Viv Mepham is one of Australia's pioneering television and film make-up artists. We explore her career through oral history excerpts and examples of her work.
Over the course of her career, Australian make-up artist Vivien ‘Viv’ Mepham has brought to life charismatic schoolgirls in The Getting of Wisdom (Bruce Beresford, 1977), muddied soldiers in The Thin Red Line (Terrence Malick, 1998), and grisly gasoline scavengers in George Miller’s iconic Mad Max (1979).
Viv’s passion and dedication to her craft has seen her travel across Australia and abroad, collaborating with many renowned cast and crew members to bring memorable characters to our screens. Her original make-up kit filled with the weird and wonderful products used to create these quintessential looks, including mortician’s wax and homemade fake blood, was featured in the exhibition Australians & Hollywood at the NFSA from January 2022 to January 2024.
Classic Australian police dramas Matlock Police (1971–75) and Division 4 (1969–75) provided Viv with her start in the industry. Here she was responsible for transforming the fresh faces of up-and-coming actors into the bashed and bruised crime victims for each week’s episode.
Working to a tight budget at Crawford Productions proved a fertile training ground for Viv. She experimented with different products and designs while developing her own style. As the industry transitioned to colour television, Viv found herself exploring more creative and unusual solutions to create her desired result.
In the following NFSA oral history excerpt, Vivien reflects upon this time fondly:
As Viv's career progressed, she transitioned to working on a diverse range of film productions. As part of her practice, she would prepare folders of detailed character make-up design sheets and collect countless continuity polaroids. These records allow Viv to revisit each character’s individual look in case of reshoots. Viv has recently donated these folders to the NFSA, providing a unique insight into her craft.
The gallery below, featuring a collection of continuity shots, showcases some of Viv's work spanning a couple of decades and featuring actors Dolph Lundgren, Nicole Kidman and Toni Collette:
As seen in the image gallery above, Viv's folders are a testimony to the research, knowledge and care she brings to her practice. They demonstrate an unwavering attention to detail. Viv recorded everything from the specific products that create the best eyelash flick to the distribution of dirt on an actor’s fingernails.
Viv ensures that even the numerous extras on the set of an expansive war film have a scar or bruise that distinguishes them from the rest and suggests an untold story of their own. These small details create the authenticity that is central to her practice; she deliberately designs every character to enhance the overall vision of a production.
Often working closely with the art and costume departments, Viv crafts memorable characters that fit within the distinct landscape of each production – whether that be the vibrant shades of the gangster’s wife Sharon (Toni Collette) in David Caeser's Dirty Deeds (2002) or the dirt-stained face of industrious Mary (Lisa McCune) in The Potato Factory (Robert Marchand, 2000).
In this excerpt from her oral history interview with Lorna Lesley, Viv talks about what it was like to work as part of a team and how she built relationships and trust with other members of the crew:
Maintaining a good relationship with the cast came naturally to Viv, who spent many long days transforming actors into their characters and making any necessary touch-ups midway through a scene.
The behind-the-scenes photographs from Viv’s career show the passion, patience and humour she brought to her work.
Viv’s career has evolved with the industry, moving from black-and-white to colour and from film to digital, but throughout she has maintained her incredible dedication to character authenticity.
Moreover, she has influenced many talented Australian make-up artists as they have developed careers of their own, including Nikki Gooley and Catherine Biggs.
With her make-up kit in hand, Viv has made her mark on the industry and played a crucial role in bringing many timeless characters to our screens.