Fake hair is a touchy subject for actors

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The Americans, is about many things: deception, divided loyalties, US-Soviet relations in the 1980s, and the maybe slightly less volatile relations between married spies Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell).

But it’s also about wigs.

“Wigs! Beards! Mustaches! Yes!” executive producer Joel Fields said when I raised the hairy issue of how the Jenningses disguise themselves.

Fields, who runs The Americans with creator Joe Weisberg, said he loves spotting a stranger on the set, “getting two paces past them and realising, ‘Wait a second … ‘That’s Matthew,’ (or) ‘That’s Keri.’ It’s a blast.”

For Fields, anyway.

“I think they love the wigs,” he said.

Matthew Rhys in The Americans.

Matthew Rhys in The Americans.

Rhys, like Philip, doesn’t tell his boss everything.

“I hate wearing wigs. They’re desperately uncomfortable,” the actor said a few days later. I don’t know if you know this, but Keri and I often swap wigs. We do. They restyle them. Our hair department is amazing, what they do. However, if I’m wearing one of Keri’s wigs, it’s incredibly tight on my head.”

Julianna Margulies chooses to skip the blowouts and wear a wig that’s lighter in colour and straighter than her own hair to play Alicia Florrick in The Good Wife (a wig, she told David Letterman last year, that cost US$10,000/RM41,400).

Louie Anderson credits a handmade wig with helping him take “ownership” of the mother character on the comedy series Baskets.

And Viola Davis was mesmerising last season in a scene in which her How to Get Away With Murder character, Annalise Keating, removed her wig, as though she were removing armour, in what many saw as an important television moment for black women, whose natural beauty is so often unacknowledged.

Still, Rhys, whose character had a memorable, if less culturally significant dewigging scene of his own, isn’t alone in disliking wigs.

“It’s a bit like wearing a vise for 17 hours” a day, said Gillian Anderson, who wore a wig to reprise the role of Dana Scully in the six-episode revival of The X-Files.

“You get used to it, but you start the first couple of weeks with headaches.”

Gillian Anderson

Sarah Paulson, who plays prosecutor Marcia Clark in American Crime Story: The People V. O.J. Simpson, felt Anderson’s pain, and Clark’s.

The scrutiny Clark endured for her appearance before and during the trial was “horrifying,” said Paulson, who wore four wigs while filming the 10-episode series, to reflect the changes Clark underwent.

“In the seventh episode, another hairdo comes. The straight hairdo, the final makeover. It’s like the pasteurisation of Marcia Clark,” Paulson said.

And, yes, the wigs are “terrible,” she said.

“Because, basically, you have all of your own hair wrapped up tight, and then they put a stocking over your head, sort of like a vise. And then they pin it, and they pin the wig to that.

“So, it’s very hot, you’ve got a bunch of pins in your head, and you’re trying to, you know, embody another person. It’s not easy.” – Philadelphia Daily News/Tribune News Service

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