Make-Up & Hair Designer Sarah Monzani on her work on Dr Parnassus


Sarah Monzani is the make-up & hair designer on Terry Gilliam’s project The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus. She spoke with Phil Stubbs of Dreams one night early in 2008, during the London location shoot of the picture. In fact, camera started rolling in the middle of the interview, so we had to turn the volume down to a whisper to continue. Monzani has worked on an enormous number of films since the mid 1970s, and won the Academy Award for the 1981 pic La Guerre du Feu.

Christopher Plummer and Lily Cole in The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus

What are the make-up challenges on this movie?
Well, I’ve known Terry for a long time. His wife’s a make-up artist, and I’ve known Maggie very well for a long time as well. I absolutely know the way he works. He’s very hands on… and whatever he’s written, it’s all inside his head. And the biggest task is to drag it out of his head. He’s very generous, because he allows you to get inside there, and drag a bit out at a time – because it’s not possible with something like this to take it all in at once. You read the script and that’s one thing… and then you read it again and something else appears and it goes like that all the time.

Unfortunately, when we did the make-up tests, we never had a chance to get to this particular sequence that we are shooting now [The Leadenhall Market sequence, where the upmarket shoppers seek to enter the Imaginarium]. We got to a lot of other points, but this was always way down the line. As it happens, it’s only four weeks down the line, but it seemed a long, long way away.

I talk to Monique [Prudhomme] a lot about the costumes, and she spends endless time dragging things out and saying what she can achieve and what she can’t achieve. Then I tend to go with the flow from there and it was only last night we decided that we would use the afro wig on Verne, and he looks fantastic!

The Jackson 5%
Absolutely! So I had 3 or 4 different afro wigs. Fortunately I think for me, because I worked in television originally, I’m used to this. I worked with Spike Milligan, and on a day-to-day basis he would say “I bet you haven’t got…” So you would gather things together. Basically, you would have this great huge stock of things around you – everything right through to a blond Rastafarian wig, or whatever. I’m approaching this film in the same way. A lot of things you can’t pre-plan, but what you have to do is just have enough things around you to cover for any eventuality!

Terry is very generous. If I say to him genuinely we haven’t got that or I can’t get that, or we don’t have the money to do that he goes, “OK. Well shall we…?”, and he goes off in another direction, which is great.

In some ways the film’s quite hard. But it’s probably because I get sleepless nights over whether I’ve got the right thing for tomorrow. But I called him down to the make-up trailer earlier today to say: have a look at everyone to make sure it’s what you want, because we haven’t had a chance to look at it. He was going: Fantastic, fantastic, this is great.

From that point of view he’s very generous. So I think I would say make-up and hair wise, everything is about Terry, and pulling stuff out of his brain. And trying to adapt it accordingly to what we have. So it’s all very hands-on.

It’s a fairly extravagant look today
Oh, absolutely, and the interesting thing is with all these actors, they’ve also got their own little slant on the way they want to be. I try and adapt everybody, but it’s good. So far it’s been a very good process. All the things in England are all the exteriors – that’s sort of one thing. When we get to Canada, that’s a whole other ball game.

I was wondering what the challenges were there…
Yes, inside the Imaginarium. This is a particular sequence that we’re doing at the moment, where when you go into the Imaginarium, this is an interesting point that I asked Terry very early on. When they go into the Imaginarium, do they look the same or are they different?

Well, this is interesting, because at the beginning when Martin goes in, it’s his Imaginarium. So when Valentina is in there with him, that’s his imagination, so he sees her differently. So when she goes through, she becomes something different, and we’ve yet to find out, because I haven’t pushed it so far. But I know with this, when the lady shopper goes through, she’s experiencing delight, heaven, ecstasy, you name it she’s experiencing it, and comes out flushed and hair all fluffed up, having had the most marvellous time. I’m not quite sure what happened to her. That’s what we are going to do to her tomorrow. Nothing much different happens to Tony, but it’s not his Imaginarium.

What about the stuff with Valentina, when she goes in, she’s older and younger?
And she also plays her own mother! It’s good isn’t it! I’ve yet to do that, but we are going to do it one step at a time. I’m just going to take every week as it comes, and go like that. You can do certain things, but it’s not a film where you can organise everything up front.

It’s like doing half a dozen different movies…
Exactly, but that’s fun. I know this morning, when we came to work today, Monique and I were both nervous, I think that’s the right word. Because we weren’t sure whether we were going to achieve what we wanted, and whether it would all work. When we got here and saw it all put together, we went, “Thank goodness, it looks great!”

But you can’t tell until you get it all in position. Individually, if you see them all in the make-up chair individually, they don’t look like anything really, they look bizarre, they look like they are a clown in a circus or something.

It’s all about Terry Gilliam, really, and dragging it out of him. I like directors who have a vision. I have worked with people who say: don’t ask, I don’t know. You can quote a scene number with some directors and they haven’t got a clue!

More to explore

Films in depth

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote
The Zero Theorem
The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus
The Brothers Grimm
Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas
12 Monkeys
The Fisher King
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen
Time Bandits