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From NIDA to Hollywood Sets: Camilla Leary's Make-up Odyssey

Initially seeking musical theatre, Camilla Leary has an impressive portfolio that reads like a who's who in the world of film and television. Her mastery of make-up artistry has graced the screens of both the big and small. From evoking the glamour of Hollywood's blockbusters to being the head of hair and make-up on The Voice and multiple ad campaigns, Camilla has proven time and time again to be a true maestro of her craft.

Where did you grow up? Have you always wanted to pursue a creative/artistic career when you were younger?

Ever since I can remember, I immersed myself in everything creative. I would put on plays for the family, I was always singing and was particularly drawn to musicals. Growing up near Lennox Head (NSW, Australia), I was involved in all sorts of local musicals, plays and variety nights, eagerly embracing the opportunity to dress up and experiment with imaginative make-up.

Camilla working on a NIDA Make-up showcase 2016

Camilla Leary working on the NIDA Make-up Showcase, 2016.

What made you decide that you wanted to study Wig, Hair, Make-Up, and Special Effects at NIDA?

NIDA had always been on my radar, but they had never offered a Hair and Make-up course. In 2016 when I learnt that NIDA was launching their inaugural Hair and Make-up course, I jumped at the opportunity. Knowing I ultimately wanted to work overseas, I was drawn to the international appeal NIDA had, and I found it very interesting that we would be collaborating with students from other courses within NIDA too.

What can you share about your time and training at NIDA?

I had a fantastic time studying at NIDA! Throughout the course we had the opportunity to work on several shows. One was a very stylised German cabaret with the musical theatre students. This was a lot of fun and a great challenge, teaching us how to collaborate with actors to create larger-than-life looks. My actor was a male playing a drag role, so it was also a great lesson in drag make-up and wigs. We also got to have a showcase towards the end of the course where we again collaborated with the musical theatre students. I remember doing a Queen of Hearts hair and makeup which was so much fun!

Queen of Hearts - Make up by Camilla Leary

NIDA Make-up Showcase, 2016 - Queen of Hearts by Camilla Leary

One of my biggest challenges, but also biggest highlights of the course was when I got to collaborate with the director, costume designer and set designer to create five very stylised looks. I crafted five unique wigs from chicken wire, using it as the base to form intriguing shapes. A very thin string extended from the actors' ears to under their noses, creating an eccentric facial appearance, almost like they were wearing a mask. These wigs, combined with vibrant individual eye makeup and hand-drawn expressive eyebrows for each performance, resulted in a captivating look. This was for the play There Will Be A Climax, directed by Alexander Berlage, which had a second run at the Seymour Centre in Sydney.

Can you share some of your film and television credits since your NIDA graduation?

Over the last 8 years, I've experienced some thrilling days at work on many various projects serving as the Head of Hair and Make-up for The Voice seasons 12 and 13, working as the Key Make-up artist for Heartbreak High season 1, participating in New York Fashion Week multiple times, contributing to a Covergirl campaign in Toronto, attending the BET Awards in LA, and working on projects like Paper Dolls, Home and Away, Thor: Love and Thunder, and Planet of the Apes. I've also held the position of Head of Hair and Make-up for campaigns with brands like Doritos, Johnnie Walker, and Koala.

There Will Be a Climax

NIDA Student Production There Will Be a Climax , 2016.

What was your role and how was your experience working on blockbuster films such as Thor: Love and Thunder and Planet of the Apes? How did Nida help prepare for being on set with these major film studios?

Working in the crowd room on two major blockbuster films was just so exciting! I remember walking onto set my first day on Thor and being floored by just how massive the set was. Going into such a large-scale production was nerve-racking, but I had such great training at NIDA working closely with other departments and being part of such a large school, that it luckily didn’t feel too intimidating.

What is the process for creating characters in film and television, from collaborating with the creative team to then creating a look with the actor?

The process of crafting looks for actors differs between jobs. Occasionally, collaboration with the actor allows insights into their preferences. In contrast, certain projects impose strict parameters on the looks. My preferred method involves thoroughly reading the script, generating a board with ideas, and presenting them to the actor, head of make-up, or creative director for discussion on the best fit for the time period, character, or scene direction.

What are some of the differences between make-up for film and television compared to other mediums, and how do you navigate those differences in your work?

Film and television work seems to err on the side of a little more ‘natural’ - often the actors' real skin is shining through the make-up, and you are just making small adjustments to make them look their best (or their worst depending on the job). When it comes to shows like The Voice, it is shot in 4K, but this time there is stage lighting instead of the ‘natural’ light that we mostly work with on film and TV. Due to the lighting, we tend to lean towards a more 'glam' look, providing fuller coverage where necessary, and it's acceptable if the makeup appears more pronounced. We use false lashes, contour and highlight, shaping to make it look great in close-ups but also great in the wide shots. For jobs like New York Fashion Week, it’s almost always a barely-there, glowy skin look with a point of interest, and for red carpet looks, it depends on what the client asks for, so you have to be ready for anything!

Gemma Chua Trần, Bella Amour and Winnie Harlow Gemma Chua Trần for the 2023 AACTA awards, Bella Amour single cover, and Winnie Harlow for Tommy Hilfiger New York Fashion Week 2022. Make-up by Camilla Leary.

What are your make-up and hair must-haves in your kit?

I love Charlotte Tilbury's powders for their smoothing effect. Embellish By Rowi's gems add a dazzling touch; I always carry them for unexpected gem-encrusted looks. ColorWow Dream Coat is my go-to for transforming hair texture, leaving it silky and smooth, even for coarse and dry hair.

What advice would you have for those interested in pursuing a creative career in hair and make-up for screen? Particularly those wanting to study at NIDA?

My biggest piece of advice is something that my parents instilled in me - whatever you are doing, do it to the best of your ability. So, no matter where in the industry you land, or what you end up focussing on during your studies, do it to the best of your ability and you will be able to achieve anything you put your mind to. Don’t close yourself off to new opportunities, and keep an open mind. I believe one of the greatest advantages to studying at NIDA is graduating at the same time as several other courses. When I left NIDA, I knew so many directors, actors, costume designers, set designers, stage managers, writers, the list goes on! Because of this, I was able to connect with a lot of the graduating class which has led to work for me even years later. Cultivate the connections you make with the other students at NIDA and it will pay off big time in the long run.

What is next for you Camilla?

I am very excited to have been asked back for my second season as Head of the Hair and Makeup Department on The Voice which will be happening in the first half of this year. I am in the middle of applying for my O-1 visa to be able to work in America, which will be a welcome challenge. Who knows where I will be this time next year! That is the beauty of this industry, you never knew where you are going to end up, you just have to be prepared for the ride.

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