Bald Is Beautiful

A few years ago I was running a callback session. The director liked one particular actor very much—except for his hairstyle. Once the actor left the room, the director wondered aloud if he could get him to either cut it or restyle it for the shoot. Then someone on the creative team chimed in: "I think he's wearing a rug. I'm not sure we can change it very much." This precipitated a spirited, 20-minute, laughter-laced colloquy among the auditors as they compared the actor's callback tape with his picture to determine if he was indeed wearing a hairpiece. Not everyone was convinced he was, and no one wanted to ask him directly. After scrutinizing his audition again and again, they were finally convinced he was wearing a wig. Restyling, they decided, was out of the question (they needed a slicked-back 1940s look). They moved on to another actor.

"People who look at faces for a living—they're very astute," says David Bellantoni, a casting director with Beth Melsky Casting in New York. "If you go with the transplant or a wig and it doesn't look right, that's all they're going to see. Don't go for anything that could potentially cause people to laugh at you behind closed doors." In other words, would you rather they focus on your performance or your hair?

While Bellantoni's advice is not an outright condemnation of hairpieces or hair transplants, there's little disagreement that less hair on top can be a very good thing when it comes to working in commercials. Unfortunately, it's an ego blow that some men find too much to take, especially those in the public eye, especially when you've got leading-man looks.

Actor Andrew Boyer was in his early 30s when he began going bald. He opted to get a hairpiece, which he says he successfully wore on camera, for print work, and on stage for more than two decades. Moreover, one season in summer stock he appeared in every play, flipping between the leading man in one and a character role in the next, which the wig allowed him to do. Twenty-five years later, having grown into his looks, he wears the hairpiece much less often and leaves the leading-man roles to younger guys. It was, he says, "a good investment."

Anthony Marciona has been acting on Broadway, in commercials, and on TV shows since he was 4 years old. As his hair began to thin in his late 20s, he quickly embraced the notion that he was probably not going to be cast as the leading man much longer. "You have to be realistic about how you're cast," Marciona says. He did consider a hair transplant, but the many bad ones he saw deterred him. Boyer also rejected a transplant but for a different reason: the downtime. "I knew I'd miss months of work as they worked on my head," he says.

One of my best friends, now a former actor, took the plunge and got a hair transplant, but he had the misfortune to go to a doctor who lacked the eye of an artist. While the transplant may not have been obvious, something was clearly amiss atop his head. He believes that from that point forward his hair negatively affected his casting, and he eventually left the business. If you choose a transplant, you need to feel confident that the work will be utterly undetectable. With all due respect to late-night infomercials, that's hard to determine in advance of the surgery.

For anyone losing his hair, the oft-repeated advice I hear from casting directors and agents is to do nothing. "Accept it and go with it," says Bellantoni. "It's a very approachable look." Some of the most castable actors—in other words, the ones who work a lot—"have a little bit of paunch and thinning hair," he says. "That's America."

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