- The Washington Times - Friday, July 31, 2009

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.

Miss 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 1980s, 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,” says “Julie & Julia” director Nora Ephron.

The movie opens Aug. 7.

Miss Streep’s ability as an actress, plus Mr. 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 says Mr. Helland, who declined to be interviewed for this article, deserves much of the credit for Miss 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,” says Mr. Corso, an Oscar winner in 2004 for “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events,” in which Miss Streep plays a supporting role.

Mr. Corso calls their collaborative partnership inspiring. “Their relationship is a singular, rare entity. It’s an amazing marriage,” he says.

Longtime makeup artist Leonard Engelman says Miss 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,” says Mr. 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,” says Mr. Engelman, Cher’s primary makeup artist since 1986.

In “The Devil Wears Prada” Miss Streep’s magazine editor has a white poof of hair and icy, strong eyes to complement to her high-fashion wardrobe. “She looks very refined in ‘Prada,’” Mr. Engelman says. “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 Aloysius 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, says Mr. Engelman. Beyond having good genes, Miss Streep and her skin have been well taken care of by Mr. Helland, Mr. Corso adds.

He also notes that Mr. Helland changes Miss 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 Mr. Engelman, Miss Streep and Mr. Helland worked out an exemption decades ago.

Mr. Helland even designs wigs for Miss Streep.

“He’s a great wig designer,” says Mr. Corso. “He created this wig for Meryl for ‘Lemony Snicket’ that was almost like it’s 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 and global creative director for Aveda who has styled the likes of Catherine Zeta-Jones and Kate Winslet — says Miss Streep’s natural locks are fairly fine, conducive to the use of wigs and extensions.

As part of sister singing duo in “A Prairie Home Companion,” the actress 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,” Miss Streep donned a cropped dark shag and eyeliner as a nuclear-plant worker.

“Streep might have worn a dark, curly wig for this role,” Miss Beenders says of Miss Streep in “Julie & Julia.” “It’s very well done. They probably colored 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.”

But makeup and wigs — even excellent ones — only go so far.

In “Julie & Julia,” Miss Streep embodies Miss Child in face and hair, but also attempts to convey her tall stature. She pulled up her 5‘6” body, says Miss Ephron, to appear as long as Miss Child’s 6‘2” frame.

“It’s this thing called acting. Many actors could do this, but Meryl has the chops to do it, and the guts to really go for it,” Miss Ephron says. “It’s a combination of her hair, her makeup, her clothes, her height — it’s everything.”

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