LOS ANGELES — In her upcoming movie Julie&Julia, Meryl Streep throws back her head and laughs as Julia Child.
The 60-year-old actress doesn’t quite look like the mirror image of the famed TV chef, but with her head of brown curls, crinkled eyes, wide smile, and faint dusting of powder, she utterly becomes her. With some help from a longtime friend.
Streep, a chameleon whose face transforms from movie to movie, has worked with the same makeup artist and hair stylist, J. Roy Helland, on every one of her films since the early ’80s, when she snagged an Oscar for Sophie’s Choice. Their professional pairing is the kind most actors can only covet.
“He’s a collaborator in everything she does, and the hair and the makeup is just part of it. I think he’s an extra pair of eyes for her in every single way,” said Julie&Julia director Nora Ephron.
Streep’s ability as an actress, plus Helland’s Emmy-winning talent, have made for some incredible roles — from a stern nun to a free-spirited mother to a ferocious magazine editor.
Makeup artist Bill Corso said Helland, who declined to be interviewed for this article, deserves much of the credit for Streep’s transformations.
“There are very few makeup artists who have a relationship with an actor that will allow them to create such amazing characters,” said Corso, who won an Oscar in 2004 for Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, in which Streep plays a supporting role.
Corso calls their collaborative partnership inspiring. “Their relationship is a singular, rare entity. It’s an amazing marriage,” he said.
Longtime makeup artist Leonard Engelman said Streep’s distinctive features make a very good canvas.
“Meryl has a very angular, almost chiseled face, very strong cheekbones. The nose is quite dominant, with nice, full lips. But I think an awful lot of Meryl’s look comes from within her, and what she’s portraying,” said Engelman, governor of the makeup and hair stylist branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
“I think what works so well is the makeup doesn’t jump out at you. You don’t want to see a set of lips walking into the room, and an actress behind them,” said Engelman, Cher’s primary makeup artist since 1986.
In The Devil Wears Prada Streep’s magazine editor has a white poof of hair and icy, strong eyes to complement her high-fashion wardrobe. “She looks very refined in Prada,” Engelman said. “The eyes weren’t overly made up but they were very strong, like they were looking for you, those piercing eyes.”
More subdued looks, like the severe, bespectacled Sister Aloyisius Beauvier in Doubt, or the naturally pretty, golden-tressed mother in Mamma Mia! can take longer than flamboyant makeup. The trick is making the skin look flawless, said Engelman. Beyond having good genes, Streep and her skin have been well taken care of by Helland, Corso adds.
Corso notes that Helland changes Streep’s eyebrows in almost every film, a makeup trick to shift the shape and look of someone’s face.
Normally, the industry’s makeup union rules require female actresses to have separate hair and makeup artists on film. According to Engelman, Streep and Helland worked out an exemption decades ago.
Helland even designs wigs for Streep.
“He’s a great wig designer,” said Corso. “He created this wig for Meryl for Lemony Snicket that was almost like its own character. It was giant bouffant with a ball attached to the top of it. When she moved, she would jerk her head a lot, and she would work this hair for all it was worth.”
London hairdresser Antoinette Beenders — the vice-president, global creative director for Aveda who has styled the likes of Catherine Zeta-Jones and Kate Winslet — said Streep’s natural locks are fairly fine, conducive to the use of wigs and extensions.
As part of a sister singing duo in A Prairie Home Companion, she had country-tinged honey blond waves. She played a whitewater rafting expert in The River Wild, casual in a baseball cap, and a ’60s Midwestern housewife with soft brown hair in The Bridges of Madison County. In Silkwood, she donned a cropped dark shag and eyeliner as a nuclear-plant worker.
“Streep might have worn a dark, curly wig for this role,” said Beenders of Streep in Julie&Julia. ”It’s very well done. They probably coloured a very fine hair line so that the wig blends so nicely to her skin. The finer the hairline the more natural the hair looks.“”