Black-ish hair department head Nena Ross, and barber to the stars, Stacey Morris, join Awards Daily to discuss their Emmy-nominated work on the seventh season of the ABC family comedy.
When I think of the hairstyling on Black-ish, one word comes to mind: variety. For each episode of the series, hair department head Nena Ross plans a minimum of 2-3 looks per female character on the show and transitioning the Johnsons from day to night and through the changing phases of their lives. Embracing natural hair and contemporary styles, Ross used an array of accessories, braids, and textures to modernize and evolve the unique looks viewers saw on the likes of Tracee Ellis Ross and Marsai Martin each week.
For the men of Black-ish, Morris incorporated trends like facial hair and a more natural approach to grooming. Their Emmy-nominated episode, ‘Our Wedding Dre,’ celebrated Pops [Lawrence Fishburne] and Ruby [Jenifer Lewis] getting remarried, the formal occasion allowing Ross and Morris to get extra creative and style the Johnson clan to the nines.
Here, Ross and Morris tell all about their favorite looks, techniques, and approaches to contemporary hairstyling.
Awards Daily: Stacey, I got to chat with you for Coming 2 America, and I got some great Eddie Murphy stories. What can you tell me about your relationship with Anthony Anderson?
Stacey Morris: I mean, it is work, but I have been friends and have had a professional relationship with Anthony ever since he came back to L.A. from college. If you’ve ever encountered Anthony or heard anything about him, he has no filter, and he doesn’t hold anything back. We have a lot of fun. We laugh, we talk, we joke. Sometimes the work leaks from work to other places, his home, my home. There are times after work, he’s like, ‘Hey, Stace, I need some color. I don’t want to do it tomorrow at work. I’m coming over to your house.’ [Laughs].
Anthony is a whole lot of fun. He’s a great guy with a great personality. I love to work with him. He’s one of my favorite clients.
AD: How do you differentiate his look as Anthony vs. Dre? Do you do anything different when you’re getting him ready for Black-ish and getting him into character?
SM: Oh, absolutely. On the show, he’s a father. So, he’s done up just like any other father might be. But, of course, it’s TV, so he’s probably a little more groomed at home than a normal person would be.
But we change his look. Anthony does so many things, and everything has a look. He has a red carpet look. He also has his other television show, To Tell the Truth. He has a look that we present on that which is more heightened. It’s even more groomed than what he is on Black-ish. For Black-ish, we keep him pretty normal. The regular Anthony Anderson is actually ungroomed. He lets it go because he’s always getting groomed for something. When he has a chance, he takes a break from it all—I’m talking haircut, styling, all of that goes out the window and even his color. Anthony has a lot of grays. During the pandemic, no one was getting their hair done. He was taking a break before he went on a lockdown. And, you know, he was on his social media, with his beard, hair, and everything looking crazy. His greys showing, he didn’t care. [Laughs].
AD: Nena, Black-ish involves so many different hair looks, different variations— everybody’s hair is constantly changing. How do you prepare?
Nena Ross: I just came aboard the show for season seven. I did take the time to look back through the past seasons, the continuity books to see what had been done and what I wanted to keep, and how we could differentiate the looks that were already done.
I made look books for each character, and as the season progressed, I got to know each character, and we worked together with the actors on their looks every week. For example, we would discuss braids, or accessories, or the natural twist style.
AD: What changes did you want to make with the hairstyling this season?
NR: Over the years, the characters are getting older and progressing in age. With Diane [Marsai Martin], instead of having kids’ styles, it was important to give her more mature hair looks.
With Tracee, it was about talking with her about what she liked, what her needs were. I worked closely with her regarding her looks and what she wanted to create, and what she wanted to leave out there for the world to see.
AD: With the hairstyling on Black-ish it seems like the outside world is influencing the show, and the show is influencing the outside world. Where do you draw inspiration, and how are you embracing natural and modern hairstyles for Black hair?
NR: That was very important to me. We’re always doing our homework. It was very important for me to go back and look at old styles and see how we can create and elevate those styles into a more modern look.
SM: As you said, one influences the other. These styles, it’s not like they don’t exist; they’re in everyday life. Once we put it on TV, it becomes a trend.
You know, natural hair is trending. Longer beards are trending in all cultures. You can wear a beard and be in a professional setting now, whereas before, it was unprofessional to have a beard, a mustache, and things like that. So now, we can implement that into their lifestyle, and it kind of emulates and copies what’s going on in the world. It’s a great freedom to have.
AD: Your Emmy-nominated episode, ‘Our Wedding Dre’ is a big event. How did you approach those formal looks?
NR: Whenever you do a wedding, that’s when you get to go all out. We wanted to do something a little bit more creative, more elegant, a little bit more stylish to fit the episode. That was my focus.
Like Stacey mentioned, all of these looks are already out there; it becomes a trend once we put it on TV. I just want to make sure that I used a lot of accessories because that’s what’s trending. Bringing the style to a contemporary look means adding accessories— yarn, different jewels, and things in the hair.
SM: With the guys, since it was a wedding, you’ve got to get extra ready. We stretched Anthony’s beard, veered it, added a bit of a sheen and little subtleties. We wanted the men to look a little bit more done up.
NR: With Zoey’s hair [Yara Shahidi], we did two buns, scooped them up, and I had some pre-braided undetectable hair, pre-braided fishtails. I actually had about four different types of textured hair, braided, twisted, laid out on a manikin head. And I had Yara pick which style she wanted added in her hair. So she just happened to pick the fishtail, which is actually one of my favorite types of braiding to do. I twisted it around the bun and put some jewels in there, and she really loved it.
It’s all a process. I tried to work closely with the talent to find out what they liked and wanted to do and make sure that I delivered.
AD: And Stacey, we’ve been talking about accessories being trendy in women’s hairstyling. What’s popular in men’s grooming?
SM: Styles have certainly gotten less conservative, so we’re implementing that. With Marcus [Scribner], his hair is kind of full and long., and it’s not like he has this neat little haircut or fade. It’s groomed, but it’s still looks undone, kind of bedhead-y. That’s the movement with the kids that are his age in real life. They’re kind of leaving their hair to do whatever it wants to do. Same with Miles [Brown] ‘s hair. We never lined around the front of Miles’ face and his hairline. We never gave him that defined, hard distinct line because it matured him. And we had to keep him looking a certain age on the show in comparison to his siblings. And this season, the kids were growing up. Things are happening and changing. Marcus’ character has a girlfriend. Zoey is off to college. And now Miles and Marsai are growing up.
Nena did that too, changing her styles from those little girl’s styles to teenaged styles. And I did the same with Miles giving him that hairline that makes him look more of a young man instead of a little boy.
Anthony being able to wear his beard— for a long time, they didn’t want his beard to be so long. You know, at the beginning of the show, beards were kind of threatening, or you got judged as being a certain type of person. And now, all of that has gone out the window. Everyone wears a beard, no big deal to have a long beard. It was fun to have those freedoms this season because before, it was a big conversation between the producers, our actors, and the people who created the show; it was a big deal. And this season, it was, ‘Go for it.’
AD: Which looks from this season are you proudest of?
NR: I did a few looks on Katlyn Nichol’s character, Olivia, that’s Marcus’s girlfriend. We did a montage of her getting married. I curled her hair and gave her some finger waves, which brought that period styling from the thirties and the forties into it.
I did a nice little finger wave to the side. And then I did her hair up with some beautiful accessories. I’m proud of that style that I did on her. But overall, I’m really proud of all of the work that I did, all of the hair choices. We were able to do so many looks, three or four looks per episode. I put everything out there on the table for the whole season.
SM: I went back and rewatched a lot of the season, and it all looks beautiful on screen.
I’m really proud of Marcus’ hair because it was difficult to figure out how to get his hair to look the texture that it looks. If you look back on previous seasons, his hair is curly, and it’s a really smooth curl, and it’s shiny. We had to figure out how to get his hair to look a little more ethnic, a little more textured. There’s a whole process I have to get it to look the way it looks and stand the way it stands because his hair is really soft. So, getting it to stand and hold its shape and look done, but not too done—that’s a whole process. I’m really proud of his hair.
And, of course, once again, Anthony, with his beard, his beard is a thing. All the guys look up to Anthony and want to know, ‘How do you get your beard that way? How’d you get it to grow so evenly? Why does it look so healthy and shiny and lustrous? How do I get my beard that way?’ So, I’m really proud of what I’ve done with that as well.
NR: I’m also proud of the work that I did with Tracee and her natural styling because she has beautiful, naturally curly hair. It’s really strong. And it’s really soft and working with her, navigating through her hair, her natural texture styling. We did some twist styling where her natural hair was still coming through because that’s important to her to keep her natural hair coming through the style and not tight all the time.
I’m just proud of all the natural styles that we created on Tracee and Marsai.
SM: It’s great that Nena and I were both able to be happy with the work. The actors and actresses are happy with the work. And the network is happy with it as well. It’s like a bunch of checks and balances, so I’m really happy with and proud that we were able to achieve that. And that everyone’s happy, including ourselves, you know?
Nena Ross and Stacey Morris are Emmy-nominated in Outstanding Contemporary Hairstyling for their work on Black-ish. The series is available via ABC & Hulu.