Interview: Moira Frazier on Building the Hairstyles of the ‘Abbott Elementary’ Cast

ABBOTT ELEMENTARY - ÒWrong DeliveryÓ Ð After Janine gets a look at the new charter school down the street, she becomes determined to fix up Abbott and make it just as good. As Gregory goes out of his way to avoid Barbara due to an awkward situation with his personal life, and Ava takes to the school library to host a ÒShark TankÓ-style pitch to decide what to do with the rest of the funds from the grant on ÒAbbott Elementary,Ó WEDNESDAY, SEPT. 28 (9:00-9:31 p.m. EDT), on ABC. (ABC/Gilles Mingasson) QUINTA BRUNSON, JANELLE JAMES, LISA ANN WALTER, TYLER JAMES WILLIAMS, SHERYL LEE RALPH

In my conversation with Moira, she describes what hairstyling means to her in terms of building a character and how she has drawn on her experience owning a salon to help build the looks for the characters of the series. It may surprise you that she would keep over 100 wigs ready and available for production days, but after talking with Moira her dedication to being ready for any situation the show may run into is clear.

Read my full conversation with Frazier below where she details how important hairstyling can be to how audiences perceive characters in the context of Abbott Elementary.

Hi, this is Danny Jarabek here with Awards Radar, and I’m very excited to be speaking with Moira Frazier. She is the hair department head on the Emmy Award winning series Abbott Elementary. First of all, congratulations on being part of the show. I absolutely love it. And I have to say before we get going that I’m a Philadelphia resident. I live in Philadelphia and I’m currently in Philadelphia, so I’m super excited to be talking about this show.

Moira: Philly in the house!

What’s your story with becoming interested in this show? How did that begin and why did you become interested in it?

Moira: This show is absolutely amazing. I came on as a key hairstylist in the first season and then I was promoted to hair department head and haven’t left ever since. It’s just a great show, a beautiful opportunity to be a part of something so big and so great and I’m just happy to be along for that journey.

What has that journey entailed for you? What was the shift in your responsibility with that promotion and how has that all worked out?

Moira: It’s been amazing because I’ve been able to create so many amazing characters this season for season two and I’ve just been able to just be blessed to be on a great show. I can’t say more about it because I think I’ve said it so many times, but it’s just been amazing to create. It’s been amazing to collaborate, especially with the creator, Quinta Brunson. She has an amazing mind. Even the writers, shout out to the writers, in the writers room who will be able to write in certain things to let my imagination go wild. Usually we’re always on the same page, but other than that, it’s just been amazing ride and I just love once again, being part of that journey.

For sure. Of course, a lot of what you do is hairstyling for teachers because those are our primary characters in this show. How did you develop a vision for that? Is there anything in your background or how did you go about the process for developing a vision for that type of character?

Moira: Absolutely. I own a salon in Toledo, Ohio. That’s where I’m from. So, I own a salon in Toledo, Ohio and believe it or not, most of my clients and my clientele were teachers. The looks that you see on screen are part of the looks that I would create on a day to day basis. As a matter of fact, Barbara’s character, played by the Honorable Sheryl Lee Ralph, her character, Barbara Howard, with that hairstyle was actually a hairstyle that I did on one of my clients who is also a teacher at her school. When I showed her this picture, I was like, “Girl, look. People wear this hairstyle, especially back on the East Coast.” It felt like I was at home, and even though I’m creating characters, it also feels like I’m servicing clients just because of the salon background that I have. Owning a salon and being able to marry the world together between TV and film and also the real world, I think that’s why so many people can relate to these characters not only for how they are and how they act on screen, but also how they look. A lot of people love that hair. A lot of people love the hair on Janine and Barbara and even Jacob and Ava and Melissa and all of these characters that the world has grown to love. Everyone sees a little bit of themselves in these characters, and that’s what’s important when it comes to creating a show or having a show, even though you’re writing it on words and things of that nature. At the end of the day, we, as hairstylists, bring those words to life onto the screens that you guys see every single week.

That’s so beautiful to hear, and I think it absolutely deserves that recognition because it has such an intrinsic part of forming these characters who we become attached to while watching this show and the hairstyling is absolutely part of that. Are you on set day to day? And what is that process like for you working through the actual development of the look getting ready for a shoot.

Moira: Well, right now we obviously have downtime, so as you can see, excuse my background, I’m in the middle of working right now on a new wig. During these times, I take these moments that we are on hiatus before we go back and take the time to create and develop based off what the mood of this show is going to be and the mood of the characters, what they’re going to look like when we do return back to season three. Of course, that all is a secret. Obviously, I’m not spilling the tea, but it is good that I get to be able to take a fresh approach depending on what the storyline is and depending on what is being written. I always put myself in the shoes of the character. What would this hairstyle convey depending upon the mood of this character? Especially with Ava, I get to have a lot of fun with her because she has so many different moods and she embodies every single hairstyle. She can wear whatever, and it’ll slay the runway of the set. But I do spend more than 70 hours on set. By the time that we’re done shooting for our day, because our days are pretty short, nine times out of ten, I’m still at work, working and trying to create the characters for the next look, whether it’s our guest cast that’s coming in or whether we have children that are coming in or maybe they’ve written a part where a woman has to have a Beetlejuice wig like in the teacher’s conference episode. Those are the things I’m constantly keeping on tabs and just trying to stay ahead so that you won’t be scrambling. I’m always being prepared so even though we’re in our downtime now, I’m still preparing for the next season, and I just love to be able to have the freedom in order to do that.

You mentioned you’re working on a wig. Now, I hear that this is a big part of the show. You have supposedly many wigs, so can you elaborate on that and what that process is? 

Moira: I have a little over 100 wigs, and I’m still creating wigs because, like I said, you just never know. A lot of those wigs are multiples because you may be in a situation where we need to have a double of this person and a double of that, or you need to have two because you just never know. So, I like to keep myself always on my toes. A lot of those wigs have accumulated even while I was on set when I had to pull out my sewing machine and make a wig on the spot for Janine’s sister, who came to set. It’s all of these different things that I do, I just always try to keep ready. Even though I have over 100 wigs, I’m still making wigs because it’s something that I love to do and, honestly, it’s very therapeutic for me. Creating a wig is very therapeutic for me, and I love to do that.

Obviously you spend a lot of time on set with these characters, and what is your working relationship like with the cast and how you work alongside them to build these looks day to day?

Moira: Oh, it’s amazing. I listen to them and the needs of the character, and it’s just an amazing vibe. Every morning when I go into work, there is a routine, and I take special care of their hair, me and my team. It’s not just me, you need to have a good team. Between myself, Dustin Osborne, and also Christina Joseph, we do our best to take care of each and every one of them, being attentive to everything that they need and also the character and what the character calls for. But it is just an amazing experience working alongside each and every actor that comes to our set. We always create an amazing vibe.

I would love to be a fly on the wall to just see those interactions.

Moira: It’s amazing. To be honest, we’re always laughing. It’s like family.

I’m curious to get your insight on this because hairstyling may not be the first thing someone thinks of when they are watching a character, watching a show from a general audience standpoint, but what is something from your perspective that you think maybe goes under the radar about how hairstyling actually influences how people receive and perceive these characters?

Moira: Think about it like this: Janine’s character is very quirky. The clothes she wears, her outfits, even down to her makeup, all of these things embody Janine. Right? If I was to sit here and throw some exaggerated baby hair on Janine and some big hoop earrings, a hairstyle that doesn’t fit what her character would normally wear, that right there is telling. It’s so important that when you are a department head of any show that you’re working on, especially this one, you never want to sit here and be like, “Oh, it’s just teachers. You don’t have to put much thought in it.” You actually do, because hair changes the mood of everything. If I put a blonde wig on Janine and she wears a short bob, then people will be like, wait, what’s going on with this blonde wig? That isn’t Janine. That isn’t her character because that’s so outlandish of what the character has been. So, in essence, hair is the most important thing because it is the first thing that we see. It is the first thing that we notice. You ever see that meme going around where the dog kind of looks like the owners that fit the personalities. It’s similar to the hair. Hair has its own personalities, and it fits each character. That’s why the curly hair works so hair well for Janine. Also, the short hairstyle on Barbara works so well with her. That’s why the long hair on Ava works so well for her but she can also switch it up because her personality is like that. When you understand cultures and when you understand people, then you’ll understand hair. We as black women, we’re not just stuck into one hairstyle. That’s why Ava changes so much. Hair is a universal language across the board. Even Melissa, she can throw her hair up in a ponytail on one episode, and you’ll be like, “Oh, that’s kind of cute, because that’s laid back Melissa.” But when Melissa goes to school, Melissa is going to wear that hair down, unless she’s going to the salon, which was all the way back in season one. So, we love to play and exaggerate these characters through hairstyling because that’s the only way we get to have a voice, and we get to be able to speak out and speak up through hair. Every stroke of the brush is with intention, every curl is set in place with intention, even down to setting the curls on Chris Perfetti, who plays Jacob. It’s all done with intention and even those subtle changes that people may not realize. The first season, Jacob didn’t have a fade, but this season he does, and we have amazing 706 barbers who were able to help us out throughout this entire season. I’m just once again happy to be a part of an amazing show and happy to have access to amazing stylists and barbers that can be able to come help make this show better than what it ever has been.

That’s so amazing to hear. I just have one final question for you before I let you go, but were there any particularly challenging days or a set in particular that had a moment where you were forced to adapt on the fly with the hairstyling?

Moira: Yes, I had a wig on set. Well, there’s two incidents, but one incident was I had a wig on set, and this particular wig was not curly enough for our guest star that came in, and I kid you not, I had brought my sewing machine to set. It had been sitting in one of the closets of our trailer, and I hadn’t used it yet. I use it to make some clip-in hair extensions, but for this particular day, I promise you, because I have half of my small trailer, half of my wigs couldn’t all fit in the trailer. They would take up every single cabinet. I dug into one of my boxes, grabbed some bundles, meaning hair extensions that were not on the cap, and sewed our guest star a wig in about an hour and a half. After I sewed it, I had to color it and get it approved by Quinta, and it was ready to go, it just perfectly fit. That was for Janine’s sister, the young lady who came to play Janine’s sister. I had to get all of that done within less than 2 hours. That in itself was like, Lord have mercy. But I love challenges like that. I love that because what if I didn’t have the hair there? It’s 5:00 in the morning. Nothing’s open. So as a department head, I have to be my own beauty supply store. I have to have my own supply, and you have to make sure you have above and beyond available just in case something may or may not work out.

Thank you so much for your time and for your energy and passion that you clearly show about being a part of Abbott Elementary and the energy that you bring to making these characters who they are and congratulations again on all of your efforts and the show as a whole.

Moira: Thank you, very much appreciated.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.


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Written by Danny Jarabek

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