Accepting her Oscar for Best Actress, Meryl Streep took 13 seconds to lovingly thank her husband of 33 years, Don Gummer. Then she spent three times as long praising the man she called ”my other partner,” J. Roy Helland. Just hours before, the star’s longtime hair and makeup artist had become an Academy Award winner himself for helping Streep transform into Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady. The dual Oscar victories for Streep and Helland are the pinnacle of a working relationship that has lasted 37 years.
First collaborating on the 1975 Broadway play Trelawny of the ”Wells,” the two became fast friends. ”Roy was very offended that the stagehands had all these naked posters of women everywhere, with their t–s and ass,” recalls Streep. ”So in his room he mounted posters of, like, gay porn.”
”Playgirl centerfolds,” clarifies Helland, 69. ”I wallpapered it.”
”I had never seen anything like this in my life,” Streep continues. ”We all gathered often in his room.”
Helland and Streep’s first movie collaboration was 1982’s Sophie’s Choice. Ever since, the two have created dozens of memorable film characters, from the severe-looking Australian mother Lindy Chamberlain in A Cry in the Dark to the glamorous magazine editor Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada to the iconic chef Julia Child in Julie & Julia. Hellman also does her hair and makeup for TV interviews and appearances. While Streep has received 17 Oscar nominations over the years, The Iron Lady marked Helland’s first Academy recognition. (He shared the award with Mark Coulier, who designed the prosthetics used to make Streep resemble Thatcher.)
”It’s a relationship that I think is unique in our business, actually — the longevity of it,” Streep says. ”I’m so proud of him, but I’ve been proud of him for way too long.” Helland, meanwhile, thinks their loyalty harks back to a bygone age of cinema. ”Marilyn Monroe had one person who did her makeup in all her career,” he says. ”And Robert Redford has had one makeup man.”
Streep says the secret to their remarkable success is a common work ethic. ”We share a sensibility about making characters — that’s something that interests us,” she says. ”The way we conceive a person, it’s one holistic way of embodying a human being.” Asked to articulate their symbiotic partnership, Helland explains, ”I have the technique to create what she dreams up.” Or as Streep puts it: ”He does what I say.”