Behind the Scenes - Bad Hair Day

Even before she was cast as Sault St. Marie, Alisen Down knew the perils of landing the role of the surly smoker from Toronto. There was just no getting beyond the fact that Sault has alopecia, a premature hair loss which is the chink in her otherwise resilient armor. For Alisen, seeing herself in the alopecia wig for the first time was a lesson in self-esteem, but yet was something that immediately brought her to a complete understanding of how to portray Sault.

Including alopecia moments are a must for the story department when plotting out Sault's emotional growth: Sault sideswipes a connection with Nick when she chickens out on doffing her wig to show him her true balding self but then hits it out of the ballpark when she manages to do so with Perry. That sentence took all of about ten seconds to write. In practice, however, it takes close to three hours for the hair and make-up team on Robson Arms to transform Alisen Down for those occasions when Sault is wigless. Ah, the irony, for a "wigless Sault" in the script actually means two to three separate layers of headware for Alisen.

The process begins first with Key Hair Stylist Anne Carroll, who uses a strong gel called gafquat to smooth Alisen's cinnamon tresses up and away from her scalp. The remaining hair is wet down then "wrapped" or folded into sections which are then pinned tightly to the back of Alisen's head. This is the same process Anne would use to ready an actor for any wig, but in Alisen's case, the next step is the bald cap.

Key Make-up Artist Devyn Griffith pre-readies the thin latex bald cap by painting it with a mixture of Pros-aide adhesive and shades of acrylic paint to match Alisen's skin tone. Devyn first cleanses Alisen's forehead and ear area with alcohol so the adhesive will affix properly to the bald cap. Once the bald cap has been glued in place, with ear areas and "sideburns" cut to fit, Devyn uses acetone to melt the edges of the cap to the adhesive line. She then seals the edge with Pros-aide, stippling it as she applies to add texture. This meticulous work ensures the cap is flush with Alisen's skin -- a must for the tell-all clarity of HDTV, though Devyn gives great credit to our Director of Photography Kamal Derkoui for his keen use of lighting to help hide the fact that Sault's alopecia is mere movie magic. Devyn then uses a special castor-oil-free make-up to even the tone of the bald cap to match Alisen's forehead and to cover the hairline which would otherwise be visible under the bald cap. Again, the make-up is stippled on to add texture.

Alisen then shifts back to Anne's chair, where the alopecia wig is glued around the edges to the bald cap. Early in Season I, Anne and Alisen visited local wigmaker Stacey Butterworth, who custom-designed the wig for the show. She used a combination of angora hair in the front to give it a wispy, sickly look along with human hair for the remainder of the wig.

After Anne has glued the alopecia wig in place, Devyn touches up the make-up along the edge again. The alopecia wig is then styled, or as Anne says, "I like to flatiron the four hairs in place." If the scene calls for Sault to be in alopecia mode, then Anne and Devyn's work is done. But if the scene calls for an "alopecia reveal", Anne still must carefully apply the cinnamon wig that matches Alisen's own locks.

And with the physical transformation in place, all that's left is for our loveable Alisen to turn her surl-o-meter to 11 to become the cynical Sault Ste. Marie. That, and a pack of Hillsboroughs.

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