Oscar hopes for the St Albans make-up artist behind movie masks
Pulling up at an industrial unit situated in a secluded St Albans farm, it is difficult to believe that a host of iconic film stars have been created here.
From Margaret Thatcher to Voldemort, this cold corrugated workshop has housed many a movie great.
The humble unit is where Oscar, Emmy and BAFTA-winning Mark Coulier works his make-up magic shaping prosthetics for Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters.
After recently winning a BAFTA for his work creating Madame D for the Grand Budapest Hotel, the countdown has begun for the Oscars, where Mark hopes to clinch what would be his second esteemed accolade.
Asked how he got to this point, Mark replied: “A lot of hard work,” which is undeniably true.
After going to what was originally the Cambridge College of Art and Technology, now Anglia Ruskin University, Mark stumbled across a book on prosthetic make-up at the local market that would change his life.
He said: “I went through it step by step, it was a bit of a bible really and I thought ‘wow, so that’s how you do it’.
“I had a revelation about how they actually make something like the Elephant Man, from taking the live cast of the actor, right through to sculpting, through to applying it to the person. It was a real eye opener.”
From there Mark worked in bars to fund a small studio where he started to build up a portfolio.
Studying for a year at London College of Fashion, he left his course after completing a two week placement with a company called Image Animation at Pinewood Studios.
He said: “I learnt more in two weeks than I did in a year at college, so I thought what was the point in going back? I ended up staying there for about five years.”
Mark now owns his own company, Coulier Creatures FX, and has become one of the best in the business, working with many movie megastars.
His first Oscar came after working with Meryl Streep on The Iron Lady, transforming her into controversial Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
He said: “She was really, really lovely to work with. That whole process was great.
“It’s a difficult one to do, because you’re doing not only an iconic person in the real world, Margaret Thatcher, but you’re also doing old age make-up on one of the world’s most famous actresses, if not the world’s most famous actress.
“It was quite a tough job to succeed at those things, and fortunately we did.”
But Maggie is not the only big character Mark has moulded; he’s responsible for bringing Voldemort, played by Ralph Fiennes in the Harry Potter movies, to life.
Part of 15-strong team, it was Mark’s interpretation of Voldemort’s iconic snake-like nose that was chosen for the finished design.
He said: “What part of a character tells you that they’re scary? If it’s just Ralph and his [real] nose, he can walk around in normal society.
“So we thought that really he should be the kind of character that is corrupted and has to be hidden away, like a leper. He can’t be out in society so that’s why we removed the nose to give him that creepy look.”
But the finished product didn’t come easily. “It was a big, long, and tortuous process and you have got to please a lot of people to get the design approved,” he added.
Despite being the master of many an iconic character, Mark’s favourite creation appeared in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace for a matter of seconds, but took four months to make.
He said: “It was like this blue, fat creature with big long tentacles coming out of its head. I was really pleased with that.
“It was a beautiful drawing and I was so excited to make the character - I had it on this guy who was like 6ft 5ins and it was really impressive.”
But that’s not the only time Mark’s name made an appearance in the Star Wars credits; he also had a cameo as a pod racer.
“You only have to appear in a Star Wars movie for two seconds to have some kind of legacy.
“I even had my own trailer one day with my name on the door,” he said.
A career of such craftsmanship (and cameos) has earned Mark the unofficial title of a make-up master- but how does it feel to have achieved so much?
He replied: “It’s quite strange because my view of it is entirely different; we’re just making these monsters and sculpting rubber puppets.”
Mark went on: “When we look at it, all we see is what we have done, it’s very hard to be removed from it.
“When I look at something like The Elephant Man, or the make-up in The Godfathers, I’m impressed and amazed, so I understand how people see it, but it’s hard to get beyond the rubber bits and the grind of sticking it all on somebody.
“But it is amazing, and I feel very fortunate to have created really memorable characters.”
Mark will find out if he has won his second Oscar at the ceremony in Hollywood tonight.