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Filmmaker takes crew members to see films they worked on for the first time by Aaron Hunt

“You Have to Make Sure Hair Continuity is 100%”: Hair Department Head Brian Badie and Key Hairstylist Andrea “Mona” Bowman On Lovecraft Country

Courtney B. Vance, Jonathan Majors and Jurnee Smollett in Lovecraft Country

Lovecraft Country was inspired by one of those punch-line horror conceits like “Meeting your partner’s family is scarier than a house under siege” (You’re Next). Or, “Nothing’s scarier than meeting your lover’s liberal, racist, white family”(Get Out). Lovecraft Country is a high production value literalization of the pun that H.P Lovecraft invented no horror scarier than his own racism: the invisible effects of racism manifest the series’ monsters, reflected in the actions of the show’s predatory whites. It’s also no coincidence that racism materializes in such outlandish forms that white people wouldn’t believe in them if the victims told them, and that Atticus (Jonathan Majors), Letitia (Jurnee Smollett) and George (Courtney B. Vance) hardly pause to explain the lunacy amongst themselves or others.

The three set out to find Atticus’s father in the first episode and find him by episode two. The pilot builds a sense of reality you suspect will gradually give way to fantasy and presents a bread crumb trail you expect to last much of the season, but upends both expectations almost immediately. In episode three, the house Letitia buys at a suspicious bargain is haunted by the ghosts of the victims of a hate crime that took place in the basement. Those zombie-ghosts are aggravated when the neighbors start to harass her for moving into a majority white neighborhood, so the house begins to encroach on her and the other residents from the inside and outside.

Between the period and fantasy elements and that each consecutive episode so far has presented its own high concept and genre medley, hair department head Brian Badie (Girls Trip, Queen & Slim, The Photograph) and key hair stylist Andrea “Mona” Bowman (Night School, Just Mercy, Respect) had their hands so full they might’ve lost a wig. That’s not even accounting for the real world elements like heat, humidity, the customary production flip flops and, apparently, wild animals. But Badie and Bowman are veterans (who first met working on season one of Underground), and their tricks and techniques conquered potential pitfalls while holding their end of an ambitious, big budget bargain. 

Just after watching Lovecraft Country’s third episode, “Holy Ghost,” I caught up with them on Zoom to talk about their work on the show.

[the credits roll]

Filmmaker: What do you guys think of the show so far?

Bowman: It was cute. 

Badie: I’m speechless, in a way: when you’re shooting you can’t imagine it, so we’re watching it like you’re watching it. I’m sure Mona will agree. It’s super cool.

Bowman: Especially the special effects. The dying lady on the side of the bed, Brian did her. We saw her walking around, but the animation and effect is all new for us. On set they’re walking around with green screen, tape and all that. The guy with the baby head! That was all done in post, so I was like, “What! It’s a baby!” 

Badie: And I didn’t realize they were going to make them kind of transparent.

Bowman: I like the way they did the cheerleader, she looked so freaking good. And the dude who was calling on the ground—remember he was crawling around in that little green tube suit? I didn’t know how they were gonna make them look, but it looked great. 

Filmmaker: How does SFX/VFX like that affect your work?

Bowman: On this one, there was an actual VFX trailer. We had to go in with the [actor] as just themselves, then go in with them in their monster look. It was layers on top of layers. This is my second show where they had a separate VFX trailer. There’s like 300 cameras, then there’s a sensor that goes across their body which looks like a heat sensor, then they splice it all together. For us, it just depends on the look of the character or monster. Some still had hair, but for the guys that didn’t they just put the bald thing on them.

Bowman: I don’t feel like the green screen affects hair much in my experience. If there’s something green involved, and it’s on the head, that just makes our job easier because special effects takes over. Even for the lady without a scalp—Mona, you prepared that wig didn’t you? Hair will prep, then the special effects team takes over because they have to incorporate prosthetics with the wig. So, we tag team.

Filmmaker: Do you get any pre-vis so you know what the final look is?

Badie: The weird thing is that special effects has their own process, so sometimes we don’t even know what they’re going to look like. There’s a character whose wigs came already done [by the special effects team]. I didn’t have anything to do with those wigs. 

Bowman: For the scalp lady, I had to make one look for when she looked normal, then make another wig with the same look for the special effects team. They took that, carved it out and added the animated prosthetic into it. So, sometimes there is a collaboration.

Filmmaker: The show’s tone changes so quickly scene to scene. It seemed like Jurnee went through 20 different hairstyles last episode.

Badie: If you saw 20, then add ten more. Jurnee’s hair is natural and not color treated, so it’s not a wig, and we’re shooting in the summer in Atlanta. So, her hair personality reverts constantly throughout the day. Thankfully, from what I’m seeing, —and these were some of the more challenging episodes that I recall—I’m very happy with the end result despite what we went through.

Bowman: [laughs] Even at night when the dew actually came out, we had to be very mindful when we were doing touch ups, even with some of the wigs. The humidity in the south!

Badie: And you have zero time to change it. The wigs, in my opinion, are easier.

Bowman: Yes.

Badie: Jurnee’s hair is natural. I wish I could have had a wig for her. But Mona and I weren’t available for the pilot,  because we were both working on True Detective season three. I really would have petitioned to get a wig, just so it could have made shooting easier for us. We got through it, but it was definitely minute to minute, not day by day, that her hair could change. We’re already running late, so if I want her to step over here for ten minutes so that I can re-curl the whole front of her hair in the middle of the woods in a tent that needs electricity… Everything that I can think of as a challenge we went through. This show is probably the most I’ve been through, because there are so many moving parts. 

Bowman: You haven’t seen nothin’ yet Aaron!

Badie: The shenanigans start next episode. Right, Mona?

Bowman: I keep telling people, the plot is thickening!

Badie: This one jumped it up a notch but I think it gets even more from here.

Filmmaker: It’s already so off the wall.

Badie: It be stressing me out! Sitting on the edge of my seat, I’m not even relaxed.

Filmmaker: What else do you do to prepare for the humidity?

Badie: We’re both going to have two different answers. Hair stylists are all super individual even though we work as a team. I’m not a big product person. I tend to be a little different from a lot of hair stylists because we’re all so trained to use them. When I’m heading a show I’ll be vocal: “No hairspray, please!” I understand you have to use it sometimes, but I don’t want people to get too comfortable with it. It’s one of my pet peeves when I see a show—I can tell when hair has hairspray on. Mona, would you agree that the best way to combat humidity is all in the ironwork and the heat? 

Bowman: Yes, that’s one thing we agree upon, I’m not a super heavy handed product person either. I still use more than him because, baby, he uses water and a bump, that’s all he wants to do. He’ll put a little cream and that’s it. So, I do use a little bit more. He doesn’t want his hands greasy, dirty, none of that. [laughs] It’s really in the technique, and that’s where a lot of people fall short. If you can manipulate the cuticle to make sure it seals it, put a little anti humidity sprain in, that makes a huge difference. Or we’ll prep it, curl it and keep it rolled until it’s time to shoot so that it will still have that shape. Sometimes something will happen with the lights, they need ten minutes, we’re out in the elements, so we’ll take them, pin [the hair] up, and when they’re getting ready to do last looks we’ll take it down, stylize it, and put our little mmph on it! 

Badie: I’ll go to the AD and say “This is important for hair, I need my time.” I don’t think it’s fair if someone stands over me saying, “We’re ready! We’re ready!” Instead of there being a mystery about it, I find if you talk to people and tell them you’re going to need this time after every take or third take because it’s important for the whole look, then they’ll be very supportive. If you don’t vocalize it, they’ll think you’re just lollygagging. 

Filmmaker: Why don’t you like product? Why is that the norm in the industry and what’s better about not using them?

Bowman: For me, not having so much product allows the hair to be free and move naturally—especially wigs, because I deal with wigs a lot. But sometimes product starts to build up, fight against humidity. If you have to go back and manipulate the hair and it has too much product on it, it will react a different way each time, so each time it will look totally different. And in film you have to make sure hair continuity is 100%, because you never know how they’re going to edit it. Less is always best. You can always build up, but it’s always hard to bring it back down. We don’t have time to shampoo in between or whatever. We have to be able to do our touch ups on set so that they can keep that continuity and have that same look.

Badie: I agree with everything. I would just add that I like the naturalness. I would use product, let’s say, if we were making a movie about Hollywood starlets and it was a Hollywood glam movie. Even still, I watch old movies constantly for my own research, right now, literally—[points to his TV] I’m watching The Bad Seed, which was 1956. But what I notice is, even in the Hollywood glam days, their hair wasn’t snatched to every inch of its life. It’s all soft and it had movement. If you’re on the red carpet, then you up the game. But we’re creating characters, we’re designing real people, and when you do the research you know the footage from back in the day [has hair that] looks very natural. It applies to me even for contemporary films—I’m not a product person because of what Mona said about texture and things like that, and then just realistically speaking, who’s walking around with their hair sprayed like that? I don’t mind naturalness, an edge, frizz. Jurnee’s hair in the episodes has a frizz factor I feel is appropriate. In the party scene her hair is a little more stylized because she’s at the party, but it starts breaking down as the scene goes on. By the time she gets to the paddy wagon it looks frizzy but it’s still a look. It’s just right for it. Anything more and I would have been stressed out. That was a very humid night. Mona, that hair ended up like that because the weather did it. I didn’t do that! 

Bowman: [laughs] 

Badie: You just gotta roll with it. 

Filmmaker: The show does have an elevated beauty being put through the ringer of creatures and elements. how do you beat up the hair without losing that overall look?

Badie: That’s spoiler alerts!

Bowman: Aaron’s trying to get all the juice Brian! He ain’t getting it from us! No Aaron! No Baby! [laughs]

Badie: Mona, is there a way we can answer without saying too much?

Bowman: There were certain things that we did that had to be done in that moment, Aaron!

Badie: Right, if we’re going off the last episode the only person who had a disheveled look was Jurnee. Wunmi [Mosaku] was pretty the whole episode because of the script. [Jurnee] had to get wet, she’s stressed out—

Bowman: She’s angry, she’s fighting, sweating. That natural flow creates that character in that moment.

Badie: So, you have to account for that when you’re designing a character. She can’t be pretty if she’s running around and being frightened.

Bowman: That’s part of knowing the script. You can’t give a crackhead a big glam look! 

Filmmaker: Does hair start prepping before the actors come in? And when they do come in, how much do they typically influence their own hair/collaborate with you on their look?

Badie: It depends on the actor and the process. Designing Abbey Lee, the blonde that plays Christina, was definitely a collaboration. The director had notes, Misha had notes, Abbey had notes and I had notes. I had a neighborhood I wanted her to be in. There were hair length notes—some people like longer hair, some like shorter. It was a bunch of tests and we just had to narrow it down. But for this show: how can you, as an actor, even come up with a look for your character when the world is a fantasy world? We created a world on this show. It’s different if you’re working on something contemporary and the actor’s like, “Well, I’m used to wearing my hair like this,” but because Lovecraft, is an alternate universe we didn’t have actors come in with requests. They were open and let everybody do their job. It’s a different and easier process. But we do collaborate with actors in a lot of film and TV situations. Mona, did you have any on your end?

Bowman: No, they were pretty much open and excited to enter the time period, especially the detail ones. Montrose’s wife was worried about having something that was over the top, too freeing, because she knew she was going to be dancing and stuff. But other than that she was like whatever. Usually, when it’s a period film, the actors let themselves be in the hands of the creators, because they know it’s a whole process—certain things fit, certain things don’t fit.

Filmmaker: You mentioned Abbey Lee’s character. Can you talk about designing the Aryan-looking, super-clean Braithwaithes? A lot of those actors don’t actually have blonde hair.

Badie: None of them. Jordan [Patrick Smith], who plays William, I got his hair colored at a salon because we went through a bunch of wig tests on him and couldn’t find the right one. Blondes are tricky, because there are so many blondes and there aren’t a high number of blonde wigs for men that look realistic. Same with Abbey Lee: In the wig world blondes aren’t readily available like that, you have to get everything custom made. So Abbey’s we got custom made, Jordan’s we ended up coloring, and Tony Goldwyn’s, ironically, was a wig that I was able to find “over the counter.” But the note was that they were supposed to be this Aryan type of family. What’s more Aryan than a family full of blondes?  

Bowman: Did you like the look, Aaron?

Filmmaker: It catches you off guard. Even at the end of the first episode you know something’s off.

Badie: [laughs] All of a sudden this perfectly snatched blonde just appears at the door like, “Welcome.” What?! When they entered Ardham, it was supposed to be like a portal to an alternate universe. They’re under spells, so everything had to be sort of mystical, extra crisp and pretty. Everything about that episode was polar opposite but still cohesive to the first episode. It was a great transition. The genius of that comes from Misha. It started with Abbey being blonde, then she said, “Wouldn’t it be cool if Jordan and Tony were also blonde?” She had this idea on a random Tuesday that it’d be dope if they all were blonde. That’s when my world turned upside down three times.

Mona: [laughs] 

Badie: I basically have to come up with all the blondes in that situation. It felt like three weeks of blonde testing, it really did. They wanted me to produce a wig for exactly what Jordan’s hair would look like as a blonde. One day I was like, “I’m not doing that anymore,” so I put my foot down and said, “I’m gonna take him to the salon, he’s gonna get his hair colored, it’s going to be amazing and you’re going to love it.” They were like, “Okay…” But there were no wigs! There were no wigs! I’m a colorist. I can go to a colorist salon and know what to do. And they loved it. 

Filmmaker: Are there any difficulties to the shorter haircuts of Jonathan Majors and Courtney B. Vance that people might not expect?

Badie: Jonathan’s is ’50s barbering. That’s Sincere Gilles, a stylist on my team. He’s an amazing barber, he has a big list of clients. He was brought on by Michael K. Williams and he’s worked with Idris Elba and a ton of others. In fact, he’s on his way to do a western with Jonathan, so he’s continued that relationship. It’s very detailed barbering, so it’s not easy, but it’s less wig designing and things like that. Courtney’s wearing a wig—that was designed in the pilot, so that predates us. We had it in the kit and applied it everyday, but then we switched it out.

Mona: Sincere ended up finishing him out because we ended up getting more and more on the load as the episodes started shifting. 

Badie: In a show this layered, everybody has their role, everybody has their responsibilities. In theory I’m supposed to be in 18 places at once but that’s impossible. Mona has her system, Sincere has his system. It’s interesting when you get on a show this big how many microcosms of systems are happening all at once. 

Mona: I had a team who prepared looks for background, because sometimes we had two or three units going, so there was a whole collaboration that had to happen before they got to set. That ’50s barbering, most people now are growing out their natural hair, they’re not really cutting it. So, we had to prep those guys so that on the day they come to shoot all we have to do is use a little product, put a part in or whatever and they’re set. I had some segment teams at the production office, some on unit one, some on unit two. Sometimes I would have to switch and go over there, come back, take a wig over there and come back. 

Filmmaker: How often are each of you on set?

Badie: I feel like I’m on set the most. I don’t know how that happens because I wish I wasn’t. [laughs] I’ll ask myself, “Why am I on set? Where is Mona!? Mona, whatcha doing?” But she’ll be running around doing whatever she’s gotta do. 

Mona: I’m the key hair stylist, so I had to make sure everyone else was where they were supposed to be. His responsibilities are number one and the actors that he does: Abbey Lee, Jurnee, Jamie [Chung]. That was the core group, and then Sincere had Michael K. Williams, Jonathan, etc. 90% of the time I’m making sure that the background’s straight, or prepping or  scheduling, but he ended up being on set because [in a little girl voice] he has Jurnee, he had to be there with his sunshine! [laughs]

Badie: All the conversations come back to me. I’m meeting the actors first—generally, I like to meet everyone first, then I might even have to style their hair the first and second time. So, then it ends up being in my world the whole show. I try to transfer the actor to someone else as fast as possible so that the actor doesn’t get used to me. I’ll pass them as soon as possible to Mona, or whoever else, so that they can become comfortable with them. I’ve learned from the past that if I end up having to do eight people I get overworked, so I’ve grown to the point where I can cut the umbilical cord and delegate. I’ll pay attention to stuff when it comes in on set, because if production sees something, it’s going to be my phone ringing. So, I approve everything that hits that screen. The teamwork on these kinds of shows is interesting. Half the time there’s a lot of stuff that I don’t even know about going on. In theory we’re supposed to know everything, but how can you? That’s when you have to trust your team.

Mona: And he knows I’m that girl! “Mona!” I already got it B. “Mona!” Already got the wig ready. “Mona!” Already did it. So, he can trust me and focus on his realm of responsibilities. We average 12-18 hour days on that show for how many months? It’s a lot. If one person does too much, it will burn you out.

Filmmaker: What are the misconceptions about the hair department?

Badie: That it’s glamorous.

Mona: It’s red carpet, we’re having fun and we give people beautiful hair!

Badie: You have to be really tough to be in the film industry. People don’t understand that. You can be camping in the woods at night, in the rain, in the winter, possibly trying to fight off frostbite, trying not to be bit by snakes, or wildboards, or alligators! [laughs] 

Mona: Oh baby, you name it we experienced it. On Underground season one they caught a whole baby alligator. If you know the baby is around, you know the mom and dad is close!

Badie: They caught a wild boar the day we shot the scene with Bokeem [Woodbine]. They had to drag him out on a rope on a four-wheeler. 

Mona: Yep! I forgot about that. [laughs]

Badie: He was coming to attack set, man! 

Mona: Period shows are a journey. You have to go into those types of settings with old buildings, old everything, so you go into the deep woods and the animals and insects be like, “Where y’all going?” 

Badie: Don’t forget the neighbors that want to shoot you because they’re mad you’re in their neighborhood! I’ve felt in danger several times throughout my career just shooting in neighborhoods. 

Mona: Remember on True Detective, Brian, when that lady was mad?

Badie: Yes, that lady was not having it. 

Mona: We did that in Fayetteville, Arkansas. When they allowed us to shoot at a house there, they thought we were going to be there a few days. But we were there for months! Those people were over us with those big lights beaming! 

Badie: You definitely don’t feel safe shooting in neighborhoods. You’re amongst people who do not necessarily want you to be there.  

Filmmaker: There’s not a straight shot from beauty school to doing hair for the movies. How did you guys end up doing it?

Badie: I fell into it right out of beauty school. Someone called me to come work on a show in my hometown. I did a movie, liked it and the other job offers  just came from there. It’s kind of a simple story. I wish it was more like, “I worked so hard and slept in buses!” I was working in a salon in my hometown having a good time, but November comes, a movie comes, and then next May. Now here I am today.

Bowman: For me, I ended up meeting a guy at my pastor’s house—Ken Walker [To Sleep With Anger, Ali, Inside Man], one of the icons in the business. He happened to be in Shreveport when the tax incentive came to Louisiana strong. New Orleans was the only place people would shoot films, because everybody loves New Orleans, but when Hurricane Katrina hit it pushed everything up to us. People always used to say I was “Hollywood,” because I used to do all of the long extensions. So, when a film came next door to the salon I was working at, people came up to me like “Mona! Kevin Costner’s over there!” So I was like, “You know they got somebody to do their hair. I’m gonna go see if I can go meet them.” They were like, “You aint gonna be able to get into no movies !” I said, “Girl, you don’t know who I am. Watch.” Talked to the lady—it was actually their last day of shooting and she was like, “Man, I wish I would have had your name earlier. I would have got you on this, you know how to braid.” I said, “That’s okay. It will happen, I came too close for it not to.”

A year later, my pastor connected me to Ken Walker. He called me, and we had sunrise service so I didn’t even want to go over there, I was tired. So I said, “You know what, I’m not gonna go, I’m just gonna tell them I am.” But my son heard me say that and said to me, “Momma, you know, just one opportunity and you never know.” He was right, so I went and talked with Ken for 15 minutes and he said, “Mona, do you ever have that feeling like you’re the one? I’m going to give you the chance of a lifetime. I’m gonna talk to you in a few weeks and get you in. But call me first and if I don’t answer, leave a voicemail.” So I knew I was going to call him three times, because people tell you they’re gonna do stuff but don’t always do it. I kept calling him and it kept going to voicemail. The last day I was going to call, I was mad that he lied—again it went straight to his voicemail, but when I put down the phone it was him leaving a voicemail. We were calling each other at the same time. “I have some days on the show I’m on now. Since you don’t have any experience, come get some.” That was Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins. Then the show that he hired me on was The Great Debaters, with Denzel Washington! My first big show!

Filmmaker: What was yours, Brian?

Badie: Eve’s Bayou.

Bowman: So he’s been with Jurnee for a while!

Badie: I forgot about that. Jurnee was what, like ten years old?

Filmmaker: Is there anything else you wanted to express, say, shout out, clear up?

Badie: I think I have one thing to say about the business, because that seems to be the temperature: talks about people getting jobs in the union, especially people of color. Unfortunately, color plays a part in our world and our business, but I don’t think hair stylists should be looked at as doing white hair or Black hair. I think everyone should be knowledgeable in the art of creating characters and styling hair. That’s something I always stress to people, because I pride myself on doing everything, I want to learn every single thing, whether I use it all of the time or not. I’ll have talent say they want hair “like Black girls” in their description, and I’m like, “Well, what does that mean?” I can show you 15 different Black women that have 15 different looks. There are no boundaries to this. So, I feel like going forward in the industry we should eliminate the race card and hire people on their merit. 

Bowman: That’s my biggest thing as well. I’m a big stickler about education and knowledge and allowing yourself to prep and push learning things. When I’m off work I have mannequins and I practice, practice, practice. So, I would employ any hairstylist who was interested in being a part of this to obtain as much knowledge about textures, hair coloring, even if it’s something you don’t do on the regular, like twists. I learned to do twist locks and stuff. I was a background dayplayer that ended up booking two months on Twilight: Breaking Dawn to do those guys with those twists, because nobody knew how to do them. What if I hadn’t educated myself? I went from three weeks to a few months. Knowledge is key. If it’s meant to be, you’re going to navigate right to it. 

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