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Real Hair Defines Character In “Black Mass”

Gloria Casny and the hair department team had to define a number of looks for James “Whitey” Bulger (Johnny Depp) in “Black Mass.” Photo credit: Warner Bros.

By: Marjorie Galas

Gloria Casny begins any project she’s connected to with substantial research. Upon joining the “Black Mass” team as hair department head, she was eager to find as many pictures of the real life counterparts depicted in the movie’s study in the rise of Boston crime boss James “Whitey” Bulger. As she dove into Bulger’s history, the terror of his reign became immediately evident.

“A list of murders and dates was the first thing that came up,” said Casny.

Casny unearthed a plethora of photos of all the key players featured in “Black Mass.” She studied the images of these individuals as their hair morphed in color, length and thickness over the years. While defining their natural attributes as closely as possible is an objective for the award winning Casny (two Primetime Emmy wins for “Mad Men” and “Star Trek: Enterprise”) , she pays equal attention to serving the essence of the character. This particularly came into play for Bulger as portrayed by Johnny Depp.

Casny has worked with Depp on several features over the years. Their collaborations began with “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” through “Mordecai” and “The Lone Ranger” for which she earned an Oscar nomination. She thoroughly enjoys Depp’s commitment to bringing characters to fruition, and looks forward to understanding his well-rounded perception of the personality he’s about to portray.

“Johnny is always 1000% involved,” said Cassidy.

To prepare the style for Bulger’s balding head, Casny first experimented with a store-bought lace wig she cut and arranged on a mannequin. Once satisfied with the look, a ventilator – a person who hand stitches strands of real human hair into a lace cap-built the hairpieces in tandem with Joel Harlow’s makeup team while they created a prosthetic for Depp’s forehead. Because hair strands where punched through the prosthetic, cleaning and reviving the hairpieces for reuse became unrealistic. Stitched over 22 hours by key ventilator Khanh Trance,  the delicate hairpieces had to be crafted daily. Aiming to create a few pieces in advance, Casny added a few additional ventilators to the hair department team.

Throughout the film, Bulger’s hair was modified to fit the era depicted: in the 70s he wasn’t as bald, and in the 90s his hair was much grayer. In addition to Bulger’s hair, the team also had to accommodate the fluctuating styles of all key players including sideburn levels, shaggy shapes, feathered styles and short and longer cuts on both men and women. To help manage the task of recreating period looks on leads and extras, Casny knew she needed a strong crew. She brought two “Pirate” alums she knew would prove invaluable to overseeing the daily activity within the two hair department trailers: Lucia Mace and Rita Troy. Local Boston crewmembers completed their team.

Casny and her team were very conscious of continuity on “Black Mass.” In addition to daily logs and detailed photos, the team used elaborate charts. For example, as hair darkened or grayed, and elaborate map was drafted that illustrated the rows and spot where colored strands were woven into. These detailed charts enabled any team member to meticulously re-create the style.

“I always preferred to use real hair,” explained Casny, regarding the process of inserting the colored hair. “I will paint a little bit around certain areas, but paint looks fake.”

The events in “Black Mass” highlight many cultural divisions in Boston, which provided a range of hairstyles to suit different social classes. For the businessman, Casny found some vintage Gillette hairspray that authentically captured the popular 70s “dry look.” Crafting full, think afros for a bussing scene proved trickier. To fill in the thinner textures of contemporary hairstyles, Casny’s team built what she called “afro puffs” that covered the actors head, creating proper depth and volume.

“There were lots of wigs on men,” said Casny.

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