How 'The Crown' Used a Facialist to Help the Characters Age Over a Decade in Season 3

From Town & Country

Gavin McLeod-Valentine might have met Helena Bonham Carter just as she was taking on the role of Princess Margaret for season 3 of The Crown, but it certainly wasn't his first tangle with the princess. As the director of studio services at Intraceuticals, the Scottish-born McLeod-Valentine (pictured above with Olivia Colman) coddles the skin of actresses like Susan Sarandon, Julianne Moore, Allison Janney, and Michelle Williams. But his royal connections run deeper—back to his grandmother, who served as lady in waiting for the Queen Mother.

"My grandmother was quite very good friends with Princess Margaret. I met her in Mustique one time and a couple of times in London when I was a social ambassador for the House of Garrard, which was the crown jeweler at the time," he tells T&C.

Of course, he had no way of knowing that his royal experience would come into play when he was asked by Helena Bonham Carter's makeup artist, Morag Ross, to give her a facial for the BAFTAs.

"So I go to [Bonham Carter's] gorgeous little house, which is honestly like a Beatrix Potter wet dream. It's just divine in its childlike mysticism. I quickly looked around and saw there were little crowns and tiaras and books about Princess Margaret everywhere," says McLeod-Valentine.

The news that Bonham Carter would take over the role from Vanessa Kirby wasn't yet public, but McLeod-Valentine knew immediately what it all meant. "So I said, 'Oh, so the rumors in the papers are true.' And she said, 'Well, the information is not officially out yet, but yes. I'm deep in research.' So we were sort of exchanging information and giggling and I was able to give her some anecdotes about what Margaret was like."

Photo credit: Netflix/Getty Images
Photo credit: Netflix/Getty Images

His advice on bringing the scandal-prone princess to life? "Don't be afraid to go grand, because there was a grandness about Margaret, much more than the Queen. The Queen was in service and duty; Margaret knew her station and that she was superior. She really lived and breathed that in every form."

McLeod-Valentine continued working with Bonham Carter as The Crown geared up, and then shortly before filming, he received a call from the show's lead hair and makeup designer, Cate Hall.

"She said, 'listen, I have heard amazing things from Helena, and she tells me that you do this incredible facial. This is the situation I'm in; because it's a vintage piece and because it has to be lit a specific way and we're using vintage lenses, we're not able to do any digital retouching and we can't make anything look extra done.'"

McLeod-Valentine's challenge was to help Bonham Carter and Colman, who are 53 and 45 respectively, to look significantly younger at the beginning and then age over a decade "Season three spans 13 years, so they have to start looking like they're in their late thirties without being able to use film trickery and tools to their advantage," he says.

He had worked on television projects before, including with Laura Linney on Netflix's Ozark, and knew the challenges that could come with a distinctive visual style. "Especially when it's sort of a noir piece like Ozark, where you're not going to be giving 'friendly' light," he says. "The men get away with it, the women suffer. So good skincare is a tool."

"I went to the set at Elstree studios and I developed a sort of signature facial massage that really helps get a very sculpted look in the face, so everybody looked much more chiseled," he explains. Combined with Intraceuticals signature hyaluronic acid hydrators, he says it left the actors looking, "quantifiably naive—AKA young."

Photo credit: Courtesy of Gavin McLeod-Valentine
Photo credit: Courtesy of Gavin McLeod-Valentine

McLeod-Valentine stayed on with the production for several weeks and taught the crew how to perform the facial regimen as needed ("at minimum, once a week") and also developed specialized combinations for their individual needs. "For example, Helena tends to go a bit gray when she's tired, so I would go for antioxidant serum to give some vitality to the skin," he explains. "Olivia tends to give the impression of a depleted fat pad when she's running tired so I'd go for a collagen polypeptide to really surge that bouncy, pillowy cushion back to the cheek."

Hall says that McLeod-Valentine's facials were the perfect base for makeup. "The Intraceuticals facial was one of the most helpful tools we used create a contrast, capturing an ultra-youthful skin tone when shooting the early years of the 13-year story.”

In the process, McLeod-Valentine came to know The Crown's stars well (he even prepared Coleman's skin the night of her Oscar win for The Favourite) and gained some insight into the challenges facing them as they take over their iconic roles from the cast of the show's first two seasons.

"Claire Foy laid the foundations for a Queen many of us didn't know," he says. "I think Olivia's challenge is she's portraying a Queen that we all recognize, and they're telling events that the majority of us have heard about firsthand. So there's a huge pressure to get that right, but also imbue a sense of heart and integrity that is truthful to the human experience."

Photo credit: Sophie Mutevelian - Netflix
Photo credit: Sophie Mutevelian - Netflix

Bonham Carter had a different challenge with the famously difficult Margaret. "To a certain extent Helena's pressure is to make Margaret a three dimensional character and give real life into somebody who is so headline driven, who has been so mythologized," he adds. "So how do you give her integrity and character depth at that point in her life when she starts to be scrutinized?"

It's a tension that Bonham Carter echoed. "Margaret was, essentially, a very vulnerable person," she said in an interview with T&C. "But being vulnerable and famous is not a comfortable dynamic."

The Crown's third season debuts in its entirety on Netflix on November 17.

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