Woodford's hidden Oscars winner

Triumphant: Make-up artists Damian Martin, Elka Wardega and Lesley Vanderwalt after their Mad Max win at the Academy Awards. Photo: Getty Images
Triumphant: Make-up artists Damian Martin, Elka Wardega and Lesley Vanderwalt after their Mad Max win at the Academy Awards. Photo: Getty Images

Never in her wildest dreams could Woodford’s Elka Wardega have imagined she would be taking a gold statue home from the Academy Awards late last month.

The 40-year-old won the Academy Award for best make-up and hair styling on George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road, alongside colleagues Lesley Vanderwalt and Damian Martin.

The post-apocalyptic action flick was awarded six trophies, setting a new Australian cinematic record.

Ms Wardega and her husband David Castellan moved from Sydney to Woodford three years ago, and her prosthetic make-up abilities are highly sought after. She’s worked on Moulin Rouge, Chronicles of Narnia, and Star Wars: Attack of the Clones and said it was challenging filming Mad Max in the Namibian desert.

“During one of the fight sequences the character I was looking after was dragged through the sand and after many takes his cheek prosthetic came off. I didn’t find it either so it’s still over there buried in the sand,” Ms Wardega said.

“Working on Mad Max: Fury Road was just like the film, intense, long, noisy, dusty and ultimately rewarding. Working with George [Miller] was fantastic, he gives you the tools that are needed to completely immerse yourself in the world he is creating and he makes you feel like an important part of that creative process.”

She works a 14-hour day – from 4am applying make-up to an actor which usually involves covering them in glue and sticking pieces of silicone to their face, followed by 10 hours of filming and an hour of clean-up.

Ms Wardega considers herself lucky at the start of her 20-year career to have worked with one of Australia’s make-up legends, Bob McCarron. “He was my mentor for years and introduced me to key people along the way whom I still work with now,” she said.

The journey wouldn’t have been possible without patient family and friends who allowed her to practice on them.

“There are photos of me with my Dad when I was about 10 after I did his make-up and put a dress on him,” Ms Wardega recalls. “I have practiced make-up on many of my friends and my husband has often been dragged into my make-up chair.”

She says she never stops learning and finds inspiration in the world around her.

“I am inspired by the colours and patterns in leaves, bark, insects, concrete, fabrics, rusted metal, peeling paint, anything really. When I am researching for a job I trawl the internet for images, it’s an incredible source of inspiration,” Ms Wardega said.

There’s been no time to enjoy the Oscar win, rushing from LA to New Zealand to work on the “live action” version of the Manga animation Ghost in the Shell until June.

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