'Marion Cotillard and Saoirse Ronan are such strong women', gushes actress Zawe Ashton, midway through having her hair curled. We're tucked away in a cosy suite at The Savoy, and she's currently decked out in naught but a dressing gown.
'They always look like they're on the red carpet because they're amazing actresses that made a film - I love that sense of purpose.'
There's just an hour to go until the 2019 BAFTA Awards, where the Velvet Buzzsaw actress will swap her robe for a more purposeful fuchsia Roksanda gown and matching monochrome pink make-up.
Un-fussed by exposing the universally human process behind her signature statuesque appearance, Ashton's views on beauty are equally as honest. We caught up with the award-winning playwright and director to talk punk glitter, the power of beauty and why we need more women of colour in the boardroom...
You're off to the BAFTAs, is the getting ready process all part of the fun?
'I love it, but it's interesting. I think that a woman's relationship with her own image is already complicated without necessarily having that image reflected back at you so constantly. Sometimes being in a dialogue with the mirror is enough, let alone having the more self-conscious elements of what I do like the photographs or the red carpet as well.
'The experimentation and fun is definitely there, it's just a balancing act of straddling what feels like you, and what looks like the you that you want to present. I always want my social 'tribe' to recognise me and to look like the art that I create. For me, that's neutral make-up that feels effortless and always has a small detail - something that feels a little confrontational and unexpected, like bad romance!'
What do you consider your beauty 'tribe'?
'As a teenager I was very into grunge - I was a punk. During one phase I wore glitter around my entire eye everyday at college to the point where it was turning up in my food. Now, whenever I’m feeling a bit worried, like, "Am I actually going to wear this ginormous dress?", I always tell myself it's punk. You have to feel the right way to be able to sell a big look which sometimes means, like tonight, I'd rather have my hair down than up even though the photos will probably come back and I'll be like "I should never have done it down!"'
'People say I look like such a strong woman a lot of the time, but inside I feel like Dawn Weiner from 'Welcome To The Dollhouse' - she's the school geek with glasses and buck teeth, wearing terrible leotards tucked into jeans. My tribe are the indie film kids like Greta Gerwig, and Timothee Chalamet - I find him super inspiring. I love Binx Walton as well - she has this brilliant masculine energy that she brings to her own style. When I was younger I would have loved a Binx Walton to look up to.'
Growing up, what were your first experiences of beauty?
'I started acting when I was six so my first memory of wearing make-up was being on set having powder applied to my little six-year-old nose.
'I remember really clearly that my mum always had a jar of carrot moisturiser by the bed. Now, the smell of carrot takes me right back into that moment. Watching my mum getting ready in the mirror was the most fascinating process, the smell of her make-up made it such an immersive experience. There’s still some of her handbags that smell like of her make-up and it transports me back to that time.
'I remember thinking, "Hmmm Dad doesn’t have this" and sussing out that women have a relationship with beauty and skincare that is quite different to men.'
What part of your beauty routine have you perfected?
Lip balm! I'm amazing at lip balm... That and eyebrows, at a certain point eyebrows became important to me. I'm awful at any sort of contouring - it always just seems to get away from me.
'I'm lucky that I get to work with a room full of hair and make-up geniuses trying to make me the best version of myself. I love working with them to create a character. When I was working on Fresh Meat, Janet Horsfield, the head of hair and make-up convinced me to shave my head. We decided it was something characterful that needed to happen.'
How do you feel about the stereotype that women who love beauty can't be feminists?
'I think it’s just complete crap. My mum lived with cancer for two years when I was in my teens. When you’ve seen a woman that close to you go through a process of losing her hair and eyebrows because of intense medical treatment, the effect that you can physically see on a person, let alone a woman, is huge.
'I've worked with a company called Clean Break who work with women in prison and you see the effect that having a salon or a make-up station has on them. It's the small things that you have in your power as a woman to enhance your feminine energy that I think are really important and transformative.'
Do you think the conversation around women of colour and beauty is still an essential one?
'Women of colour like Viola Davis and Lupita Nyong'o, who are using the red carpet to embrace their natural hair texture, are amazing. But, I think there are a lot of questions that still need to be fired at more Caucasian straight men in positions of power.
'We’re doing everything we can from our side but there are still gatekeepers. There are still parts of your experience as a woman, and as a woman of colour, that are just not on people’s radars by way of not having that same experience.
'I think what needs to go along with this whole beauty revolution is also the notion of beauty coming from within. It's all well and good whacking a woman of any minority onto a skincare or beauty campaign, but you're not really addressing the reasons why those women weren't there before. We need to empower young women of colour, letting them know that the struggle is real, because they’re not only a minority, but they’re a woman as well, so you’ve got the double whammy in terms of prejudice, suppression, and historical shitness.
'You have to go on a journey of lobbying everything that's inside, and if you want to use Fenty Glory to enhance your fantastic face, then do it, but at the same time don’t imagine that that’s what defines you, because it never will be.'
Get Zawe's Pop Of Pink Look With Make-Up Artist Alex Babsky
'I wanted to add enough colour to her make-up so it could stand up to the bright pink of her dress, but not so much colour that it would compete with it,' said Babsky of the blush-hued make-up look he created for Zawe.
'The depth of tone to Zawe’s skin and the bright colour of her dress meant I could use a relatively rich pink lipstick and still make it look muted.'
Alex's Top Tip:
'Use a small amount of bronzer relative to your complexion to add just enough colour to balance the hot pink lipstick.'
Zawe can be seen in Velvet Buzzsaw on Netflix now!