'Outlander' postmortem: Makeup designer Annie McEwan reveals how she made Sam Heughan 'feral'

Warning: This post contains spoilers for the “Surrender” episode of Outlander.

We already knew that Jamie was taking Claire’s departure back through the stones hard. But the second episode of Outlander‘s third season reveals just how much the loss of his Sassenach spouse has affected the handsome Highlander. Picking up in 1752, six years after Jamie’s miraculous survival at the Battle of Culloden, “Surrender” finds him skulking around the forest surrounding his family home of Lallybroch in the unkempt guise of the outlaw, the Dunbonnet. To say Jamie doesn’t look his best would be an understatement: with his long, tangled hair, a beard with the consistency of steel wool and skin that clearly hasn’t seen a sponge in at least three years, he’s the 18th-century embodiment of the 21st-century word, fugly. The person tasked with giving Sam Heughan this extreme makeover is the show’s makeup designer, Annie McEwan. Yahoo TV spoke with McEwan about designing the Dunbonnet’s look, and how Heughan likes being mucky.

How did you go about transforming the dashing Sam Heughan into the ratty Dunbonnet?
The word that we used was feral. Jamie’s gone feral; he’s not washing or maybe washing once a month. He’s not looking after himself. He’s sort of given up a bit. So Sam had to be as unkempt and as mucky as we could do with makeup. I don’t know if you can even see that there’s some dreadlocks in his hair, but we did put some dreadlocks in it. The beard was hair-length and glued-on, because we didn’t have time for Sam to grow that big a beard. And then it was just about building up layers of dirt [with makeup].

There are six years between the end of Culloden and finding him in this cave, so it was an opportunity to age him up as well. He’s so golden, Sam. We took out the goldenness to make him a bit more gray and a bit more lifeless. I don’t know how much shows on camera, but they did a lot of work on him. A lot of little lines around his eyes from peering through the smoke of the fire and scrunching his eyes up. We looked at books about explorers and mountain men and how their faces had been coarsened by the weather. We tried to get all that in with paint. We also highlighted under his lashes and darkened them just to make that pouch be more prominent, and communicate Jamie’s depression. What we were trying to get away from is him looking gorgeous and not aged, so we did the opposite of that.

You can tell he doesn’t bathe very often; you can almost feel the aroma wafting off the screen.
Exactly. He doesn’t care. And because he’s hunting as well, so there’s that old hunter adage where you don’t want the animal to smell you before you get close enough to kill them. He’s catching wild animals and running after deer and stuff, and he doesn’t want them to scent him. If there was aroma television, there would be an aroma!

How many different wigs did Sam try on before you found the right one?
That’s a rented wig; we didn’t make it. There are lots of good wig people in London, so we got a variety that were the right color for Jamie and tried them on. That particular wig was bang on so we used it, and just put dreadlocks in it to rag it up. Because there’s a six year gap, it was believable that his hair would grow that long.

In the book, Voyager, the bonnet covers Jamie’s hair completely, but here the hair spills out. Did you try styles that were closer to what was described on the page?
Yes, but I think people weren’t keen on it because they [weren’t sure] he would be recognized by the audience as Jamie. I think that was the reason. But we did try it. We put all the hair under the bonnet, and nobody liked it. It didn’t really suit Sam, either; it didn’t say “rugged” and “unkempt.” Once the long hair went away he looked less tramp-like.

Fans can take even these seemingly minor changes pretty seriously. Are you prepared for any sort of backlash?
Well, I’m prepared ’cause it’s not my decision at the end of the day! So I’m innocent. It’s the producers and director that take the flak on that. I happily step aside and allow them to take the flak. [Laughs.]

Do you follow the fan reaction in general to the characters’ looks?
We do try to stick to the books as much as we can because I know the fans are truly wedded to what happens in the books. And it’s not ever my decision, like I say, that we don’t do something. Like the beards; there are a lot of beards on the Highlanders, and I did stress that they didn’t have beards. It was just a century where beards were thought of as only being for mad men and tramps. Nobody with respect for themselves would have a beard. But because there were beards in the book, we met it halfway. A few of the Highlanders had beards, and a few of them didn’t. If we do have to change something, we try to keep a foot in both camps.

How many variations were there for the Dunbonnet beard?
The beard was made for Sam, and we started with a bigger and bushier version and then cut it down, cut it down, and cut it down. You can imagine how bushy it was to begin with! Also, if you saw that beard in reality, it wouldn’t look as big as it does on camera. For some reason, it increases in size. We started with a proper beard, and it was just too much. We cut it down to the dregs, and that was perfect. It didn’t get tangled in anything, you know what I mean? It’s got to be practical as well, and because it’s not real hair, it doesn’t behave like a proper beard. If it’s too long, it’ll back-comb on itself and get shorter and shorter, and you’re in there pulling all the tugs out. At that length, it behaves well. In Diana’s book, she had him coming out of the cave and going to Lallybroch to clean up every month or so. It would have been too hard on us to show him coming down, shaving and going back. So we just established that as the length of the beard and that was it.

How long did Sam spend in the makeup chair to become the Dunbonnet?
It would be about an hour-and-a-half to an hour-and-three-quarters. The beard was always left until the last minute because it was so uncomfortable to wear. It was half-an-hour for the wig and half-an-hour for the beard. The longest thing was makeup and building up the layers. We just had to build and build and build. I think we shot all of that over the course of 10 days.

Do you remember Sam’s reaction when he saw himself in full Dunbonnet mode for the first time?
He loved it! He loves the mucky thing. He’s happier being mucky than doing the French thing. If he had the choice, he’d always go for mucky. Not that he’d want to have the beard again! It’s really uncomfortable. Nobody likes the process of having to sit in the makeup chair for almost two hours when you’ve still got a 12-hour shooting day and then cleaning it all off. But he loved the layers of dirt and the aging and all of that. Like I said he prefers that to being the clean, young Sam. He likes all the rugged stuff —t he swashbuckler, the man of war. He doesn’t like being in the powder room; he’d rather be out in the hills waving a sword about.

Speaking of the Claire sequences in the ’40s and ’50s, what was the approach to how she would look back in that present versus the past?
There was such a formal look to the ’40s, and the ’50s and ’60s were somehow even more fixed because they had all that hairspray to create helmets of solid hair. And quite big hair, too! By the end of the ’40s when she’s with Frank and pregnant, her hair is still sort of curly and free. But then once we started hitting the ’50s and ’60s, it went rigid. It helped her to look older when her hair is that rigid.

The aging process for both Sam and Caitriona is done very subtly with makeup. I’m sure the actors appreciated that.
Yeah. I mean, Claire [ages to be] 50 years old, and that’s not a tremendous age. Being 60 myself, I think 50 is quite young! You can’t add prosthetics and stuff to add bulk because with age, you lose bulk. So it’s a rocky path, aging. The decision was to do it subtly, with the hair from the period aging people, and then using highlight and shade with the makeup. And acting! It comes from within. Good actors act the age, so our job is less. [Laughs.]

Outlander airs Sundays at 8 p.m. on Starz.

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