See How Helen Mirren Transformed Into ‘Golda’ With Her Oscar-Nominated Hair and Makeup Team | Video

“She’s one of the best actors in the world, and you know when you work with her that she’ll give it all her attention,” hair and makeup head Karen Hartley Thomas tells TheWrap

Helen Mirren in "Golda" (Bleecker Street)
Helen Mirren in "Golda" (Bleecker Street)

Former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir has been played on stage and screen by everyone from Anne Bancroft to Ingrid Bergman to Tovah Feldshuh to Lynn Cohen. But in “Golda,” Guy Nattiv’s intimate look at Meir’s final years in office, the task is taken up by none other than Dame Helen Mirren.

As it happens, the Oscar-winning master of the real-life figure (Queen Elizabeth II in “The Queen,” Alma Reville in “Hitchcock”) happened to be very close in age to Meir in the years surrounding the Yom Kippur War. However, they aged quite differently.

The makeup and hairstyling team of “Golda” — one of the few all-female crews to receive an Oscar nomination in this category — put Mirren through the paces in one of her few fully transformative prosthetic makeovers, in massive close-up shots that spare no wrinkle nor fold.

“None of us knew that Guy was going to do such terrifying close-ups until [fellow nominee Suzi Battersby] and I grabbed each other’s hands and thought, ‘Christ, our careers could be over starting here,’” hair and makeup head Karen Hartley Thomas told TheWrap. “It was a shock.”

Battersby, the prosthetics designer, agreed. “All of our prosthetics have to be indistinguishable to the naked eye, you know, five centimeters away, and I’ve had previous directors literally looking at my work that closely to scrutinize it. That’s the level that we kind of hold ourselves to, anyway.”

Their collaborator and fellow nominee Ashra Kelly-Blue, the prosthetic makeup artist, added that the key is not to push things too far in one direction. “The fact that everything was exposed just meant that when those close-ups were happening, we just had to be even more mindful of the application that we’re doing. Any kind of slight pull or tug will mean that the edges could crease or could buckle. We had to be really delicate with our application and our painting and make it look realistic and not over-painted, which can sometimes happen as well.”

Mirren spent two and a half hours in the makeup chair, then another full hour getting out of her creation, which included appropriately frizzled, tied-back greying hair and a prominent neck waddle. But as historians are well aware, Meir was a fervent chain-smoker, which was not unheard of in the early to late 1970s. “We were definitely trying to preempt any issues around her mouth, with the cheek pieces that go on,” Kelly-Blue said. “We made sure to preserve the edges with really strong glue, so that any of that pursing of her lips when smoking [is reinforced].”

The team also had an irreplaceable assist when prepping the look of the late politician. “We were very lucky because Golda’s family were very involved in the process,” Hartley Thomas said. “We obviously had loads and loads of footage and I worked very closely with Sinéad Kidao, the costume designer, who was responsible for the legs, which everyone is always very, very complimentary about. But we had lots of tips from her grandson who told us she had nicotine fingers, she had a manicure every week, what her hair was like when it was left loose, how she put it into a sheen or flattened it.”

She continued, “And working with Helen is obviously a privilege. She’s one of the best actors in the world, and you know when you work with her that she’ll give it all her attention.”

“Golda” marks the first-ever Oscar nomination for all three women, and they are quite chuffed to be included in such an interesting lineup that is pretty much devoid of science fiction or fantasy blockbusters (Their fellow nominees are “Maestro,” “Oppenheimer,” “Poor Things” and “Society of the Snow”).

“What’s really nice in what we’ve seen over the last maybe 10 years or so is there are those kinds of films that have that more subtle elements and design where it is a marriage of wigs, hair, makeup, prosthetics working together to create that illusion,” Battersby said. “And I think audiences seem really, really keen for it and you see more and more actors actually really embracing it as part of their process.”

Hartley Thomas concluded, “You don’t want your work to be noticed. And it’s mad to say that given this was such massive makeup on Helen. But you really hope that people that are so engrossed in the film, they don’t notice what you’ve done.”

“Golda” is now streaming on Paramount+.

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