Interview with a Herts Oscar Winner: Mark Coulier
PUBLISHED: 10:00 14 February 2016 | UPDATED: 16:16 16 February 2016
Two-time Oscar-winning make-up artist Mark Coulier has created monsters, magic and ministers to take us to other worlds. Rebecca Day spoke to the St Albans-based creative master about his craft
It’s safe to say winning the most prestigious award in film twice hasn’t exactly gone to Mark Coulier’s head.
The artist can be still be found grafting away in his St Albans Coulier Creatures FX studio to create prosthetics for critically-acclaimed world-wide hits.
The 52-year-old admits winning two Oscars (as well as Baftas) for his work transforming Meryl Streep into Margaret Thatcher in Phyllida Lloyd’s 2012 The Iron Lady and turning the ethereal Tilda Swinton into the formidable Madame D in Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel in 2014 has been life-changing, but he remains level-headed.
‘When you are short-listed, you try to convince yourself you aren’t going to win so you won’t be disappointed. It was such a fun and lovely experience being there – the second time there was less pressure, so I could enjoy it more. I’m honoured to be in that arena. You have to be in quite a high-profile film to be nominated, although there are exceptions. So it’s a bit about luck. We just try to do as good a job as possible.’
Asked if he’s made any A-list pals, he jokes that ‘actors are far too busy’, but admits the awards have turned him into ‘a minor celebrity’ in his home village in Cambridgeshire. ‘Everyone knows about it and it’s so lovely,’ he says. ‘It’s nice to have a little gold man on the sideboard. When the plumber comes, he says “look at that – a real Oscar!”.’
A fan of fantasy films from a young age, Coulier knew he wanted to combine his artistic flair with a career in the movies. He learnt his craft by studying at art school, then the London College of Fashion and through make-up courses. Starting as a freelance sculptor and makeup artist for the major effects companies in London, he was soon picked up to work on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Event Horizon, Alien III, Star Wars: Episode 1, The Mummy and The Fifth Element. In 2000, he joined the ‘creatures department’ on the first Harry Potter film, beginning a decade-long association with the series, culminating in the unforgettable creation of Voldemort.
Further credits include the army of zombies in WWZ starring Brad Pitt, burns victim racing driver Niki Lauder in RUSH, the Nelson Mandela biopic Long Walk to Freedom and, most recently, this year’s Oscar contender In the Heart of the Sea.
Despite being the mastermind behind many a menacing zombie and magical creature, Coulier says it’s using subtle makeup and prosthetics to age actors convincingly or transform them into well-known figures that is really a test of a make-up artist’s skills.
‘It’s much more difficult to do ageing makeup. It’s easy to make them look scary but it’s really hard to turn actors into famous people. One person has a set bone structure that you’re trying to make look like someone else. If someone has a big hooked nose, it can look wrong even if you put something on the face.’
One of his trickiest jobs was to transform Meryl Streep into the late former prime minister Margaret Thatcher – a feat that took two and a half hours each day to achieve.
‘It was a case of studying photos of Thatcher at the right age and then working out what we needed to do to transform Meryl. You want to do the minimum rather than try to cover her up in rubber. It’s about trying to be subtle,’ he says.
A blessing then, that the Hollywood star was so easy to work with. ‘She was amazing, a real trouper. She was very generous with her input and her time. Meryl is such an amazing actress that she can do it without prosthetics. But by adding the makeup you are actually making her job easier to do the role, so she was really grateful and so patient.
‘It was different with The Grand Budapest Hotel – Tilda wasn’t in the film for long and it was a much lower budget. We were creating a character rather than trying to replicate someone very well known.’
This year, Coulier was on the other side of the Oscars process, helping to select the seven films (Black Mass, Concussion, Legend, Mad Max: Fury Road, Mr Holmes, The Revenant and The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared) nominated in the Makeup and Hairstyling category. These were whittled down by the Academy to three finalists: Mad Max: Fury Road, The Revenant and The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared.
So what’s next for the artist? Coulier will be working on ‘a big film’ starting in next month – a remake of a classic horror. He’s keeping tight-lipped about it, but no doubt his creations will have us peeking out from between our fingers as he takes us yet again into another world.