Set Emergency: The Stylist Can’t Do Your Hair

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For a long time, it wasn’t uncommon for actors with textured hair to arrive on set and find that the person hired to get them camera-ready didn’t know how to do their hair…or worse. Many Black performers have stories about not knowing what to do in the moment or even being blamed for holding up production. “The biggest problem I had,” says Carla Renata, whose credits include “Superstore” and “Hart of Dixie,” “was they had the tools, [but] the settings were for white hair, so if they put a curling iron on it, it’ll burn the hair out of our head. That happened to me when I first got to L.A.” 

Things have gotten better: As per the agreement that ended the SAG-AFTRA strike, productions are now required to have hair and makeup people who can service all performers. Still, it’s never a bad idea to be ready for the worst-case scenario, and experts such as Rhonda O’Neal say actors should go into work equipped to handle any hairy situation. An Emmy-nominated stylist who served as hair craft president of the Make-Up Artists and Hair Stylists Guild from 2018–2021, O’Neal now runs an academy training people on how to do all hair types. “People with textured hair and/or darker skin complexion can find themselves without a hair or makeup professional,” says O’Neal. “It’s gotten better, but we haven’t reached the mark that we need to.” 

Here are three ways actors can be prepared. 

Hire your own stylist 

This is a best-case scenario that eliminates all potential snafus, says O’Neal. “When you are first brought onto the project, you can put it in the contract that you want to bring your own person. That’s very important when you’re signing.” 

Arrive camera-ready

If having your own trusted stylist isn’t an option, arriving already prepped can be an actor’s best bet. “Get it done at your house and then come in,” O’Neal recommends. One caveat: Make sure the hair and makeup is aligned with what producers expect from you. “Whatever your hair was doing at the audition is how you need to show up on set,” says Renata. “People will show up at an audition with their hair one way, and then show up on set with the hair looking completely different, and the hair people are blindsided.” 

Bring your own tools and products 

Should none of those options work, actors can avoid any complications by being armed with whatever they’d need: curling irons, clippers, blow dryers, etc. The goal, Renata says, is to eliminate anything that’ll take your mind off what’s most important: slaying the job. “The whole purpose of booking the gig is to have fun,” she says. “We became actors because we wanted to play in the land of make believe and have fun, not be stressed out because we think we look ugly. Eliminate stress so that’s one less thing you have to worry about when you show up to work.”