The Man Behind Madame Tussauds Wax Figures

By Rebecca Ford
Hollywood Patch

Neil Linssen is up to his elbows in hands. As the Creative Studios Development Manager for Madame Tussauds Hollywood, Linssen is tasked with the upkeep of the more than 100 wax figures. Dozens of spare hands, used to replace any damaged digits, are kept on a shelf in the studio where Linssen and the other artists work.

Every morning, Linssen and his team spend two to three hours checking over each wax figure for scratches and dings. Unlike at other wax museums, visitors are allowed to touch and interact with the wax figures at Madame Tussauds (which opened in Hollywood in 2009), and sometimes a celebrity might get roughed up.

Each figure costs an average of $300,000 and takes several weeks of labor to create, so keeping them in top shape is of highest priority. Linssen, who had just returned from a trip to Palm Springs to measure a top-secret celebrity for his wax figure, sat down with Hollywood Patch to talk about the process of making and maintaining these very famous faces.

Hollywood Patch: How did you get involved with Madame Tussauds?

Neil Linssen: I started in Las Vegas with this company. I started part-time while I was in school painting wax figures. And in 2004, I went full-time with the company, and started managing the studio there, which means we take care of the figures. So, I worked in Vegas for years. I still actually work in Vegas. I travel back and forth, but I live here now. I moved here in June of 2009.

Patch: Where are the figures made?

Linssen: We have one main studio in London. There’s where the original Madame Tussauds was. We’re coming up on our 250th year as a company, so it’s a very old company. London was the only Madame Tussauds for a long time, but now we have 10. We’ve got Vienna and Blackpool coming on the way… We’re expanding quickly. All the figures are made at our principal studio called Merlin Studios in East London. They sculpt them there, mold them there, paint them there. So when we get the figures, we get a crate with the finished figure, and then we put it together, and after that it’s our job to maintain them.

Patch: How do you decide which figures to add each year?

Linssen: We do look at visitor requests first. We have a kiosk downstairs that asks who you’d like to see, and we tally up those numbers. That’s the first thing we look at. We look at what the needs of the museum are. Sometimes a room feels like it needs another figure, or it’s a little weak in some areas, so we might look at who would work in that area. Whoever we pick, we want to make sure they’ve passed the fame test—that they’ve been around awhile because it’s a big investment for us. We don’t want someone who’s a flash in the pan if we can help it.

Patch: What are some of the most popular figures in the museum?

Linssen: Shrek out front is very popular. I like him because he’s physically massive. Johnny Depp is always very popular. I believe he’s in every single Madame Tussauds. The film ones here, to me, are really unique and distinctive. Most of the other Madame Tussauds don’t have all the film characters we have here. So, everybody from Charlie Chaplin to Clint Eastwood in the Western set.

Patch: When you meet a celebrity that you’re going to be creating a figure of, what’s the process for taking measurements and photos?

Linssen: It’s very traditional—it’s pictures and actual measurements. For instance, the one we did yesterday was a three-hour long process. So, what we do first is take some general photos of them. Sometimes you’re not sure how much time you’ll have. They may say you have three hours, but then something comes up, and they have to leave in half an hour. So, we start with the really important stuff. So, yesterday, we put him on a turntable, standing in the pose, and then we’ll do 260 shots, all the way around, of the head and the entire body. And they we do measurements with calipers, which are metal measuring tools. You’ve probably seen them to measure body fat, but sculptures use them to measure distances. So, we take hundreds of measurements. The more measurements we get, the better reference we have, the easier it is for the sculptor.

Patch: Has there ever been a celebrity that wasn’t happy with their figure?

Linssen: Yeah, there have been a few. I think for some people, too, it’s just weird. I think it would be weird for me to see a wax figure of myself. Even your mirror image of yourself is not the same image other people see. I could see it being a little odd or disturbing. Most people are really positive. And we always try to do a side-by-side with the celebrity when they see the figure for the first time. I’ve personally never been at one where they didn’t like it.

Patch: What is the hardest part of your job?

Linssen: It’s usually a good challenge if the head gets smashed. It’s pretty rare. It’s usually an internal accident. We move these figures around sometimes for events, or we’ll move them to the front of the house, and a big gust of wind can take a figure out. Then, you have a broken head. We’re usually able to repair it, but it’s just a lot of work, it’s a challenge. I’d prefer not to ever see a broken head.

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