Two-time Emmy nominated Department Head Hairstylist Sarah Hindsgaul faced a variety of challenges while working on season four of Netflix’s hit series Stranger Things. For starters, the COVID pandemic required masks and extra barriers to her usual workflow system, which ultimately didn’t stop the show from having numerous production shut downs due to infection.
The lengthy two year process to complete season four, which has several feature-film-length episodes, was equally challenging creatively for Hindsgaul. The Duffer Brothers’ penultimate season saw the narrative leave the 1980s, introducing a shocking backstory that traverses several decades. “Getting to do the 1950s stuff was a welcome challenge for us. We’ve been doing the 1980s for the last eight years,” says Hindsgaul.
This is Hindsgaul’s second Emmy nomination for her work on Stranger Things, with this year’s nomination falling under “Outstanding Period And/Or Character Hairstyling,” but it was the first time sine the first season that she needed to recreate Millie Bobby Brown’s signature buzz cut.
Brown’s character Eleven, or “Elle,” has to relearn how to use her abilities with Dr. Brenner (Matthew Modine) and thus had to get back into lab clothes and with buzzed hair. Hindsgaul thankfully had plenty of notice regarding the buzz cut’s return.
“I had time to think about how to accomplish this,” says Hindsgaul. “If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work but let’s start testing it as early as possible. We started the first wig about three months before it was needed on screen,” says the hair designer.
In its entirety, season four has more than 250 wigs that had to endure all kinds of weather, with temperatures ranging from over 100 degrees to -22 degrees. They also had to perform under stress from the actors and their stunt performers.
Hindsgaul meticulously tests the wigs, asking the actors to run, jump and shake their heads to make sure the hair pieces hold up. “I need to see it. I need to be able to see that it can actually move and withstand everything we are putting it through,” explains Hindsgual.
In addition to Stranger Things, Hindsgaul also served as the New York hair department head for Noah Baumbach’s Academy Award-nominated film Marriage Story starring Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson, and as well asCharlie Kaufman’s 2020 critically acclaimed Netflix film I’m Thinking of Ending Things. That film earned Hindsgaul the prestigious Capri Award for Makeup and Hairstyling.
Hindsgaul spoke to Awards Focus about the complexities of season four, the challenges of breaking new ground with Eleven’s wig, and why she prefers every actor to wear a wig.
Awards Focus: Season four expands the world of Stranger Things in a really big way, adding Russian prisons, mind battles, and California stoners… not to mention the dark backstory in the 1950s. It seems like everyone’s in a wig outside Hopper’s prison cut (laughs).
Sarah Hindsgaul: Yes, basically. It’s really a big challenge as we shot for 299 days, all nine chapters at the same time in three different locations. Getting to do the 1950s stuff was a welcome challenge for us as we’ve been doing the 1980s for the last eight years.
AF: So every actor is in a wig, but you’ve got multiple wigs I imagine depending on the scene and what camera distance or angle is being, yes?
Hindsgaul: Every actor on the show has between two to seven wigs, only a couple of actors have no wigs like Hopper. The reason you want actors in wigs is firstly that you want to keep it period accurate, but secondly, because we shot over a couple of years, it helps maintain continuity. We had over 250 wigs this season.
AF: You did something groundbreaking on this season. Could you please walk us through perfecting Eleven’s look and creating that really natural-looking buzz cut wig?
Hindsgaul: I was lucky I had some head’s up. They told me the buzz cut would be returning this season in advance and I had time to think about how to accomplish this. I have always heard it’s not possible to do a buzz cut wig. So that was challenge number one.
The second challenge was the fact that we all knew what Millie Bobby Brown’s character Eleven looked like in season one with that short hair. So, it had to be a perfect match to season 1 which is obviously very difficult.
I reached out to my wigmaker and asked if he was interested in going through these challenges with me. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work but let’s start testing it as early as possible. We started the first wig about three months before it was needed on screen.
Millie sat through a lot of testing. I was wrapping her hair, trying to figure out how we could hide her long hair in a way that’s flattering so we can see her from all angles without being distracted. After we figured that out, we had to make sure that her frontal hairline is exactly matching season 1 hairline. That was a good challenge for my wigmaker who received many, many season one photos from me.
AF: It looked so natural, not just hiding MIllie’s hair underneath, but how the wig seemed to show the scalp of her head. That’s quite a feat.
Hindsgaul: Well, that was the next problem. We had to get the wig to the stage where we could see some scalp through the wig, so it doesn’t seem dense. We couldn’t use a wig cap because the wig was so frail you could see everything through it. It’s so transparent cause it’s so short and there is so little hair on it. We came up with these little silks that we sewed into strategic places, giving the illusion of some skin underneath. With the light you get a tiny bit of reflection from the silk to give the illusion of a scalp. Then there’s of course the whole styling of the wig. We styled it with a toothbrush every night. It took three people to put on Millie’s wig and the process ended up taking thirty-five minutes, which is pretty good in my opinion.