How the Hair Made the Man: Turning Brendan Gleeson Into Donald Trump for ‘The Comey Rule’

The Comey Rule Brendan Gleeson
Courtesy of Ben Mark Holzberg/CBS Television

Even before he was a polarizing politician and incendiary social media user, Donald Trump was much talked about — often for his hair. His thinning comb-over was an infamous look for decades before hair stylist Orla Carroll needed to replicate it on actor Brendan Gleeson for Showtime’s “The Comey Rule.” In doing so, both Carroll and Gleeson felt it was imperative not to overdo it so that the character became a caricature.

“There was a certain amount of artifice involved: You’re dealing with makeup that looks like makeup in real life, and you’re dealing with hair that looks like it has been processed to a massive degree in real life,” Gleeson says. “We have to get there by craft [and] you’re not trying to hide your craft because what you’re trying to achieve shows it.”

Carroll and Gleeson first collaborated on the 1998 film “The General” and have done a handful of other projects together since, including 2004’s “Troy.” Comparatively, Carroll says prep time was condensed for “The Comey Rule,” which told the tale of former FBI director James Comey’s (Jeff Daniels) tenure, including his ouster during the Trump administration. But, since she and Gleeson have such a long history, they were able to go into the project with a large amount of trust, in addition to already knowing what would work, given Gleeson’s physicality and acting style.

“Brendan is big guy with a great presence, and you have to do something on his hair that will melt into his character,” Carroll says. “It’s an essence of the character that you want to create. But I’m also looking for anything that jars the eye. Even though it might actually be on Trump, something that doesn’t look right [on-screen] would take away from his performance.” Also, “Brendan has more of a round face, whereas Trump is more rectangular, so I had to build Brandon’s volume up in different places.”

The duo spent a day trying out different options, looking at photos and news clips as well as the “Trump: An American Dream” documentary for references. Gleeson admits he was “concerned” about “abusing my own hair” too much, and they both knew the shooting schedule was so tight they could only spend an hour or two in the hair and makeup trailer every day. After spending hours trying to get Gleeson’s hair to a height that suited Trump, it became obvious that the more practical answer was to commission a wig.

Created by Roberto Maria Paglialunga, the Trump wig (and yes, production only had one) was designed to work with Gleeson’s own hair. When it arrived, Carroll had to cut it to length and “slowly, slowly process it.” She also added blond and platinum highlights to Gleeson’s natural red color. “One of the issues for us was when you’re looking at various photographs, the color changes a lot, and it seemed to have to do with the lighting in the particular settings,” Gleeson says. Also, “the hair seemed fuller at times because of the lighting than it was in reality.”

Once they were in production, Carroll would blow dry Gleeson’s mane in the morning for a bit of natural volume and texture and then use a form of tattoo tape to keep some of his real hair down and create the illusion of scalp under the wig.

“The aspect of the appearance was, in part, the whole package. I didn’t think it was possible to present him without attempting to get into a physical echo, at least, of what he was,” Gleeson says.