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Painting portraits

Styling for biopics can get a bit hairy

Telepics mining the true-life tales of well-known figures throw very specific challenges at hair stylists and makeup artists. Audiences come to a show with heightened expectations, and the balance between reality and entertainment becomes critical.

“The main challenge is to try and create a character that resembles a real person without it becoming a caricature,” says Paul Pattison, hair supervisor on A&E Network’s “Ike: Countdown to D-Day,” which received six Emmy nominations.

The biopic has Tom Selleck shorn to resemble Gen. Eisenhower. “Tom had particular ideas about how he wanted to look,” says Pattison, who picked up a hair-styling nom. “Each day his hairline had to be reshaped, and his hair shaved, cut and colored. It was very time-consuming, but it had to be credible.”

A successful transformation begins with the director and casting director, and relies on an actor’s ability to portray his character accurately, says Makeup Artists and Hair Stylists Guild prexy Sue Cabral-Ebert.

Cabral-Ebert commends the work on “The Reagans,” which received seven noms, including makeup and hair-styling.

Pamela Roth, makeup artist for Judy Davis who played Nancy Reagan in “The Reagans,” tried to avoid parody. Her designs involved interpreting the former first lady’s wide eyes and high cheekbones to suit Davis.

Conversely, hair stylist Linda Bourgon veered toward caricature in designing her look for James Brolin’s Ronald Reagan in “The Reagans.”

“We wanted a cartoonish kind of look,” she says. “His hair has always been an attraction for the caricaturist.”

“You have to applaud the director’s choice in getting the actor they wanted, and letting the creative team take the look where it needs to go,” says Cabral-Ebert.

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