Watch above: Raw video showing how actress Laurel Harris is transformed into Elphaba, the Wicket Witch of the West.
EDMONTON – Getting into character to play any role takes time and dedication, but for one of the lead roles in Broadway’s Wicked, it also takes a skin colour transformation.
Laurel Harris plays Elphaba in the national tour of the hit Broadway show, which is currently playing at Edmonton’s Jubilee Auditorium.
When Harris arrives at the theatre to warm up, she looks like any other actor. But once she emerges from her dressing room after 30 minutes with her makeup artist, Joyce McGilberry, she looks far from ordinary.
“For my character to get painted into this beautiful green girl is very significant for me as an actress to step into this role. It’s pretty magical,” Harris said before the show Thursday night.
Starting with her hands and forearms, McGilberry uses a MAC makeup product called ‘landscape green’ and literally paints Harris, transforming her into the Wicked Witch of the West.
“It is a pancake makeup that has just a little bit of oils,” McGilberry explained. “It’ll dry up pretty fast… I will use a set powder on it that will help it stay, and it slows down the transfer from her to anything she touches, anybody she touches.
“Even though she’s a witch we’re not making her ugly.”
From there, McGilberry moves on to Harris’ back, neck and chest, finishing up with her face. After the green base is applied, McGilberry contours Harris’ face to give it more dimension.
“It helps so much to see the face,” said McGilberry. “In theatre, you have at least 10 rows of seats that you want the people to see clearly the face of your actor.”
For Harris, the 30-minute process — which she calls her “quiet transformation” — gives her time to get into character.
“The cool thing about this process is that I have a whole half hour to just reflect and focus and think about my goal for the show and just mentally prepare myself.”
After that, Harris goes through hair and wardrobe, and she’s ready to take the stage for the nearly three-hour production.
“I look in the mirror and I see myself green and I say, ‘Well, it’s time to do Wicked.'”
While McGilberry has other priorities throughout the show, she keeps a constant eye on Elphaba, touching up her makeup when necessary. And because Elphaba gets older as the show goes on, her makeup reflects that.
“She becomes more glamorous,” McGilberry said. “We add lashes and a little more jeuge to the eyes — we smoke them out so she has that mysterious look.”
“This is such an iconic character and the audience wants to see the Wicked Witch, to see the woman they remember from the movie,” added Harris, who keeps a picture of Margaret Hamilton in her dressing room for inspiration. Hamilton was the original Wicked Witch of the West in the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz.
At the end of the night, it only takes about 10 to 15 minutes to remove the makeup, which Harris does using coconut oil, although not every stitch of makeup comes clean.
“It does kind of linger in the hairline… my pores are usually green. I have green in my ears,” Harris said with a laugh. “I’m so used to it. I kind of like having green on my pillows and my towels.”
And while the process may seem like a lot of work to some, to Harris, every moment is special as she prepares, night after night, to play the role of a lifetime.
“Getting to take on the role now is so rewarding and fulfilling. It means so much to me.”
© Shaw Media, 2014