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The woman who transformed Daniel Day-Lewis into Abraham Lincoln

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Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln.
Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln.

There's just no denying that Daniel Day-Lewis completely nailed Abraham Lincoln in Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln," from head to toe — but he didn't do it on his own.

There's just no denying that Daniel Day-Lewis completely nailed Abraham Lincoln in Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln."  From head to toe, the actor fully embodied our 16th president, but he didn't do it on his own. 

Sure, it was Day-Lewis's posture, gestures and well-controlled voice that really brought him to life, but it was Lois Burwell's make-up skills that transformed his visage into the spitting image of Lincoln.

Burwell has a long list of film and TV credits, including "Saving Private Ryan," "War Horse," and "Braveheart," for which she won the Oscar for make-up design.

She joins the show to talk about how she turned Day-Lewis into Abraham Lincoln.

Interview Highlights:

On working with Steven Spielberg to transform Daniel Day-Lewis:
“[Spielberg] wanted him to look like Mr. Lincoln. We worked together to try and formulate a make-up that wasn’t an impediment, didn’t become an impediment to Daniel’s magnificent performance and his process. That was actually very important. So that there was a time factor with how long one had in the morning each day to get him ready.”

On building infrastructure on an actor’s face, while still allowing them to express emotion:
“Well, the key to it is exactly that, which is that you do the minimum to the maximum effect and that doesn’t mean that there’s not a lot there. Actually, there is. The process we used is called stretch and stipple to create those furrows. And basically, it’s a medium that you paint on the skin while stretching the skin. And then you dry it. And then move it with your hands and with the actor’s face as well into the shapes and forms that you want to actually define and create furrows or whatever. But you underpaint that, we underpainted it. We did it double-handed, myself with my colleague, Kenny Myers. And we underpainted it and then did the stretch and stipple process and then painted over the top. So all in all, really it should have been a three-hour makeup, but it was done in an hour and fifteen, including hair and dressing.”

On forming a team with the actor in the efforts of creating the character:
“Well, I think it’s rather hard to describe. It’s something that does take place, but I would never be comfortable with the idea that somehow, you know, we helped with that magnificent performance. But obviously you helped visually, and therefore in turn, that helps them embody the character, possibly. But yes, that’s what you aim at. And you can’t work as a team with someone if you’re at odds with them, so obviously we want to be as in synch as is possible, because you’re in their space so often. And it can be so intrusive and you have to be mindful of that. Our job is to be invisible. Our job is to be the last person sort of in there touching them up before we go in for a take, but not be noticed.

On James Spader's physical portrayal of character Bilbo:
"The character of Bilbo is an interesting one because out of all the historical characters that we had, we actually managed to find photographic reference of most of them, mainly from the Library of Congress, which was a marvelous resource. So we could actually base the actor’s look from the historical character, but with Bilbo there weren’t any. There were written descriptions of how Bilbo dressed and there were a couple of remarks about a flamboyant waistcoat. So when we went to do the initial fitting at James Spader’s house, he had read that and so had I, which was handy. And he started off saying, ‘I don’t want any facial hair, they never look real and they’re always uncomfortable.’ And by the time, we’d been there 40 minutes, he wanted the biggest moustache in the world, which you see him sporting in the film, which is funny. But yes, he was a real character.

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