AACTA Member Spotlight: Nikki Gooley – Hair & Make-Up Artist

Hair and Make-up Artist, Nikki Gooley

Nikki Gooley is a Sydney-sider from way back. She was first inspired to experiment with elaborate hair and make-up designs when, as a teenager, she attended Dawn Swane’s theatrical make-up workshop for City Road Youth. Despite dousing her Red Setter in talcum powder and removing the eyelashes of her favourite doll, Gooley’s flair and finesse shone through, and now she transforms the faces of many a famous actor in such productions as: Spider and Rose, Dance Academy, The Matrix, Star Wars, The Chronicles of Narnia, X-Men and most recently, The Sapphires.

Gooley was nominated for an Academy Award for Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith in 2006 and in the same year won a BAFTA for her outstanding work on The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. Gooley is an Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (AACTA) Honorary Councillor for our Hair & Make-Up Design Chapter. She is a strong advocate for her craft and is currently campaigning to have a Hair & Make-Up Award introduced into the AACTA Awards, to formally recognise the high level of skill and talent involved.

Gooley is also a firm believer in the medium of film and its unique ability to capture the subtleties of skin texture, shadow and light.  She describes herself as an artist who likes to build up a “look” by embellishing what is already there rather than having to scale back prosthesis. When asked what advice she’d give emerging artists she adamantly states: “Look at the big picture. It’s not just about applying a bit of lippy!”

Read on for more insight into Gooley’s career choices, her working style and inspirations. It is evident that she’s exceptionally hardworking and never afraid of accepting a challenge. Her answers also provide great insight into the highs and lows or the less salubrious side of working in Hair and Make-Up Design.

Nikki Gooley is one of our highly regarded AACTA members. We are proud to have film and television makers of this calibre as a part of the new Australian Academy. In coming months, we look forward to sharing more of these profiles as we turn the Member Spotlight onto more performers and practitioners – both those working at home and abroad. (You can check out our previous AACTA Member Profiles here.)

AFI | AACTA: Where were you born and where did you grow up?
Nikki Gooley:
I was born in Sydney and grew up in the inner west.

AFI | AACTA: Where do you live now?
Nikki Gooley:
I’m in Sydney now but I’ve also spent a number of years living in London.

AFI | AACTA: What is your most vivid childhood memory?
Nikki Gooley:
Vivid childhood memory? There are so many, argh where do I begin? Covering my dog – a Red Setter in talcum powder from head to toe so he was white not red. Pulling out my doll’s eyelashes and crying because they wouldn’t grow back!

AFI | AACTA: At what point did you know that you wanted to be a hair & make-up artist and how did you go about realising it?
Nikki Gooley:
While I was in high school I was a part of a youth theatre group called City Road Youth Theatre. During the school holidays, we attended workshops in everything from lighting to costume design. One of them was a theatrical makeup class and a student from Dawn Swane’s Theatrical Make-Up Workshop came and did some demos. I was hooked from that moment on.

I went to school with the actress Joy Smithers, and I think I got inspired by our conversations and dreams about working with the fashion make-up artist Smilka, who we both admired. I left school and did a fine arts diploma. I then went onto Dawn Swane’s Three Arts Makeup School.

AFI | AACTA: What was your first major project?
Nikki Gooley:
My first film was a low budget film called Unfinished Business, directed by Bob Ellis and shot by Andrew Lesnie. It was so much fun! Another great creative job was P.J. Hogan’s Peter Pan.

AFI | AACTA: As an established hair and make-up supervisor, do you still perform hands on work or is it more high-concept work and overseeing a team of artists?
Nikki Gooley:
Yes, I am very hands on, as hands on as I can be. Sometimes it just isn’t feasible, but if I am given the time, I like to be as practically involved as possible.

AFI | AACTA: Where do you find inspiration for your designs? Can you describe your creative process?
Nikki Gooley:
Inspiration is everywhere. I usually draw on things from other design areas, for example production design, colours, magazines, art galleries and landscapes. If time allows, I put a style book together, or mood boards to add textures, colours and hair shapes, etc.


AFI | AACTA: What does a typical working day on set, for instance on a high concept project like Narnia, entail for you?

Nikki Gooley: A typical day starts very early and I begin working on the lead actor, applying their make-up, wigs, facial hair or picking the crust out of their sleepy eyes! It is all very glamorous! I have breakfast and then it’s onto the set. On really busy jobs you can sometimes be in the make-up bus for hours. At the end of the day, it’s a matter of de-rigging, cleaning and plotting the next day. It can be a very late finish. The Make-Up Department relies heavily on the strength and co-ordination of the Art Direction Department.

AFI | AACTA: What was the brief you were given for the hair and make-up on The Sapphires?
Nikki Gooley: The Sapphires
was an extraordinary film to be a part of. Director Wayne Blair wanted the girls (Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy, Shari Sebbens and Miranda Tapsell) to stay true to who they were in terms of realising their characters’ personas. They wouldn’t be living on a mission looking like Beyonce so I used very little make-up on them to begin with. Not even mascara, I had to keep them looking youthful and fresh. I increased their performance make-up and threw on some hair pieces as they matured and went to Melbourne for their audition. The fashion of the time was varied so not everyone would have had the latest Vogue look – much the same as today. We added extra hair pieces to Cynthia’s character (Miranda Tapsell) because she was the one who thought she would be famous! At the end when the girls perform for their family, I kept it fresh again, even though their lives had changed forever.

‘Staying true to the characters’ personas’ – the hair and make-up for the four leading ladies of THE SAPPHIRES evolved as they did.

Nikki on the set of THE SAPPHIRES

AFI | AACTA: I can imagine that you are often called upon by friends and family to assist in creating the perfect costume for dress up parties?
Nikki Gooley:
Yes, family and friends love having their hair and make-up done … Kid’s fancy dress etc.  It’s a big pressure – sometimes they can be your biggest critics!

AFI | AACTA: What are some of the ways you have refined your skills and changed your working methods over the course of your career?
Nikki Gooley:
I don’t like fuss and I try and let looks grow, build things up rather than dismantling a look.  I learn something new on every job. There are always new products to experiment with, and because technology has changed – less being shot on film now and more on HD – it’s a constant trial, finding what products work and how they behave under lights and on the skin. I try to work with the skin and not cover it up too much.

AFI | AACTA: What aspects do you enjoy most about your work? What are the challenges?
Nikki Gooley:
The Sapphires was shot on film which was so beautiful. I think no matter how good the technology is, nothing will replace the layers of texture and lighting or the subtlety of hair and make-up that you get on film. There’s a richness that I just don’t see on HD.

There are always challenges, so many actually. All the little things that are needed to help an actor prepare and bring their character to life. It can be anything from ensuring that a nose hair stays in the same spot every day, or that hair colours are maintained or repaired, to continuity challenges like wind, rain and humidity. Then there’s dealing with make-up that won’t sit on the skin properly, or insecure wigs, kids with missing teeth, people with hangovers and directors who don’t know what they want, or simply a lot of people having a solution to a hair issue when they know nothing about hair! These are just some of the things that you come up against as a hair and make-up artist.

You’ve worked on everything from Spider and Rose and Dance Academy to The Matrix, Star Wars, The Chronicles of Narnia, X-Men and The Sapphires. How do you go about choosing a project to work on? What are the most important elements for you?
Nikki Gooley:
I look for projects that have an obvious design challenge – for example completely changing someone’s look  to tell a really fabulous story or negotiating new cultural challenges. I also like to know who the director, producer, cast and crew of a film are when I am contemplating accepting a job. I would love to be able to say that I only look at film’s story, director, cast and the types of make-up challenges offered but I also have a young family to consider, so they play a significant role as well.

AFI | AACTA: Are there particular directors, producers and make-up people that you like to work with?
Nikki Gooley:
I’ve been lucky enough to have worked with some of the finest people in the industry both here, in Australia, and overseas.

Once I read the script of The Sapphires, I HAD to do it! Tony Briggs and Keith Thompson had written one of the best scripts I’ve read in years.

AFI | AACTA: Is there a significant difference to the way that you work when you are working on local Australian productions in comparison to those bigger budget Hollywood blockbusters?
Nikki Gooley:
The difference between small budget projects and Hollywood blockbusters is the intimacy on set. There are usually so many more people involved in a big budget feature that the creative process can be a little more complicated.

Small budgets make you far more resourceful because you don’t have the same amount of cash to spend. Sometimes this works in your favour because it simplifies a look, but it can also be detrimental because you can’t give a look the same polish.

Nikki Gooley with her BAFTA Award for Best Hair & Make-Up

AFI | AACTA: You were nominated for an Academy Award in 2006 (Best Achievement in Make-Up) for Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith and in the same year won the BAFTA Best Hair and Make-Up Award for your work on The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. How does it feel to receive such international recognition for your craft?
Nikki Gooley:
Receiving recognition at an international level is really exciting. The awards are voted on by fellow make-up artists so it really is a great honour.

AFI | AACTA: Do awards help in obtaining further work?
Nikki Gooley:
Awards give you recognition and exposure, [and] depending on the size of the industry you work in, it can also determine the amount of future work you will be offered.

AFI | AACTA: You are also an honorary councillor (Hair & Make-Up Chapter) in the newly formed Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (AACTA). How would you like to contribute to the Australian industry within this role?
Nikki Gooley:
I would like to see an Australian award introduced into the AACTA Awards for Best Make-Up. I will be campaigning on behalf of all of those great make-up artists who work really hard on minimal budgets to produce such great looks and contribute to the whole mood of a film.

Nikki holding her BAFTA Award for Best Hair & Make-Up for THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA

AFI | AACTA: What have been some of the biggest hurdles you’ve faced during your career? What have been the highlights? What are you most looking forward to?
Nikki Gooley:
Often, the biggest hurdle for make-up artists is receiving acknowledgement for our craft. It encompasses so much more than just a slap of make-up. It is a subtle, intimate and personal craft but the long hours are back-breaking. Hair and make-up plays a pivotal role in assisting actors to realise their characters, whether it is through simply trimming a mustache or applying lavish prosthetics and wigs, every little bit counts.

AFI | AACTA: If you had to name three people who have inspired or mentored you over the years, who would they be?
Nikki Gooley:
Producer Julia Overton had great faith in me when I was starting out. Patrick McCormack, another producer, and fellow make-up artists, such as Lois Burwell and Dick Smith were also strong influences.

AFI | AACTA: What advice would you give upcoming Australian hair and make-up artists wanting to break into the industry?
Nikki Gooley:
Advice … Look at the bigger picture. It’s not just about applying a bit of lippy!

AFI | AACTA: What is your all-time favourite Australian film or television series? Why?
Nikki Gooley:
Favourite Australian film – The Sapphires! – It’s part of our history, an incredible story, told through the eyes of some amazingly talented filmmakers, an Indigenous director, cinematographer and suite of actors. It’s beautiful, rich, funny and real! There are so, so many great stories out there that need to be aired in the mainstream.

AFI | AACTA: Thanks so much for your time and we look forward to working with you in the new Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts.