Meryl Streep has been married since 1978 to sculptor Don Gummer, the father of her four children. However, a little before going through the altar he met one of the people who to this day have marked him the most, both personally and professionally. We are not referring to actor John Cazale, his first great love, but to make-up artist and hairdresser J. Roy Helland. Together, for nearly four decades, they have formed one of the longest-lived and most unusual tandems in Hollywood history.
Its story begins in 1975. After graduating from Yale University, Streep moved to New York to participate in various Broadway productions. Behind the scenes of one of them, the adaptation of the comedy Trelawny of the «Wells» of Arthur Wing Pinero, their unconditional friendship was forged. “Roy was very offended that stagehands had all these posters of naked women all over the place, showing off their breasts and asses. Therefore, in his room he placed posters of gay porn. I had never seen anything like this in my life, ”she recalled herself in Entertainment Weekly on those walls of the Vivian Beaumont Theater that she wallpaper with the central posters of the then popular Playgirl magazine.
Shortly after, in 1977, the American made her big screen debut at the hands of filmmaker Fred Zinnemann in Julia, starring Jane Fonda. However, on April 14, 1980, her career obtained the accolade she had always dreamed of: she was awarded the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for Kramer vs. Kramer. At that time the two continued to see each other frequently, but their bond became even closer in 1982. That year, before starring in Under suspicion and Sophie’s decision (with which she returned to take the prized statuette, albeit in the Lead Actress category this time), Streep asked Helland if she would like to be her personal full-time makeup artist and hairstylist. As expected, it didn’t take him a second to accept the offer.
In the same way that the figure of Marilyn Monroe was closely linked to that of the make-up artist Allan “Whitey” Snyder, Helland is the true architect of the chameleonic interpretive personality of the American. “There are very few makeup artists who have a relationship with an actor that allows them to create such incredible characters. His is a singular and rare entity. It’s an incredible marriage, “said make-up artist Bill Corso on the pages of The Philadephia Inquirer in 2009. As he himself remarked in the same publication, his colleague” is a great wig designer “, he pampers skin like no one else of the actress and, in the days before any filming, she is in charge of completely modifying her eyebrows so that her face adapts to the role she is supposed to play.
If in the future someone had to write a biography of Streep, without a doubt, the most successful person would be Helland. Despite being a man of the most discreet and sparing in words, in reality he treasures an infinity of succulent anecdotes. Without going any further, in 2019 she confirmed that her friend wore a dental prosthesis in the second season of Big Little Lies to resemble Alexander Skarsgård, who played his fictional late son in the series. Also, in an extensive report that People published in 1995 about the filming of The bridges of MadisonHe stated the following about the film’s dramatic final scene: “Except for 45 minutes at lunch, the tears flowed for a couple of days. No kind of ice could lower his eyes. They were so full of liquid. There is no glycerin with Meryl. When he cries, he cries ”. And refering to Memories of Africa, the two decided that Karen von Blixen’s character had to sport dark hair. Sydney Pollack was not a bit funny because she wanted Streep to appear blonde, but Helland had no problem confronting the director and blurting out: “She will never be prettier.” The rest is history.
February 26, 2012 was another of those dates that they both remember with special fondness. Basically, there was a double celebration: that night Streep won his third Oscar for portraying Margaret Thatcher in The woman of iron, and Helland (along with Mark Coulier) won her first Best Makeup statuette. “I have broken the belt. I jumped and the belt broke. I had a wardrobe malfunction in the fourth prize “, joked the actress before the cameras of the ABC. As he himself added, transforming her into the prime minister of the United Kingdom was a daunting challenge: “The budget for this film was just under $ 14 million. They just said, ‘No, you can’t have more.’ They allowed me to make five wigs, which were rented. And that was it. Thus we cover more than 40 years ”.
What is the secret to your enduring creative union? “It is a great honor and a great joy. That’s why we like to keep doing it. It is fascinating to make your makeup look different. A long, long time ago, I probably got the best makeup lesson. Someone told me: ‘Don’t paint what you see; paint whatever you want. ‘ So, for us, for Meryl and I, it’s about not being her, but whoever the character is, ”Helland said when the Hollywood Academy finally recognized her work.