Makeup magic turns Streep to Thatcher

Eye on the Oscars: Art Direction, Costume Design & Makeup

Whether playing a Holocaust survivor, a doubting Catholic nun, the self-absorbed editor of a fashion glossy or a celebrity chef, Meryl Streep is best known as an actress whose characters inhabit and consume her.

She has no small help in these roles from teams of craftsworkers who attend to the costumes, hair and makeup that are an intrinsic part of people she portrays. This is perhaps clearest in her latest film, “The Iron Lady,” in which Streep channels Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s prime minister from 1979 to 1990.

“I pored over scads of archival photos and newscast footage, carefully examining each photograph (of Thatcher). I wanted to have it all in my head,” says hair and makeup designer Marese Langan. “We filmed initial hair and makeup tests with Meryl. We did other tests with Alexandra Roach (the actress who portrays the younger Thatcher) to see how they matched up.” Langan adds: “Meryl was involved in every step of the process … and did her own research as well. From the first moment on the set, Meryl had (the Thatcher character) down. It was amazing.”

Langan also did the makeup, hair, and brow pieces for all 30 actors portraying members of parliament.

Mark Coulier, head prosthetic makeup designer, had responsibility for Streep’s aging and also created makeup for Roach and Jim Broadbent, who played Thatcher’s husband.

“It took me — along with my assistant Barrie Gower — four days to sculpt and refine the nose piece that Meryl wears to create a nose nearly identical to Mrs. Thatcher’s,” Coulier says. “After the makeup tests were done on four different bridges I’d designed, we decided on using the first one we’d tested. Both Meryl and I felt it was the most accurate and least detectable.

“Accuracy and comfort were top priorities on Meryl’s list,” he adds. “I tinted the material to create a flesh-colored base and then treated it with finishes to allow it to absorb the different makeups and rouges” used by J. Roy Helland, Streep’s longtime personal makeup artist. “Roy was there with Meryl every morning at 6. Following the 2 1/2-hour makeup process, he was responsible for placing each wig on Meryl’s head.

“All along, Meryl kept telling us, ‘less heavy prosthetics, less makeup.’ Meryl is a stickler for accuracy, but didn’t want her performance hindered by the appliances. We worked so bloody hard, but no one worked harder than Meryl.”

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