oscar or even be nominated for awards. You just can't think like that otherwise it becomes counter-productive to your work.


Where do you keep your awards (9 wins and 13 nominations)?

In the study dotted around the place.


Is there any particular genre you haven't designed but would like to?

I would love to do a Western. I haven't ticked that box yet. And a fantastically huge 1940's production. Huge costumes with costume designer Sandy Powell and an endless budget.


Where was your favourite location?

The Seychelles filming 'Thunderbirds'. You can't really call that work. Followed closely by Hawaii on 'Pirates of the Caribbean'. I would love to film in South American and Cuba. Those two places are still on my list.


Peter Swords King has recently completed 'Into The Woods' and is currently filming 'Survivor' in London and Bulgaria.

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