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Becoming Beyoncé: Behind the Scenes of Maya Rudolph and Jodi Mancuso’s ‘Saturday Night Live’ Collaboration

Beyonce Maya Rudolph Jodi Mancuso
Courtesy of Will Heath/NBC

When Maya Rudolph stepped back into Studio 8H to host NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” in March, expectations were extremely high. Not only is she a beloved former cast member, she has been portraying Vice President Kamala Harris (and won her first Emmy for the effort last year). There is a lot about her rich history with the show that makes returning an enjoyable experience for Rudolph, but perhaps nothing is more important than her shorthand with hair department head Jodi Mancuso.

“We’ve known each other for 20 years, so I’ve had that head in wigs for 20 years,” Mancuso says.

(They know each other so well, Mancuso was the inspiration for the “Bronx Beat” sketch.)

Rudolph laughs that Mancuso knowing “how big my head is” saves time when they are collaborating. Due to the “up-to-the-minute” nature of the late-night sketch show, department heads don’t see the sketches until Wednesday, Rudolph notes, which is just three days before they have to be live on-air in brand-new (or recurring but refreshed) characters. And “there’s no camera test,” she continues. “The first time people are throwing those wigs on are usually dress rehearsal on Saturday morning — if that.”

Mancuso and Rudolph had a design meeting, during which they ran through every sketch to discuss the various characters in detail. One of the most memorable sketches of the episode — “Hot Ones With Beyoncé” — was also one of the more complex ones. This was because although Rudolph has played Beyoncé before and has a “repeat wig” stored with “SNL,” they wanted to go for a much more current look: the music icon’s 2021 Grammys look. Additionally, the sketch was written to reference Beyoncé needing her wig adjusted midway through her “Hot Ones” appearance because of how she was unraveling from the spicy sauce she was consuming.

The duo discussed this specific look only the day before the show, so there wasn’t enough time to procure a brand-new wig. Mancuso and her team repurposed a stretch back, theatrical lace front wig they already had on hand, frizzing out the sides but finessing the front for more of a “defined wave,” she notes.

“I was excited to wear this wig because it’s one of my favorite Beyoncé looks, and I knew it would be exact,” Rudolph says. “It was so accurate in the texture of it, the length of it, so you go into the sketch knowing that piece is going to work.”

Normally, Mancuso says, her team will pin or dab drops of glue on the sides in order to attach a wig in such a way that it stays in place for the three-minute sketch but is easily ripped off during quick changes. In order to nail the in-sketch joke about putting ice cubes under the wig, Mancuso had one of her team members standing by to adjust the wig in real-time while the camera cut to Mikey Day, Rudolph’s scene partner.

“She had to do it from behind and hope that she didn’t pull it back too far. And at the same time our makeup head, Louie [Zakarian], was spraying her face with sweat,” Mancuso recalls.

Meanwhile, Rudolph stayed as still as possible throughout the sketch so the wig wouldn’t slip at the wrong moment. That was not an issue for her, she notes, because rather than copy signature moves, she focuses on nuance.

“For whatever reason, that Beyoncé impression has just become a mellow version of her speaking voice. It’s very serene and quiet,” she says.