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Interview: Sarah Hindsgaul on the Hair Challenges for ‘Stranger Things’ Season 4

STRANGER THINGS. (L to R) Joe Keery as Steve Harrington, Gaten Matarazzo as Dustin Henderson, Maya Hawke as Robin Buckley, Sadie Sink as Max Mayfield, Natalia Dyer as Nancy Wheeler, and Caleb McLaughlin as Lucas Sinclair in STRANGER THINGS. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022

There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that the fourth season of Stranger Things made a huge impact this summer. Whether through thousands of viral social media posts or breaking Netflix records for viewership, it was clear that the world was more than happy to go back to Hawkins.

A very relevant aspect of the show is how accurately it depicts the 80’s. And a crucial part of that portrayal is through the characters’ hairstyles. Awards Radar had the pleasure of talking to the Head of the Hair Department, Sarah Hindsgaul, nominated this year to the Emmy Award for Outstanding Period and/or Character Hairstyling for her work on the groundbreaking series.

Sarah spoke about the challenges of portraying hair after tough action sequences, and how a character’s story and emotional state cand be described through their hairstyle. You can read the transcript for the interview below:

Awards Radar: You’ve worked on this show since the very first season. How does it feel to be able to figure out these characters’ style while they keep growing up?

Sarah Hindsgaul: It gives me an opportunity to really go into depth with their characters. It’s a privilege to get to bring them from childhood into young adulthood, but also to follow our grown-up characters in their ups and downs, seeing what that does to them and how it affects what they look like over time.

AR: How many different hairstyles do you have to go through before landing the ones you
ultimately chose? Were there any characters who were wearing wigs/hair extensions that
may surprise the viewers?

SH: Each principle had to go from about one fitting to eight fitting sessions, depending on how big
the changes were that their characters went through this season, how much wig work was
involved, etc. I think the Eleven wig is a big surprise for everybody. I’m also really proud of the
Eddie wig. Those were the two big wigs this season.

We ended up having about 250 wigs, because we have the main actors’ wigs, then the wigs for
the stunt doubles and the wigs for the photo doubles. So all of our main actors have from
between two to six or seven wigs for one character. We will also have our day players come in
and do fittings with them a couple of days before they need to shoot. Everything has a really fast
beat to it, so we preset about 50 wigs, so when they come in for their fitting we don’t have to
style the hair from scratch.

We’ll try different wigs on them, get it to a color and length that we like, and then I might do a little bit of restyling to fit it for their face. Then we send in photos for approval, and as soon as those come back we shoot it! Our main characters go through more fittings because we get everything custom-made for them. Those wigs come in long and untouched, so I’ll perm and color and cut them so they’re specialized just for them.

Sometimes it takes days or even weeks to get it just right. For the smaller characters, we always have a flow of different colors and textures going so there’s something for everyone. We have about 30 women wigged at all times and 20 men!

Because we shot for 299 days and were shooting in many different locations, sometimes we
have the same actors on two different locations on the same day, which means one is the photo
double and one is the real actor. So every night we made sure the wigs were going in the
correct trailers for the next morning based on where everyone was traveling to. That’s one
reason to wig people.

It’s much easier for me to line up six of the same wigs and cut and style
them in the same way than it is to redo somebody’s natural hair on a wig. We also wig them
because production almost took from two years from start to finish. Sometimes people leave for
three months, and then when they come back, if was their own hair, we would have to cut, color
and perm it every two months or so, and that’s a lot to put anybody through. I also believe that
when you’re shooting something for that long, the actors should have a little bit of freedom with
their own hair, especially if they have other jobs they need to cut and color it for.

AR: As an artist what stories do you tell through the characters’ hair?
SH: I think your hair and the way you look show a lot about who you are as a person and where you
are in life. It can show if you’re a perfectionist, what your social-economic status is, if you’re
popular, modern, or insecure. It can even hold emotions, like joy or sadness.


AR: A progression is very noticeable with Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer). What was the inspiration behind her hairstyle changing in every season?
SH: The interesting thing about Nancy for me has been taking her from a child to a woman through
these four seasons. We started with her hair being very innocent and long and brushed to show
that she was very much trying to be a “good girl,” and that changed as she started to find herself
and started going through a lot of distress.

For example, after she lost her friend Barb in the first season, we made the decision to cut her hair short, because it’s very normal to do something drastic to your hair after a tragedy happens to you. After that, it also had a lot to do with her parents and her upbringing. You can see her very much in her mom because people learn from their parents how to groom. Karen’s very much a woman who is about putting her best foot forward and showing a good picture of herself to the world. Her styles are definitely something Nancy starts using as she moves into her professional life.


AR: With the introduction in Season 4 of a very popular character, Eddie Munson (Joseph
Quinn), his style and look were a crucial part of his presentation. How did you know
which hairstyle would suit him best? Was it inspired by any particular classic heavy
metal artist?

SH: We definitely had a direction we wanted to go in with Eddie and were looking at a lot of heavy
metal bands. A lot of the looks that we liked were very similar haircuts to what we ended up
with, but a bit darker and straighter. After Joe was cast, I decided to go more with what his
natural texture and color were, making it a bit darker for that heavy metal feel. To sell a wig as
your natural hair it’s best to keep it in the family of your natural coloring.

AR:You’ve previously mentioned that Millie Bobby Brown didn’t shave her head again to play
Eleven and instead, she wore a buzz-cut wig. What are the challenges of that? How does it compare to a traditional bald cap?

SH: A punch cap is a latex bald cap with a piece of hair on it, and that’s typically done by special effects artist. But that’s a very time-consuming process, which we didn’t have time for because Millie is a minor. We were lucky enough to get the scripts early this year due to COVID, so I had a bit of a head start on figuring out the shaved look. I decided to do it as a wig instead of the special effects makeup route because we wouldn’t have enough shooting time for that.

I made a prototype and did some testing just to see if I was going to be able to flatten Millie’s hair
enough and make a flattering enough head shape for us to put the wig on. The other challenge
was that when you make wigs that short, there’s no gravity to hold the hair down. Our wig maker
put the hair in one hair at a time to make the knots stronger, so I was able to cut it short enough.

The cutting was very time-consuming. First I cut the length of the wig on her wig block,
then I used clippers to take it down to the length of season one, but because there is no
resistance on a piece of lace, I had to go over the whole thing cutting it by hand. That took about
eight to ten hours per wig. We ended up having three wigs that we could escalate between
because they’re so sensitive after they’re cut. There was so little hair left on the wigs that you
could look directly through it—that’s how translucent it was.

So our next big challenge was figuring out how to see the scalp and not just Millie’s real hair underneath. We couldn’t put a wig cap on because it would show through, so we ended up putting tiny pieces of silks inside the wig to simulate skin in very strategic areas like the front, the crown and the sides so it gives the illusion that we could see Millie’s scalp.

We also had to figure out how to do the bobby pins because you could see everything under the wig. So we hand painted all the bobby pins that hold the wig in place to match the color of the wig and make them look matte. Otherwise, they would reflect the lights and look like little jewelry pieces growing along her hairline.

The hardest part was to make it look exactly like season 1. Because the season 1
buzzcut had been seen by everyone, we had to match the hairline exactly. We studied her
hairline for months and sent so many photos from season 1 to our wig maker. He ended up
flying in for the final fittings so he could add any hairs that were missing to make it align
perfectly with season 1.

AR: The cultural impact of Steve Harrington’s (Joe Keery) hair can’t be understated. How do
you feel about so many people appreciating your work and engaging with it?

SH: I think it’s wonderful! What was interesting to me, was that the first year, a lot of people would
reach out wanting to know about the actors, how to get into acting, etc. That’s the first job you
see on any film or TV show—the actors. But over the years, since I made an Instagram account
talking a lot about the process, I’m now getting letters about how to get into a different part of
filmmaking.

There are so many amazingly creative jobs behind the scenes. I love actors, but it
takes about three hundred different people to make the show happen, and it’s wonderful to see
the interest that has come up in all the different aspects of filmmaking.

AR:Another significant transformation comes from Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin). How is his new lifestyle in this season reflected through his hairstyle?
Lucas is very interested in being accepted by the popular boys in school, so he gets a very
modern haircut, and like all teenagers, he overdoes it a bit. We did research to find what would
be a very modern hairstyle for that time, and there were a lot of bands coming out with that
hairstyle at the time. The hair was very much about finding yourself, and the show is also very
much about growing up and figuring out who you are. That often takes many different steps, and
we often go wrong a few times and overdo it a bit.


AR: What is it about 80’s culture and style that resonates so much with younger audiences
today?

SH:Nostalgia has always been a big thing. I think any decade’s style of hair, if you put it on young,
beautiful people, is very appealing. What I love about 80s hair is that there’s a carelessness to
it, and i think that appeals to people. It’s big and it’s wild and has a lot of movement. When you
showcase that on young, beautiful people, you get a second run of it.

Fashion goes in circles. Right now, in New York City, there are mullets everywhere! It’s a very fashionable hairstyle again. Actually, the mullet has been one of the most fashionable haircuts throughout the last 600 years, from the royal courts to the 80s to now. I think the 2000s was about very tight men’s hair, but that hasn’t been very popular over the last 2000 years, whereas the mullet actually has appeared again and again and again throughout history.

In the 80’s, there were a lot of very unflattering pictures where people overdid it and I think it scared some people away from these looks, but I think if you take the good bits it can be very flattering.

AR:How do you know which characters require a more frizzy look, and which ones would
look better with slicked back hair?

SH: I think a lot about period looks that aren’t very television-polished just come with flyaways. I
think that’s part of what sells the show as natural and why you believe that the characters are
real human beings.

We also spent a lot of time making sure that the wigs move like natural hair. We put the actors through all kinds of conditions, from -20-degree weather to 105-degree weather in the desert, to high humidity, and we needed to have continuity through all of these things. We also make them swim underwater, shoot them through the air—there’s a lot of stunt work.

When we are going through the testing, I make the actors jump around, run, shake their heads upside down, we’ll spray the wigs with water. We test pretty much every scenario they can get into, but definitely doing a lot of water testing and figuring out how we can simulate the water looks with products like gels and mouses, to make it look wet without them actually having dripping wet hair.

We shoot in both the summer and winter, so it needs to be both consistent and comfortable for the actors to wear.

AR:Max (Sadie Sink) is in a very difficult state of mind throughout this whole season. How do
you think that was conveyed in her hairstyle?

SH: I think when you’re going through depression, it’s difficult to get out of bed in the morning. It’s
difficult to do anything. You don’t have the strength to do anything, and you don’t care anymore
when you’re at Max’s stage. You don’t care about what other people think. She’s completely in
her own, dark place. So we decided to just give her the most effortless thing you can do to your
hair, and that was to put it back in a bun and just leave it.

AR:What would you like these characters to look like during the next season? Especially
considering there might be a time jump and they would be closer to the 90’s.

SH: We don’t have the scripts yet! Hopefully, we’ll know more soon.

AR: This season’s villain, Vecna, turns out to be Henry Creel (Jamie Campbell Bower). He isshown in flashbacks, played by Raphael Luce. Did you find it difficult to portray the same
person and being consistent in it without giving away the twist?

SH:No! First of all, I think it’s so well cast. Beautiful casting. What I did was make sure they had the
parting in the same place, since that doesn’t change, and I wanted to make sure that the color lined up between them. I also wanted to make the young Henry as creepy as possible. That’s why his hair is glued down to his head, to make him more intense-looking as a kid. But it’s also
perfect period hair since the flashbacks were set in the 50s.

AR: What are key details you look out for when characters look rough after a battle? What
products and guidelines do you use for hairstyles that have clearly been through action
sequences?

SH: We have separate wigs. So for example, when all of our teens jump in the lake, we used
different wigs for that since it would be too difficult to jump back and forth. One day we’d be
shooting Chapter 1, and then the next day we might be shooting Chapter 7. So that was
separated into three different looks for everyone. For making it messy, we use different products
on the wig. It’s usually a combo between makeup dirt and dark dry shampoo to build up levels of
dirt, and then we use different gel mixtures based on how distressed or piecey we want it, or
depending on if it needs to look like it has just been wet or messed up and then dried.

We often shoot on more than one location at the same time, so we have a lot of photo doubles
who are also wearing the wigs, and then we also have all the stunt actors in wigs. We get all of
the wigs ready at the same time so that the main wig, the double wig and the stunt wig are all
matching. And then they all have about 3-4 different looks that will escalate through the
episodes. We have different points in the storyline where they’ll change wigs because
something happens, like they jump into the water or they get thrown through the air. So there
are break points in the deterioration. But we had to decide on certain page numbers of the script
what a good time for the changes would be.

For some characters the hair is just being pulled apart, like pieces coming down from a ponytail, so it’s not as severe. It also depended on whether they were part of the Russia group, the Albequerque group, the California group or the Hawkins group. Because of the different elements they were shooting in, the hair deteriorates in very different ways. It’s very different to deteriorate hair that goes through a snowstorm versus hair that goes through a sand storm, which is a very dry, frizzy deterioration. In Hawkins, for all those underwater scenes, we sowed the wigs onto their heads so they wouldn’t fly off while they were swimming. And those looks, after the water, were a lot more piecey and wet looking.

A lot of our actors are also in scenes with snow, or spores from the Upside Down. Those are
normally much bigger resets because it will take hours in the trailer combing them out with a lice
comb because those pieces bond themselves to the hair. So those wigs would get reset a lot
more often, otherwise, they start to look like little fluffy chickens.

AR: Was there a hairstyle you wanted to use, but had to leave on the (hair) cutting room
floor?

SH: We were really lucky, having a really big cast! If there is ever a hairstyle I’m dreaming of, I can
normally always get it on a side character. The students at Hawkins High for example, or a lot of
the lab worker characters, I could use for some sneaky little haircuts from the 80s that I really
wanted to do. I am really lucky that our showrunners Matt and Ross are very open-minded. After
eight years on the show, they have a lot of trust in us, if we and the actors feel it’s the right thing.

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