I met with Nicola Coleman the week before two “very special events”, both celebrating her makeup artistry on Fantasy Football League.
The first was the RTS Craft and Design Awards, where she was nominated for the Makeup Design – Non-Scripted Award. The second? Seeing Madonna perform with her assistant, a treat for a series of hard work.
Coleman always knew that she wanted to create characters with makeup, altering someone’s appearance rather than enhancing it. She admits that sometimes that means “doing a nice, pretty makeup”, but it is story-led “transformations” she likes the most. After college courses and a stint in fashion makeup, she found herself working in TV with every opportunity to create an assortment of unusual and original characters.
Across a 30-year career, she has worked with comedy legends like Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer on Shooting Stars, Sacha Baron Cohen, and Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith on Inside No. 9. For Coleman, Inside No. 9’s anthology format was a “lot of fun”, getting to design around 12 different “fresh” characters for Shearsmith and Pemberton, all in an environment where storytelling is paramount.
Although she also mentions more recent projects — such as turning Martin and Gary Kemp back into their 80’s Spandau Ballet selves for The Kemps: All Gold — she admits she can’t remember a lot of the jobs she’s done, and has recently chopped half the pages on her CV. It was getting a little crowded.
Fantasy Football League is not in Coleman’s wheelhouse. In the past she has stuck to “big comedies and dramas”, so a chat show incorporating sketches, and centred around a game based on a sport that she doesn’t know a lot about, is unusual for her. Hosted by ex-Bake-Off presenter Matt Lucas and Elis James (Josh), and featuring stand-up comic Andrew Mensah, Fantasy Football League is a reboot of the 90s classic hosted by David Baddiel and Frank Skinner (the birthplace of chart-topping football song Three Lions).
The show is comprised of sketches performed by Lucas, James and Mensah – answering serious football related questions such as ‘what if Antonio Conte was on I’m an Elite Level Manager… Get Me Out of Here!’ – and a talk show segment where the hosts and their guests discuss Fantasy Football, and how the week’s matches have affected their teams.
Coleman is no stranger to transforming actors in a short amount of time. When working on Mackenzie Crook’s Worzel Gummidge, she made up Toby Jones (Mr Bates vs The Post Office) and his body doubles into six different characters for a single scene (a baker, an alderman, a mayor, a postmaster, a butcher, and a publican) in what felt like “about 10 minutes”. Despite this, Fantasy Football League presents a particular challenge. Not only does Coleman create around nine individual looks per episode, she has the added time pressure of receiving the scripts on a Monday, and having to roll out the characters by Wednesday.
When creating fictional characters on other shows, she tends to start with a rough brief through working with the actor and costume designer, before researching similar characters that appear in the real world. Here, not being a football fan, her week often starts with finding out who the coaches, players, and managers she’s emulating are. And whilst someone like Gareth Southgate has his iconic sideburn-beard combination, other faces often go without a signature feature, making it difficult to mimic them. “Sometimes these football men… are just men!” she laments.
“I just have to find what I can to fit the boys. I don’t have long to think about it, so I just have to find something to give a nod to that character,” such as giving Lucas the Chelsea left-back Marc Cucurella’s mane of curly black hair.
“Normally in character makeup you’d have weeks to prep, you’d have fittings, you could get teeth, you could get prosthetics. Here it’s 24 hours and then it’s go.”
Because of the fast turnaround time, Coleman has head shapes for Lucas, James and Mensah that she can lug around for wig fittings. Coleman has worked with Matt Lucas for many years prior to Fantasy Football League, so she’s saved prosthetics and eyebrows across the years that she can use for his characters. On filming days, she has 20-30 minutes to do each makeup look for the sketches, before having to “clear everything away, all of the sticky mess and beards and lashes, and then get out the glamourous makeup,” for the talk show portion of the show.
For Fantasy Football, the makeup team consists solely of Coleman and her “lovely assistant” Danielle Shephard, who have worked together across several jobs. Her right-hand woman and plus one to the awards ceremony, Coleman enthuses that Shephard can “put a cracking bald cap on, in literally 20 minutes.” In fact, the whole team has become “a little Fantasy Football Family,” with executive producer Richard Allen-Turner even gifting Coleman the aforementioned Madonna tickets. Coleman has even found herself becoming more interested in football after sitting in the audience.
Despite the “very technical and very skilled” work that she does, Coleman seems a little in disbelief about her nomination for Makeup Design – Non-Scripted: “I didn’t think I stood a chance, to be honest.” Coleman was nominated alongside the makeup teams for RuPaul’s Drag Race and Strictly Come Dancing, and went on to take home the trophy.
She says: “I think it's important to recognise everybody that works in film and television because everybody works so hard towards the final product. I just think it's amazing that the Royal Television Society recognises all the different departments and gives credit where credit's due. It’s really nice to be recognised for our craft."
To see the full list of winners, visit the RTS Craft and Design Awards page.
Nicola Coleman at work, transforming Lee Trundle into Rúben Neves (Credit: Nicola Coleman)