Halle Bailey shows off a vibrant head of pale red locs in her new live-action Disney remake of The Little Mermaid.
But the 23-year-old singer-turned-actress normally sports a more natural dark shade for her waist-length hair, forcing the production to take extreme steps to achieve the red look without dying or cutting her natural hair.
In an interview with Variety from Friday, the film’s hair department head Camille Friend revealed the excruciating process she went through to give Halle’s character Ariel her classic fiery hair, while admitting that the whole process cost somewhere in the ballpark of $150,000.
To make matters worse, it took her hours on end to get the look right, and there were disappointing false starts along the way.
Friend made it clear that it was important for the film — which has been positively reviewed — to preserve Halle’s natural hair, rather than replacing it with a wig.
A pretty penny: Halle Bailey, 23, had to undergo an extensive process lasting as long as 14 hours and costing around $150K to achieve her red hair in the live-action The Little Mermaid, according to Variety; seen May 22 in Sydney, Australia
Ingenious: Hair department head Camille Friend revealed that she came up with the idea to wrap strands of red hair around Halle’s locks so that they didn’t have to be cut or died; still from The Little Mermaid
The hairstylist shared that a meet-up with the Chloe x Halle singer was what convinced her that she needed to let Halle’s hair shine through.
‘I went to meet with Halle’s family. Her mother is spiritual and they’re a kind family,’ she recalled. ‘I started to understand who she was and why the natural hair element was important to keep.’
Director Rob Marshall and executives from Disney were reportedly on board as well, giving Friend the freedom to experiment.
She said that she studied Halle’s ‘facial shape, skin tone and eye color,’ along with the colors of her costumes, to determine the ideal shade of red for her locs.
A wig would have been the simplest option, and would have certainly cost less than the final product, but Friend was determined not to cover up the star’s natural hair.
‘Halle’s locs are down to her waist, over 24 inches. And putting her in a wig was going to look crazy,’ Friend said.
With Halle’s patience and participation, the hair stylist embarked on a process of experimentation that lasted from 12 to 14 hours.
She noted that the actress was a ‘trooper,’ and she eventually got comfortable enough with the process to do it in a shorter period of time.
Time consuming: The hair strands were 30 inches long and were custom dyed in three shades of red. Friend said Halle was a trooper during the initial 12 to 14 hours of applying the hair, which included false starts; still from The Little Mermaid
Adjustments: Friend straightened Halle’s hair slightly for scenes on land. She also added loose strands of hair to make it ‘dance’ underwater, as ‘locs don’t float’; still from The Little Mermaid
‘If we take hair and wrap it around her locs, we don’t have to cut them and we don’t have to color them,’ Friend explained. ‘We can change her color without changing her internal hair structure. Her structure and her hair are her.’
In order to wrap her locks with another layer of red hair, she required 30-inch strands with keratin tips that would help it bond to Halle’s own hair.
The extra hair also had to have a custom dye job to get the multi-hued red look, and Friend explained that it was ‘three shades of red’ mixed together.
But the large amount of natural hair that was need, along with the dying and the labor, meant that it was incredibly expensive for the big-budget production.
‘I’m not guesstimating, but we probably spent at least $150,000 because we had to redo it and take it out,’ Friend admitted. ‘You couldn’t use it and we’d have to start again. It was a process.’
She didn’t clarify if the hair had to be replaced periodically during the production, or if it mostly stayed in place after the first successful bonding.
However, it still required more care and trouble shooting on set. Although the majority of Halle’s underwater scenes are actually shot in front of a blue screen on a totally dry set, she did film a few scenes in a water tank, which initially made her hair look less than cinematic.
Friend noted that ‘locs don’t float,’ so Ariel wouldn’t have had the vibrant, voluminous hair she was known for in the original animated film.
To make it ‘dance’ underwater, she added in loose strands of less dense hair that helped it float about.
Extra volume: The film cheated when it came to Ariel’s iconic hair flip. The production ended up using CGI to augment the movement; seen May 15 in London
Friend even changed up the style slightly once Ariel was on land by inserting straighter hair.
Although Disney’s recent slate of remakes are often described as live action, they use a tremendous amount of computer-generated graphics, and this production was no different.
Friend revealed that Ariel’s iconic hair flip for the new version of the film — which was shot when she wasn’t on set — had to be digitally augmented.
The Little Mermaid is currently playing in theaters in wide release.