Doctor Who make-up artist Davy Jones – exclusive interview

SFX and make-up master Davy Jones

SFX and make-up master Davy Jones

THE Doctor has helped countless people during his 900-odd years of kicking around the Universe, and you can add top SFX and make-up maestro Davy Jones to the ever-expanding list.

Davy, 49, from Liverpool, had just been contacted in 2003 by Doctor Who producer Phil Collinson and asked to work on the show’s return, but was about to turn it down.

It was then he received a phone call from the soon-to-be Doctor himself, Christopher Eccleston.

Davy remembered. “I’d worked with Chris before and he said ‘keep it quiet but I think I’m going to be the Doctor and I’ve put your name forward’.

“I said to him I was just about to say no, but I had a word with Phil Collinson and said I was in.”

That moment of serendipity led to a BAFTA-award winning partnership between Dave, his wife Lin Davie and Neill Gorton and his Millennium Effects team, bringing a massive variety of aliens to life for the whole of Doctor Who’s first season.He returned for the Silurian two-parter with Matt Smith in series five.

It was one of many highlights in a stellar career for Davy, who has worked on all manner of TV shows including Hyperdrive, Bodies and Apparitions, as well as Hollywood blockbusters such as Blade 2, Alexander and The Life and Death of Peter Sellers.

He is now based out of his own studio in Liverpool, packed with photos, masks, tools, fake body parts, film posters and other creations as well as his awards including an Emmy.

Not bad for someone who only started messing around with make up and effects when he was 29 and working in the Brookside props department.

“One of the Brookside artistes, Bev, had to have a premature baby so I said I’d have a go at making one from a doll by remoulding it, even though I didn’t have a clue at the time,” he remembered.

“I made it out of industrial jelly, so it was probably the biggest jelly baby ever. I’d failed my art A-level, but found out at 29 I could sculpt. I was still worried what my dad would think when I told him I was working with make-up though.”

He progressed from there to doing more and more effects work, while his future wife Lin trained him in traditional hair and make-up skills at the same time. That allowed Davy to create special  effects like cuts and bruises, as well as managing the make up around them.

“Lin said I wasn’t gay or trendy, so I’d have to work really hard. I trained with her for three years, all the time doing bits and bobs for Brookside and other film companies that came to Liverpool. If I saw there was a stabbing in the script I was made up.”

He then went freelance and worked across a broad range of shows – ‘sticking to stuff I could do’ he said – and building his name in the industry until a friend called and said he’s put Davy’s name forward for a TV programme called Bob.

“I got the call and Bob turned out to be Band of Brothers,” he said. “Suddenly I was one of 40 make up artists in a massive tent down South doing all kinds of carnage. I’d never seen anything like that before.”

If that was a shock to the system, it was nothing compared to his first film work – hand-painting Wesley Snipes‘s tattoos for Blade 2.

“I thought it was a joke at first and even when I got the ticket to Prague I still couldn’t really believe it. There I was standing there watching Wesley Snipes fighting in the flesh,” he said.

“I never thought I’d get that chance to be on an actual film set with a superstar like him. They told me not to take any pictures, but I was taking them all over the place because I didn’t know if I’d experience anything like it again.”

Davy Jones with Wesley Snipes

Davy Jones with Wesley Snipes

Davy added: “I started off working with Wesley’s stunt double Clay and then when I passed that test, I was painting on Wesley’s tattoos every day by hand. I was so nervous – I think it took three weeks for my hand to stop shaking and I’ve never held my breath so much to try and keep steady.

“In fact I remember having to bend the top of Wesley’s ear to paint behind it, but my fingers were sweating so much I couldn’t keep hold of it. I must have flicked his ear six or seven times! I had resin, mud – you name it – on my hands to keep them dry, but I thought he was going to deck me or give me a kiss!

“All the time he’d put his headphones in and close his eyes and I was glad of that because I was having a hard enough time concentrating as it was. We talked as the weeks went on and at the end he shook my hand and said thanks for everything.

“It was great, that recognition for my work, and I punched the air after he’d left. I think I was just as pleased to have learned the handshake he did!”

By now Davy was well known in the TV and film make-up industry, leading to work on Pirates of the Caribbean and Who. With Neill creating the aliens (“I don’t know how he did it really. He and the rest of the Millennium team were amazing.”) Davy and Lin were on the set in Cardiff to make sure the actors looked the part.

He said: “It is a massive show. After all the preparation, you’re filming an episode in 11 days or so, which is a demanding schedule.

Christopher Eccleston with Davy, making Doctor Who

Christopher Eccleston with Davy, making Doctor Who

“You give your life to it for 10 months at a time really, meaning Lin and I were based down in Cardiff  full time on set, applying the make up to whoever we had to that week.

“There were plenty of rewards though. The Welsh crew were so welcoming and friendly, and walking around on the TARDIS set with Lin – that was bizarre.

“The first time we had the Daleks in was a great feeling too. I remember the actor inside it was called Barnaby. Here was Chris trying to save the World and then someone would shout ‘could we have Barnaby the Dalek please!’ I always thought Barnaby wasn’t a very Dalek-sounding name.”

While many people were uncertain if Doctor Who would be a success, Davy had no doubts while he worked on it.

Davy with Billie Piper and friend

Davy with Billie Piper and friend

“We were filming in Newport on a Saturday night, which is like the Star Wars cantina in its own right,” he remembered. “I was sheltering Billie Piper inside my coat because it was freezing and next thing our picture was in the paper!

“The interest was massive with people coming down to see the set all the time to take pictures. I even saw some people scoop up fake snow to keep from some of our scenes.”

He added: “It was obvious to me that people were desperate to have their favourites back which would mean a big audience straight away.”

Davy also had faith in the cast and showrunner, Russell T Davies.

“I knew Chris, but watching him on set you really believed he was the Doctor, saving the universe against any monster you want. He has such intensity and how he approached it was brilliant. Billie was perfect as Rose too.

“And of course, Russell was such a big part of the show’s success too. I’d worked with him on Queer as Folk and The Second Coming, and on Who we used to talk every day.

“Sitting in the tone meetings for instance, where everyone put their bit in on how the show would be, was a great experience for me. The whole thing was.

“When we were deciding to do it, Lin said to me we have to do it and she was right. Doctor Who is such a great programme and I’m proud to say I have played a part in it.”

Coming next – returning to Doctor Who in 2010, the future of SFX make up vs CGI and how you can learn Davy’s skills at his new school.

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