The man behind the hair on Game of Thrones! An epic hair adventure..If you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, it’s quite possible you have never heard of Game of Thrones. The hugely popular HBO TV series is an epic adventure set in a fictional, dark and magical universe, and is based on a series of books by George R.R. Martin.
If you do watch the series, then you will know it is one of the most frustrating shows to watch, due to its proclivity to kill off your favourite actors with no prior warning. But we digress; what this interview is really about is the talented hair team who work tirelessly behind the scenes. We spoke to Hair Designer for the show, Kevin (Kev) Alexander, about what it takes to make sure every hair is in its perfect place.
A Non-Traditional Education
Brighton-based Kev grew up in West London, and had always been fascinated by hair and make-up, especially when it came to films, but admits he was never one for school.
“I wanted to do hair and make-up for the film industry – it was either that or interior design – but I got thrown out of school at 15, I just never really enjoyed it.”
Instead Kev started in a salon as a trainee on a Youth Training Scheme at 17, and worked in salons for 10 years, gaining most of his training at The Ginger Group. By 27 he felt the need to pursue his dreams.
“I was at the point where I either got my own salon or followed my dream. I gave everything up and went back home to live with my parents. They were shocked; because I didn’t go to school the first time around, they didn’t understand and were obviously a bit concerned that I wouldn’t stick at it. But I wasn’t 19 any more, and I decided to enrol at the London College of Fashion.”
There Kev studied for a HND in Fashion Styling, where he admits he initially felt a bit of an OAP:
“At first it was hard as I was in a classroom with 18 year old girls, so I was the Grandad! But because it was what I really wanted to do, it didn’t matter. Plus I didn’t need to do all of the socialising as I’d already done all that before.”
While studying, Kev and his classmates also had the opportunity to mix with the students of Central St Martins, the prestigious fashion institution. It was also during this time that one of his lecturers, an ex BBC hair and make-up designer, took him out for the day on a set of a TV drama. Soon his lecturer let Kev know that she believed he was a perfect fit for the industry and asked if he would like to join her on the job. This turned into what would be Kev’s first break, and there was plenty of hard work involved.
“It really showed me the sheer amount of hours that go into TV and film; you’ll be home at 4am and back in at 9am – I loved it. It took a good five years to really get in there though. After that first job I just sent my CV out to everybody and got introduced to people. It was a slow process. I worked with another lady on a film in Egypt, and then found work on the Hornblower series, in the late 1990's.”
The Big Break
From there Kev worked on Narnia and Casino Royale and by the time the position of Hair Designer came up on Game of Thrones first series, Kev was already hard at work on the Disney film John Carter.
“I got a call asking about an interview for a new show. They asked questions about the characters, what you would do with their hair, etc, but they didn't give much away. Then I got the job and realised the size of the beast. Ten scripts arrived and the size of the books (there are seven volumes in total, two of which that are yet to be released) and the realisation that we had to create an entire fantasy world really hit me. In the first season alone we had to work on 162 artists (actors) – some were only in it for a day, but others for a month at a time. It takes about a day per person.”
Kev says that due to the size of the cast and the story, entire colour palettes would have to be designed to separate the warring families that the series focuses on.
“For the wealthy Lannister family, for instance, we had to find a blonde palette. For the darker-haired Starks, because the mum (Catelyn Stark, played by Michelle Fairley) was a redhead, we had to also find the right red for Sophie (Turner, who plays Catelyn’s daughter Sansa) who is a baby blonde. That meant that I had to make a water colour base, which meant doing it from scratch each time we were shooting as the colour would only last 10 days at a time.”
What made matters even more complicated is that Michelle Fairley’s own hair was jet black, which Kev would need to transform into the auburn tone she is known for.
Probably the most popular character of the show, the beguiling, platinum-haired Daenerys Targaryen – played by Emilia Clarke – also proved to be the most challenging hair makeover.
“It takes two hours every morning, just to get Emilia’s look complete, to really make it look as if it’s her hair. We had to get the right silver blonde, without making her look too old or too fashion-led,” says Kev of the mammoth task. The cost of Emilia’s wig is around £6,000 - £7,000, so you can see the lengths the producers of the show, and Kev and his team of up to 25 - 30 hairdressers, will go to, to get everything right.
Working with Candice Banks, his supervisor and ‘right hand man’, Kev works between two trailers and two teams. He also has someone who looks after the crowd scenes, which often consist of between 400 and 600 actors.
So what’s been the biggest challenge, working on one of the world’s most popular TV series?
“The creativity that’s needed for the sheer size of the show! It’s all about making it look good for the TV. It’s achieved so much and we’ve been nominated for an Emmy for three years on the trot. The size is a challenge – we can have one unit in Belfast and one on location in Iceland, so it’s very hard to control things from a design element. I’ll be on a plane once or twice a week for six weeks, we do everything in-house, colour and cuts. My whole team does such an amazing job on such an enormous beast, and it’s so rewarding.“
Kev’s advice for any of you wanting to make a move into film and TV is simple:
“Don’t ever give up. Do your research and send out your CV because there is a lot of trainee work out there. Start in the crowd rooms, don’t try and get in right at the top straight away. It’s a great career and I've travelled the world with it – just know that this isn’t about working 9 to 5."
First published in the Capital Hair & Beauty magazine.