“In my hairstylist world, I want to beautify everybody,” admits Emmy Award winner Lawrence Davis, the hair department head on Amazon‘s 10-episode limited series “The Underground Railroad.” In our exclusive video interview (watch above), he expands on why he had to take a step back from this aforementioned approach, what went into his research process for this show and which other projects he’s recently worked on.
Based on Colson Whitehead‘s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name, “The Underground Railroad” follows Cora (Thuso Mbedu), an enslaved girl who makes a bid for freedom from slaveholding Georgia in the 19th century. “I thought it had already been done,” Davis jokingly reveals, explaining that he was convinced the show had already started production before he signed on to it. In addition to being able to work with writer-creator-director Barry Jenkins, a main draw for Davis was the fact that the show is a period piece.
In light of Cora journeying through different U.S. states, Davis accentuates that “in that period of time, people looked different in different states,” meaning the research had to be on point. For his research, he drew upon primarily a collection of books and old images, the latter of which were predominantly in black and white and many details on them therefore difficult to discern. What he, nevertheless, discovered was that “a lot of the women basically wore the same hairstyles” and most of the time “wore their hair above the shoulder.” On the slave plantations, on the other hand, many of the women who worked on the fields wore head coverings, Davis elucidates.
In regard to to the hair design on specifically Cora, Davis underscores, “When Cora was on the run, it looked like she was on the run.” Since he, as a hairstylist, relishes beautifying actors, he had to give himself “a verbal note to stop and step away, basically, when it come to Cora and her journey,” he explains. It was important to him to give the story the “really authentic look that it needs to have.” He, however, acknowledges that when Cora wasn’t on the run during her journey, she was “the type of woman who took care of herself and groomed herself.” This is in large part due to the fact that she was abandoned by her mother, Mabel (Sheila Atim), at the age of 10 and had to fend for herself henceforward.
Two other TV projects on which Davis also worked this past were HBO’s “Lovecraft Country” and “Mare of Easttown.” Even though the former is yet another period piece, it takes place in 1950s Jim Crow America and is embedded in the supernatural horror genre, which presented entirely new challenges for Davis. As did the latter, a contemporary piece, for which he was asked to give all the actors “bed hair.” Finally, he teases two of his upcoming efforts, the Showtime anthology series “The First Lady” and the Aretha Franklin biopic “Respect,” which hits U.S. theaters on August 13 and he worked on simultaneously with “The Underground Railroad,” he divulges.
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