It’s time to talk wigs.
While watching Stranger Things season four over the Memorial Day weekend (or the subsequent re-watches since), I bet you marveled at the fantastic 80s fashions, decor, and hairstyles on display. You laughed at Karen Wheeler’s (Cara Buono) big 80s hair. That was a wig. You retweeted GIFs equating young Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) to famed director Agnes Varga. That was a wig. I bet you even marveled at the flowing locks of co-star Joe Keery. Well, that was… a few hair extensions. That was actually mostly all Keery.
But between the main cast, extras, and doubles, Stranger Things season four required over 250 wigs stored in multiple trailers, hand-washed weekly to clean the dirt, sand, snow, and Upside Down spores that they collected.
But why did they require that many wigs? Department Head Hairstylist Sarah Hindsgaul said it was totally a practical decision.
“First of all, I do not want to perm and bleach somebody’s hair and cut short layers on top. It’s a lot to live with. Especially since we shot for years because of the Coronavirus. It actually ended up being almost two years in production,” explained Hindsgaul. “So you would end up with not just one perm. We would have to redo it. Otherwise, you get a grow out. That would it would be too hard on anybody’s hair, and we would never be able to have it look the same.”
Main characters required two to three wigs each because they jumped into water or traveling into the Upside Down. Plus, the Duffer Brothers treated season four as one giant film and frequently shot out of sequence. That coupled with the COVID delays in production mandated the use of wigs to maintain consistency and avoid personal impact to the cast.
Particularly star Millie Bobby Brown whose Eleven undergoes another hair shaving in season four. Brown, however, did not have to shave her head for the role.
Yes, the infamous buzz cut is actually a brilliantly designed wig, the first of its kind.
“Her buzz cut from season one is one of the most famous buzz cuts. So we all know what she looks like when it was cut. How do we recreate that exact buzz cut but fake? How is that not going to be jarring and take people out of the show? These were our biggest concerns with her hair,” Hindsgaul explained.
In typical films or television shows, a prosthetic bald cap would be used and the buzz cut replicated with VFX. However since Brown was 17 at the time of shooting, she could not work the hours on set it would take to prepare for the prosthetic piece on her head. So, it would have to be a wig.
After being told it could never be done, Hindsgaul worked with a wig built one hair at the time to make the knot stronger. She then cut the wig over a course of 10 hours by hand so that the knotted hair wouldn’t fall out. This wig also had to withstand being immersed in salt water and being subjected to sandstorms. By the time Brown was ready to film, Hindsgaul and team had the fitting process down to under just 45 minutes.
Another much-discussed wig over season four was Will Byers’ bowl cut. To Hindsgaul, hairstyling relays intimate details about the characters themselves. For example, Karen Wheeler’s stylish (at the time) hair spoke to her tendency to stick with fashion trends of the moment. But with Will Byers, his hair speaks to his stasis within the series and became an extremely emotional choice for Hindsgaul.
“I think he lets his mom do whatever she wants to. I also think he’s just not there yet where he wants to make a change. He’s a little bit stuck. I mean, the other kids going forward in different direction experimenting, and I think he’s still dreaming about going back to what there was. So why would he change?,” Hindsgaul explained. “It’s a bit heartbreaking when you see it. It hits me in the heart when you see him on screen, and his little eyes are welding up and you can just see that pain, right? If he looked really cool and amazing, I think you would not feel the pain in the same way.”
Finally, with Joe Keery’s famed hair, Hindsgaul would not let his “amazing hair” hide beneath an artificial wig. Keery mostly maintained that Stranger Things hairstyle for much of the shoot. Extensions were only used when Keery was granted breaks from the massive hair the character required. They were also used when his hair would get too big, requiring Hindsgaul to texturize it through hair cuts and layer it up with a few extensions.
And by breaks, I mean Christmas gifts in the form of haircuts.
“I let them get haircuts for Christmas and stuff. I cut it off so he can sometimes get little breaks, and then I put extensions on the back of it and we cheated. Then, he gets to take off the extensions and grow it back out. I mean, we’re shooting for a really long time. He’s one person I absolutely love to not wig.”
And the nation breathes a sigh of relief.