Awards Radar had the opportunity recently to chat with Katie Ballard, the hair department head for Peacocks A Friend of the Family. Ballard was responsible for transforming Colin Hanks into Bob Broberg, and collaborating with Jan Broberg to determine the most accurate hairstyles for each character.
A Friend of the Family is based on the horrifying true story of the Broberg family, whose daughter Jan was kidnapped multiple times over the course of several years by a family “friend.” Coming from the executive producers of The Act and Candy, the series premiered on Peacock on October 6th.
In this interview, she talks about the extensive research process behind the characters’ hairstyles, Colin Hanks’ transformation, and much more.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background?
Katie Ballard: Hair artistry and films have been passions of mine from a very young age, but my professional career started at the Aveda Institute in Minneapolis. During my time there, I also trained under a Hollywood makeup artist named James Ryder, who is best known for his work on Vincent D’Onofrio in The Cell, Dragon-The Bruce Lee Story, as well as his work as makeup department head and personal makeup and hair artist on countless other films. James invited me to do a mentorship with him in Los Angeles, which I completed with an offer to work on his creative team. After earning my Master’s Cosmetology degree and completing my film mentorship, I was recruited by Van Michael Salon for a five-year advanced training program under the Sassoon Curriculum. I completed that program in 4.5 years and went on to work as a senior stylist there for a year, all while also freelancing on photo shoots and working as a hair department head on independent films. I eventually left Van Michael with an offer for a position as a hair department head on a long-running TV series which earned me the credentials needed to join IATSE local 798. I’ve been in the industry for 15 years, and I continue to maintain a thriving career as a hair department head, personal hairstylist, and wig specialist. I have a strong crew of very talented hairdressers and wig specialists that work with me. We specialize in hyper-realistic wig work, realistic and creature FX, period hairdressing, and natural as well as high-end contemporary looks. Whatever the dream is, we’re fully equipped and eager to make it a reality.
How did you get involved as the hair department head for A Friend of the Family?
KB: In 2021, I was hired to work as the hair department head on a series for Hulu called Candy. It was a series based on actual events that took place in the late 1970s through 1980. I had such a great experience on Candy that when I heard that two of our Executive Producers, Nick Antosca and Alex Hedlund, had another project in the works, I was eager to ask them if they would be willing to take me along for the ride. To my great pleasure, they said yes, and I was able to jump right onto AFOTF with them as we were wrapping production for Candy.
What was the research process like for this project?
KB: Extensive! The thing that really sets this project apart is the fact that Jan Broberg and her mother, Mary Ann, two of the people that the story is based on, were producers of the series. Not only had Jan and Mary Ann written a book about their life story and made a successful documentary about it, but Jan provided us with an endless amount of resources that we were able to utilize to recreate her childhood as accurately as possible. We had folders filled with family photos, handwritten notes, legal documents, and more, in addition to numerous keepsakes such as Jan’s actual clothes and even the pillows from the couch in their family home, which you can see in the series.
We were also able to consult with Jan throughout filming so that she could paint a clear picture for us of every necessary detail. The goal was always to portray things as accurately as possible out of respect for the families involved in real-life events. While my team and I are a well-oiled machine when it comes to styles of the time period, especially after having just worked on Candy, additional attention to detail was necessary in order for us to accurately portray the specific communities that the Broberg’s were a part of in Pocatello, Idaho throughout the 1970s.
With Jan Broberg being so involved with the project, what was that collaboration process like?
Katie: Jan has worked very closely with our Showrunner, Nick Antosca, throughout the entire development of this series, so together, they had already compiled many of the resources that were needed to get us started. From there, Jan had conversations with the heads of each department and would also continue to consult with Nick throughout the duration of filming. While Jan and Mary Ann did make a few set visits, including Jan’s on-screen role, she didn’t spend a lot of time on set due to the fact that the content is very personal to her and her family and consistently reliving such sensitive moments can be very intense for them. Jan did, however, consult with Nick on a daily basis as she reviewed all of the footage so that Nick could offer detailed notes and direction as we went along. The level of respect that Nick has maintained for Jan and her family was what set the tone for the entire show and what allowed us all to fully understand the scope of the project and the great level of responsibility that’s involved in re-telling a story of this caliber.
Tell us more about the process of transforming Colin Hanks into Bob Broberg.
KB: Where to begin! While my inner FX nerd is always up for a challenge, there are a lot of factors to consider with a transformation like this. The first consideration was how far Colin was willing to go, but additionally, Was it necessary? Could we do it in a way that would enhance the story without being distracting? Can we do it in a way that won’t involve an excessive amount of time in the hair and makeup chairs? And can we do it in a way that will withstand the heat in the dead of summer in Georgia on an actor who is likely to be wearing a large amount of polyester?
The option that offered the greatest chance of success was to shave a horseshoe shape into the top of Colin’s hair, to lighten and tone the remaining hair around the sides and back, and to apply a very delicate lace hairpiece to the top of his head each day. I mainly wanted to ensure that we would be able to pull off this incredible transformation without exhausting him with hours in the chair or trapping him under a sweaty bald cap in the summer heat, and to my elation, Colin was completely on board with the idea.
The initial transformation took about five hours. I shaved the top of Colin’s head, lightened his remaining hair, and then colored it to the very unique blend of reddish brown and sandy blonde color of Bob’s hair. From there, Colin’s hair and makeup times in the morning totaled two hours, with an additional 3-4 hours of color retouching every two weeks. Colin would start the day with an hour in makeup, where our Key Makeup Artist, Shorty Arble, would take him to a very close shave on top and then cover the remaining shadow left by his dark hair follicle with a highly detailed layer of Pax paint. Her application included a detailed skin prep to protect our work from the inevitable possibility of sweat. She would then fleck several different tones of paint onto his head to create a hyper-realistic skin texture, seal his paint, and send him to me for his hairpiece.
I would start by styling Colin’s natural hair. I would then stipple a diluted mixture of KD-151 matte lace adhesive on top of Colin’s head, being very careful not to disturb the paint that Shorty had applied to his scalp. I would then apply his hairpiece, ensuring that everything was lined up properly and that our edges were thoroughly detailed to the point of being invisible even to the naked eye. I would then add a mattifier to the lace edges and a bit of shine spray to the rest of his scalp. While a great amount of care was necessary so as not to disturb the makeup that had been applied to Colin’s head, the hint of shine read on camera as naturally occurring oil and served to disguise any hint of lace. We were also able to play this up just a bit to show a hint of additional oil in the heat of the scripted summer months.
How were you able to show the passage of time throughout the series?
KB: Our producers made us aware of their plan to age the cast up in Episode 5 at the beginning of prep. They consulted with me during casting to ensure that we could make the transition happen as seamlessly as possible; this included comparing hair texture, length, and color for all of the kids.
Additionally, I had custom, virgin human hair extensions made for our Young Jan, played by Hendrix Yancey, and for Jake Lacey, who plays Bob Berchtold, that I used to show hair growth during their time in Mexico, where they were living nomadically and likely not getting haircuts. I continued this growth progression for Young Jan even after she returned to Pocatello to match the hair progression that happened in real life of Jan Broberg, which eventually led us to a longer, more feathered look we see on our Older Jan, played by McKenna Grace. Older Jan starts with soft feathering and ends with a more layered and fully feathered look in the series. This progression reflects the trends of the mid-late 70s, but this hair progression is also a direct match to the real-life hairstyles worn by Jan Broberg during her adolescence. We utilized a custom lace wig to achieve the looks on McKenna Grace as her hair was to her mid-back and very light blonde at the time.
Jake Lacey’s look as B. Berchtold has a few ups and downs. He starts with a very clean and meticulous cut and style mirrored after the real Bob Berchtold. He gets shaggier during his time in Mexico with Jan and shaggier still during his time in the Mexican prison. While he does clean himself up a bit after returning to the U.S., especially during his time in court, he is a bit shaggier in his everyday life now that he is no longer within the structure of his Mormon family life in Pocatello, and he does hit a low point where his drinking gets out of control. We also showed this character arc by making his hair shaggy here.
Anna Paquin, who plays Mary Ann, wears a partial lace wig throughout the film. Her look is fairly perky at the beginning of the series, with brightly colored hair accessories. After the first kidnapping, we avoided brightly colored hair accessories and, at times, made her hair look a bit more drab or fuzzy to show that while she was still doing her best to keep it together, the stress was also wearing on her. We aged Mary Ann up in Episode 5 with a new wiglet that was very reminiscent of her first piece, but with a slightly lower hair density, a more wiry texture, and slightly shorter to display the subtle signs of aging on her previously very shiny, perky, and full hairstyle.
For Colin as Bob, we showed his age progression through his balding pattern and color transition. Bob’s hair starts with a reddish brown in the nape and sandy blonde on top in Episode 1. Throughout Episodes 1-4, his hair gets just a bit lighter over time. I made subtle shifts to his hair color and the color on his hair piece to lead us up to the time jump in Episode 5, where his hair is more of a Sandy Blonde color all over, with a subtle color transition to a darker color in the nape. I also dropped the hairline back farther to mirror the natural balding progression that I tracked throughout the life of the real Bob Broberg. A new hairpiece that was much thinner and lighter in color was utilized for this transition on Colin.
What was the most challenging part about creating the looks for the show?
KB: I would say that the biggest challenge was in showing the passage of time through character arcs as well as through age progression while shooting completely out of order. In addition to the typical scheduling challenges, we also had a separate unit in California at the end of the shoot in order to get shots of specific locations that were needed for each episode. A lot of planning and preparation was involved in ensuring that these age progressions and character arcs were seamless even as we were shooting scenes that needed to match, several months apart, and in different locations with both older and younger versions of the kids as well as photo doubles that needed to match. That is in addition to the challenges previously noted.
What is next up for you?
KB: I’ve managed to squeeze in a few different projects in the short time since we’ve finished filming. Colin starred in a film overseas right after AFOTF in which he needed to look like his old self again. While he, unfortunately, wasn’t able to take me with him, I was able to do a color correction on his hair before he left, and I had the great honor of making a hairpiece for him that is an exact replica of his own hair which his hair team in London was able to apply to get him looking like Colin again. I also had the great pleasure of doing some wig work for Justin Timberlake for Reptile. And I just wrapped a biopic about Lilly Ledbetter starring Patricia Clarkson called Lilly. What’s next is TBD! I’m in talks with a few productions that would take us into the new year, but not officially signed on to anything yet.