Think back to 2011, when Game of Thrones was a strange new show that your more nerdy friends were trying to convince you was in fact cool — don't let the dragons throw you off. Actually, Daenerys was still dragon-less, twincest had shock value (how quaint), and all the Starks were happy. We've come a long way since then — the remaining direwolf count alone is enough to make one worry for the future of Westeros, not to mention the impending white walkers invasion, and oh, all the contenders still vying for the throne.
But looking back at the pilot on the eve of the season 7 premiere, the most striking thing is just how different (calm!) everyone appears. Daenerys looks closer to a porcelain doll than a fierce Mother of Dragons, Breaker of Chains, and whatever title she's adopted lately. Sansa and Arya are just sisters bickering over nonsense, still shielded from the horrors that respectively await them. And Cersei is a golden queen, on top of the world (and her brother), unburdened by the loss of her children, not to mention all the blood and shit of King's Landing sticking to her bare legs. All of that is reflected in their looks, which are far more serene than in seasons to come.
Melissa Lackersteen remembers that time. In fact, as the makeup artist responsible for Emilia Clarke, Lena Headey, Sophie Turner, Gwendolyn Christie, and Carice van Houten, among others, for seasons 1 through 3, she helped bring George R. R. Martin's universe to life.
Part of her job involved developing the looks for characters we've come to know and love. And although she said she had to keep things pretty natural, given the medieval-ish setting of the show, she was able to play around with how the characters' emotional journeys impacted their appearance.
Take the scenes in which Daenerys is pulling a Moses, and wandering through the desert with what remains of her khalasar. "I made her look quite washed out," Lackersteen said. "I shaded slightly underneath the eyes to darken very, very slightly, but you've got to be careful with women because that can look really ugly. You have to do it in the right way, without making them look too tired and horrible and not looking like bags. It's a lovely kind of vulnerable look. Then, shaded her slightly and I did this drying effect on her lips so she looked parched and dirty and dry. That was one of my favorite looks. We stopped her looking — well, not healthy, but like she'd been through something, but still beautiful. She goes through so much with losing her baby and then Khal Drogo. She's understanding her responsibility. It's that whole toughened look. She's still quite vulnerable, in a way. That was when you see her start to change."
But as fascinating those behind-the-scenes tidbits are, it's the second part of Lackersteen's — the dark underbelly, if you will — that's the true draw here. There is far more to onscreen makeup than making someone look pretty, and Lackersteen's body of work is proof. Over her long career, she's worked on such films as Gladiator, Troy, Kingdom of Heaven, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Die Another Day , and Cold Mountain. You know what those films all have in common? Blood; and sweat; and other bodily fluids, all of which must be faked for maximum effect.
With a whole new season to look forward to, I asked Lackersteen about the ins and outs of drenching actors in fake blood, sweat, snot, and yes, everything you ever wanted to know about fake semen. Guess what: "It's used more than you think."
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