The new film Mary, Queen of Scots, in cinemas in early January, is not really about Elizabeth I (Margot Robbie). As the title implies, the story centres on Elizabeth's cousin and rival, Mary Stuart (Saoirse Ronan), the supposed rightful heir to the Scottish and English thrones, and the brewing clash between the two. But it's Elizabeth's depiction in the movie that has attracted the most buzz so far — with good reason.
The first photos of Robbie on set dressed as Elizabeth I surfaced online in August, and without a trailer for context, the public had only an image or two of Robbie's Virgin Queen to put a face to the latest iteration of a character who has been reimagined on screen nearly 20 times before. Wearing a frizzy red wig, with chalk-white skin and a cluster of facial scars covering her cheeks and chin, Robbie was unrecognisable, and poised to pull off the most dramatic interpretation of the role since Helen McCrory in 2015's Bill.
When Refinery29 asked Josie Rourke, the director of Mary, Queen of Scots, about the decision to make this Elizabeth more unsettling to look at, Rourke said it was to find the vulnerability and humanity in a woman that would go on to reign over England for 45 years. But how exactly does someone turn Robbie, a Hollywood It-girl and Oscar nominee, into the pockmarked, heavily made-up Queen?
As the film's hair and makeup designer Jenny Shircore told us, the transformation required fake boils, scars, and lots of makeup. We asked Shircore for the behind-the-scenes details you need to know before witnessing Robbie's smallpox-stricken Queen, and her opponent Mary, on screen. Her secrets, ahead.