Taraji P. Henson has played a wide range of strong characters on screen--from the fierce, quick-witted, and oft foul-mouthed Cookie Lyon on the hit television show Empire to the groundbreaking mathematician Katherine Johnson in Hidden Figures. But she's never starred in an action film, until now. Her latest role, in the action film Proud Mary., showcases Henson as a contract killer for a Boston-based organized crime family.
“We haven’t really had a black hit woman in this major way since Pam Grier,” says Tym Wallace, who was Henson’s hairstylist for the film and regularly works with the actress for red carpet appearances.
Naturally, an action film presented a wide range of challenges for the hairstylist--it's difficult to keep wigs in place while blowing up a car, for example--but Wallace felt the film is an important one in 2018. “With everything that’s going on with women in Hollywood speaking up about sexual harassment, it’s so important to have roles out there that feature strong women,” he adds. “Badasses. To make women feel like, ‘you know what? Let me go out here and get my life back. Let me stand up for myself and fight.’ There’s nothing wrong with a fight for a good cause.”
Here, Wallace talks about his relationship with Henson, how her hairstyles for Proud Mary came together with just three days prep time, what they’re planning for awards season, and more.
You work with Taraji both on and off screen. What is that like?
It’s so great. She’s so amazing, fun, and easy. She understands my craft and what she is hiring me to do. She allows me to do my work and be a creative with no worries. It’s an amazing feeling to have someone trust your gift.
How is working on a film different from working on a red carpet look or an editorial?
I like to bring the character to life through hair. It’s so different from doing the red carpet or editorial because you need to seek out a lot of inspiration photos. But for me, in terms of film, you’re responsible for looking at the character’s lifestyle. She’s a hit woman, so I had to look at what a hit woman and contract killer would wear and how they might look. There has to be subtlety in their line of work because they move in silence, so I wanted to keep a certain simplicity. Her looks are very clean and chic, sometimes understated. Think of how you’ve often seen people in the secret service portrayed. There’s a uniform and you often wouldn’t even recognize them. But of course, she looks good! There are moments where we played it up and gave her a bit more glam, but for the most part, the hair is sleek.
I really just played into who the character was because it all has to make sense. If she’s a contract killer, I can’t give her this elaborate hairstyle, that’s 22 inches long and wavy. So in creating the looks, I had to go through Mary’s thought process. Would she have time to have fabulous hair? Would she want to be over the top at certain moments? I had to take those things into consideration and then go from there. We do have a moment when she’s in this really fun, platinum blonde bob. That, we both love. There is some texture and waves, as well as a few natural moments.
When did you first hear about Proud Mary?
Once [Taraji P. Henson] finalized her role in it, she called me and said, “We’re doing a movie." I was like, “Ok!” That’s kind of how it goes with us. We’re actually about to go into production again in the next couple of months. She told me, “We’re doing two movies…again”. And I was like…”Ok!” So then, we just sit and wait for everyone to call and get all the details hammered out. Taraji told me she was doing an action movie and asked me if I was down. And of course I was.
How long did you have to come up with the hairstyles?
I didn’t have much time at all. I got the script about three days before we went into filming.
Wow. So you had to get everything together really fast.
Yes! I read the script on my flight to the set. And based on the trailer, you are going to be completely thrown off by the full story. That’s what I’m so excited about because the story takes a real twist. As I kept reading the script, I thought, “Wow, this is going to surprise everyone.”
Filming can be damaging to an actor's hair. How did you prep Taraji's hair before shooting?
She’s a hair girl. She does amazing upkeep of her natural hair, so maintenance throughout filming was no problem. Of course, we did some color retouching and kept the ends clean and trimmed. But her hair is really healthy and it was all about the wigs during filming. I have a really good braider in Chicago who just braids her down for the base. And then we re-braided about three weeks in.
Were there any specific products or brands that you used on Taraji’s hair while filming?
Creme of Nature was the dominant brand we used throughout filming.
She does a lot of action scenes in the film. Did you have to take more steps in securing her wigs?
Yes, especially because Taraji had an undercut. Her hair was shaved underneath so I literally had to glue the back of the wigs down. Usually, I pin them down, but there was no hair to secure the pins in. The audio guy on this production had a monitor app, which I was able to download onto my phone. So I wag glued to my phone and jumping in for almost every scene because she was throwing someone over her shoulder and tumbling out of cars.
Taraji always plays with her hairstyles on the red carpet. Do you have anything in mind for awards season this year?
She trusts me, but she also knows this is the time for us to fly together. I have told her that I want to play a lot with natural texture this year for the shows.