This interview was done by Jon Bailey from
Lars Carlsson is a Veteran Makeup Artist and wigmaker of 15 years currently working at the Gothenburg Opera in Sweden. We recently interviewed Lars about the state of the industry outside the US and asked him about his fascination with wigs.
LC: Thank you! Yes, I did get married this summer to my wonderful Heather whom I met when I was travelling in New Zealand three years ago. And to make sure we got married properly we did it twice. First here in Sweden and then we also got a blessing in Devon, England where she comes from.
NE-FX: That's romantic. Now I'm going to show how little I travel internationally...You live in Sweden, what is the make-up industry like there? And, how has it changed over the fifteen years or so you have been at it.
LC: For those of you who don't know, Sweden is a quite small country in the north part of Europe called Scandinavia. We are just a mere 9 million living here. The makeup industry have not changed a lot since I started. The things that has unfortunately changed is that a lot of theatres no longer can afford to have permanent staff. Films are still pretty boring. Everybody wants to be Ingemar Bergman, our biggest claim to fame in the movie world (Yawn!)
NE-FX: Whew!, 9 million, that's the population of New York City! It sounds like a very tight knit group of people that all know each other. Is networking important?
LC: Yep, here as everywhere else. Most of the jobs I get comes from meeting someone on a previous project. But now I have started to get more and more jobs from people who has seen my website.
NE-FX: Is the industry more theatrical or film based there?
LC: I would say that the jobs I have most fun with is theatre, this is also where the bulk of the jobs are.
NE-FX: Your website http://www.makeup-fx.com is very cool for a number of reasons. Not the least of which is the tutorials in basic makeup lab work and techniques. Do you have plans to write any new tutorials? Silicone perhaps?
LC: Glad you asked that. Today I got some really interesting news about a new silicone gel system which is both cheap and apparently the best anyone has made yet. It's not a system that someone has put together but components you can buy in both the US and Europe. I will order everything tomorrow and try it out. If it is as good as I heard from a colleague I will of course do a step by step guide on that too. The reason why I am not saying what brand it is now is that I never recommend anything I haven't tested myself. But keep looking at my website. It will be there if it's any good. Hopefully I will also start selling DVD's with more in-depth tutorials. I can't afford to put more videos on the website, it costs a fortune to keep up with all the traffic. Last month the film on my website 'Portrait of a makeup artist' was downloaded 1000 times. Selling some DVD's would also help to finance staying on the web.
NE-FX: I am looking forward to any review you write about the new product, and I think the DVD's would be a huge hit! In reading on your website, I came across some interesting insight into where you are at professionally. For instance, you have made the conscious choice not to do a lot in the gore area, why?
LC: I did love to do gore when I was a kid but after having tons of people telling me that 'you are only playing', 'Remember Peter and the wolf?' and other stupid comments I decided that I would not do gore any more. So I started focusing more on real characters and all of a sudden people started to respect what I do a lot more. So today I only do gore if a script really needs it to tell a good story.
NE-FX: What movies do you watch for entertainment? Have a favourite?
LC: It's almost a bit embarrassing to say but I like really lightweight comedy like American Pie and shit like that. Sometimes it's just so nice to just disconnect and let your brain turn to mash. But of course I watch all the makeup heavy pictures too. To be completely honest I watch way to much film, I hardly go a single day without seeing something. It's really addictive and I love to be a film junkie!
NE-FX: Film junkies unite! You currently work freelance and work at The Gothenburg Opera House, What has been your favourite character to create so far?
LC: Impossible to say. There has been so many of them. I love all of the characters I have made until I have done them a few times and then I start to hate them and wish I had done them in a different way. I don't like to be happy with anything I have done. By aiming high you at least hit over your kneecaps (sometimes) ;)
NE-FX: Good point. I can see that you have the Sound of Music coming up in October...What sort of make-ups are you preparing to do for that production or will it be mostly wigs?
LC: Nothing, Thank God! I am not working on that production and I am glad I am not. It is going to go on forever and ever. I like Operas, they only run for about 10-15 performances. That's more my cup of tea. The makeup's in it will be quite simple but almost everybody will be wearing a wig.
NE-FX: How long does a typical custom wig take to make?
LC: If I am making it takes forever because I always have a lot of other jobs going on and never find the time to just sit down for that long. But if I would be undisturbed it would take about one week for a short haired wig and a week and a half for a long hair one. Remember that it's about 40.000 knots in a wig. All made by hand.
NE-FX: Fourty thousand?!? Holy cow! I tried reading up on the Gothenburg Opera's website, but my Swedish is a little rusty, and since the English translation is unavailable, what other productions are you preparing for and what is going to be expected of you?
LC: At the moment we are working on 'The Queen of spades' by Tchaikovsky which premieres next week (13th Sept) but to be honest I don't recommend anyone to see it. I think it's really boring. Not even the makeup's are any fun. I have higher hopes for 'Cinderella' in November in which I have a big fat makeup to do. Hopefully it will be a mix of gelatine and silicone appliances.
NE-FX: Sounds really cool, be sure to snap a lot of pics for us, won't you? That gel within a silicone sack stuff seems complicated... For prosthetic work, what materials do you prefer to work with?
LC: I love all materials for different things. You wouldn't ask a Mum which is her favourite child would you?
NE-FX: Sure, sounds like a laugh...Kidding, I understand, all materials are just a means to an end anyway. Which makeup artists would you like the opportunity to work with?
LC: Anyone that is skilful and fun. The fun part is important as this jobs turns to be the shittiest job in the world if you are not allowed to have fun.
NE-FX: Have you travelled to any of the Make-up Artist Magazine Trade Shows held in London, UK or Pasadena, CA, USA?
LC: Yes, I have been to both the tradeshows in London. The American one is at a really bad time for us here as we usually have premieres around that time.
NE-FX: Megan Flagg and I went to the UK show in January. I spoke with a couple of locals and they felt the vibe was too commercial in CA and London felt warmer and more friendly. What was your take on the show?
LC: Did you? It's a shame we missed each other! I like the atmosphere at the tradeshow and love it at the after glow. I think it has been a good mix of speakers and activities. But I think it will be hard to beat the first years double act with Dick Smith and Stuart Freeborn on stage at the same time. I got Goosebumps!!!
NE-FX: Ever think of entering the competitions?
LC: Short and sweet. No.
NE-FX: What lectures did you attend while there?
LC: This year I saw most keynote speakers and some others. Noteworthy this year was the great Neil Gorton and the life casting guy, can't remember his name.
NE-FX: John Schoonraad, His team really works fast don't they?. We liked Neil Gorton too, even though he did zing Americans once or twice. In your site's frequently asked questions (FAQ) area you mentioned something rather unsettling. one of the questions you get asked frequently is: 'I am going to cut off my hair. Do you buy hair?' it sounds very creepy if you ask me. (kidding) Is this really a common question?
LC: You would be surprised! I speak or get e-mails from people every week.
NE-FX: If you were to buy hair, how valuable is it and how is it bought?
LC: It is not that much for unprepared hair. Maybe a thick braid would give you $50-$100 depending on color but not more. Prepared hair though is expensive as gold. The most expensive hair I have worked with was an unbleached, European, blond, 90 cm (that's 3 feet) that cost US$3400 per kilo (that's $1700 per pound).
NE-FX: WOW! no wonder people who lose their hair are so upset! What is the difference between prepared and unprepared hair?
LC: Prepared hair is pulled in lengths and sorted. That is one horrible job I only had to do once in my life and I have no plans to try it again.
NE-FX: Sorting hairs? that sounds exciting...NOT. I understand there are different types of hair available on the market and I was wondering what type you use and what their main differences are?
LC: The cheapest is the Asian hair that has been bleached and colored. This hair is really strong and suitable for big hairstyles and classical hairstyles. In the middle we find south European hair (Greece, Turkey) This can be good for general use. on top we find untreated European hair which is great for film and natural hairpieces.
NE-FX: Where did you learn how to make wigs?
LC: I learnt how to do it when I was an apprentice at the city theatre in Gothenburg (I spent a full 3 months as an apprentice and then they offered me a job! It should be three years.)
NE-FX: Kind of a crash course in wig making eh? During your freelance career, what sort of makeup are you doing?
LC: Everything, just like now. Whatever that pays the bills basically. If someone wants to pay me to do something I'll do it. (long uncomfortable silence) NO! I was talking about makeup. Nothing else!
NE-FX: Yes of course, makeup! <wink> Have you ever worked for Film or TV?
LC: I have done a few films but nothing you would have seen anywhere else but in Sweden. The same goes for TV. A few TV series but all unknown outside Sweden.
NE-FX: What was the coolest makeup you did for movies or TV?
LC: I did makeup that simulated an ear and cheek injury on a very well known actor here in Scandinavia. It was unfortunately never used as the director got scared when he saw him. I was pretty gutted when they told me as I was really pleased with the result. It's always the ones that never happened that would have been soooo cool to do, isn't it?
NE-FX: It's true. 'the one that got away' is always the hardest to let go. Who has been your greatest inspiration in your work?
LC: I am sorry to be like everyone else but I have to say, Dick Smith. He will always be the master. Even if other people have done better makeup's (not saying that anyone has) his attitude and willingness to share knowledge should be an example for us all.
NE-FX: Don't be sorry, Dick Smith is an amazing man. If you could meet with one person living or dead, and ask them one thing, who and what would it be?
LC: Well, here I have to refer to the previous question. I did meet Dick Smith two years ago in London but my brain turned to butter and I transformed to a three year old and couldn't think of anything clever to say. So whoever I meet that I admire like I admire Dick Smith will probably be a waste of time because I will be totally blank. The best question I have ever asked anyone was when I asked Heather if she wanted to marry me and she said Yes! I would happily re-live the moment to do that again!
NE-FX: Aww, that's cute. Tack så mycket for speaking with me today Lars, I have learned a lot from you and your site. We'll look for you at the shows!