Regina Hall, Tate Taylor break down their 'mind-altering' wigs of Yuba County
A good wig will get a few snaps from the gals and gays in the audience. A great wig, according to Breaking News in Yuba County and Ma director (and longtime wig enthusiast) Tate Taylor, is life-consuming.
"You kind of become the wig," the filmmaker tells EW of the power of an expertly crafted hairpiece — several of which he personally scouted with the ensemble cast of his new comedy (out now on VOD) about a mousy housewife (Allison Janney) who rises a bonkers ladder of local celebrity as a detective (Regina Hall) investigates the disappearance of her husband.
Taylor's process involved working closely with the film's hair department, Janney, Hall, and supporting actors Juliette Lewis (a Fox News-esque reporter), Wanda Sykes (a retail employee, Rita, who becomes embroiled in the plot), Ellen Barkin (Rita's lover), and more on honing the right look for their oddball characters through what he calls "wig auditions," or "getting a wig, destroying it with scissors, and putting it on and walking in front of me with it," he recalls. "When you say yes, you create this monster and it never stops!"
Below, Taylor and Hall recount the personal collaboration, including how their choice in hair altered everything about production — right down to the set design.
Taylor says the multiple ladies of Yuba County took the destinies of their wigs into their own hands before cameras rolled.
"They all had this deep-seated desire to go big on a wig. I've never had this happen in my life," he tells EW, laughing. "Regina Hall said: 'Can I please just not be cute in this movie? I know what I want my wig to look like."
According to Hall, when she read the script, the character of Detective Cam Harris initially had a more conservative look to fit her no-nonsense approach to sleuthing for criminals, but she felt inspired to take it one step further.
"I was thinking of small towns and doing research of police officers and detectives, and I ran across one who had a version of that hair, and I was like, 'Oh my goodness, that's her hair!'" she remembers. "I called Tate up and said, 'I'm going to send you a picture, this is the hair I want to wear!'"
Taylor recalls Hall first touting the potential hardo as "like a Black lady's mullet with a little Farrah Fawcett in it." And he enjoyed the reference photo she sent — but not in the way you might expect.
"She sent me a picture and I loved it," he says. "I guess I'm a bad gay, because I thought she looked cute... She wanted it to look like she didn't care about anything but her career. From her hair to her pants. She wanted to walk with her butt out, it's hilarious!"
Hall knew the film was in for a wild ride of renegade wigs after she started uncovering her costars' plans for their hair, which Taylor says, organically, began snowballing after Hall was given the power to choose hers — a move Taylor admits forced his production designer to reimagine the already-established aesthetic of the office where Hall's character worked.
But, that wasn't the biggest surprise in store.
"I saw Wanda's hair and I was like, 'no one's hair is good.' This town, we had some hair issues. Yuba county needed a stylist," Hall says. "They were definitely dated, but I loved that about it."
Hall wanted to de-glam her hair, but Lewis' vision for her cutthroat broadcast journalist's wig traveled in the opposite direction: Sky high. As in serving "the higher the hair, the closer to God" vibes.
"Juliette called me like, 'Tate, look, you might think this is crazy, but I want to look like Nancy Grace. I want a blonde wig!" he remembers her saying during preparation to portray Gloria Michaels, a feisty reporter who helps feed Janney's Sue Buttons a taste of fame. "She just wanted to talk like her, like such a serious journalist-wannabe!"
Taylor credits wigs with giving actors an extra snap of confidence to embody characters as animated as Michaels.
"It's like I put on a pair of cowboy boots when I have a big meeting. It does something to you," he observes. "When an actor is escaping inside of a wig that's so not themselves, it gives you license to go for it."
After Lewis, it was Sykes' turn. The filmmaker says Sykes contacted him to gauge his interest in a wig that recalls an iconic hairpiece from his 2019 camp-horror masterpiece Ma: "'Tate, would you be mad if I want to wear a granny wig?'" he remembers Sykes pleading.
While Taylor admits Octavia Spencer's hair from Ma deserves to be "in the Smithsonian already," he didn't dust it off for Sykes to borrow. But, he did indulge her desire to go older with her style.
"I'm real collaborative across the board. If your people are happy, you'll be happy," Taylor says with a laugh. "But when you say yes, you create this monster and it never stops! They have a new idea every day, they keep putting a cherry on top! We don't need a sun visor, tips, and streaks!"
"The only thing bad about wigs is when they go awry and you can tell!" Taylor admits of Barkin's character, Debbie, whose fierce romantic entanglement with Sykes' Rita takes an unexpected turn as Buttons' story broadens to envelop a dangerous local criminal ring. "I had to throw water on her! She got a little crazy with her wig. Let's just say, in the back, she kept having these runaway hairs that just defy gravity that stick straight out. I think it was the energy! The wig was afraid of her!"
The Oscar winner's wig for Buttons was another that altered other aspects of production, including the look and feel of her quaint suburban home.
"Allison wanted to be mousy and pitiful," he says, which evolves in scale into "this glorious wig at the end, when she gets all she wanted."
"You truly are not yourself in that moment. You're in a wig," he finishes. "It's mind-altering. It changes everything about you.... It's part of character development, and it's very important!"
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