Entertainment & Arts

How Meryl became Margaret

Meryl Street as Margaret Thatcher
Image caption Computer designs and a plaster cast of Meryl Streep's head helped the make-up team transform the actress into Margaret Thatcher

Many have marvelled at Meryl Streep's transformation into Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady. Now the men behind the makeup are about to find out if they have won an Oscar.

Mark Coulier is one half of the team that transformed one of the world's most recognisable actresses into one of the most famous faces in British political history.

"You can never tell how the Academy is going to vote," says Coulier, when we meet at a reception for British nominees in Los Angeles two days ahead of Sunday's Oscars ceremony.

"Somebody said to me before we started on The Iron Lady that it's a career maker or a career breaker. Hopefully it'll make mine."

Prosthetics and paint

Coulier and American J Roy Helland are both up for an Oscar for their work on the film. Helland has been doing Streep's hair and make-up for more than 35 years.

During the course of The Iron Lady, Streep's Thatcher is seen both in her political prime and as a woman in a her mid-80s, struggling with dementia.

For the younger version, Coulier used a small nose piece to alter the bridge of Streep's nose.

"We tried to keep it as subtle as we could," he says.

But some things had to be toned down. "Meryl's got great cheekbones and Thatcher's got a fuller face."

The biggest challenge came when the team had to turn Streep into a woman in her mid-80s.

That was a job for prosthetics and paint work. But the team wanted to avoid using a full face mask.

"We started off with a plaster cast of Meryl's head," explains Coulier.

"We also did computer designs and took Margaret Thatcher's picture and Meryl's picture and fused them together."

Coulier then crafted latex strips from the head that were then applied to Streep's face.

Damian Jones, producer of The Iron Lady, recalls the moment he first saw Streep in full make-up.

"It was haunting, I was speechless. It was pretty eerie because there was the old lady of Margaret Thatcher in front of us - and it was Meryl Streep."

The film's director Phyllida Lloyd says that getting the makeup right was one of the most crucial elements of the film.

"We worked so hard in the preparation and the planning of that. We didn't want the makeup to be 'eggy' and a barrier for the audience.

"It comes down to Roy, Mark and Meryl's painstaking attention to detail."

And what of the distinctive Thatcher hairstyle?

"Those wigs were personalities themselves, and there were many of them. And the teeth!"

Lloyd adds: "Roy's worked with Meryl for over 35 years - it's an amazing relationship and an important part of her preparation and process. It would be very moving if he gets the Oscar."

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