Neal created 100 wigs for the film, including two for actress Viola Davis, who plays Ma Rainey, the “Mother of the Blues.” The hairstylist, who studied at Juilliard, worked on the Broadway productions of JuliusCaesar, A Raisin in the Sun and The Iceman Cometh and designed Oprah Winfrey’s wigs for The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.
In keeping with the real-life Ma Rainey’s preferred hairpieces, Neal told Vogue she handmade one of the wigs with horsehair imported from England. She said the horsehair arrived covered in manure and lice eggs, and that she had to oil, sanitize and boil it in order to make the custom wigs soft and lightweight.
‘Ma Rainey’ Hairstylist Talks Horsehair Wigs, Historic Oscar Nomination
The wigs were then fashioned by Wilson, Davis’ personal hairstylist since 2008. “She wanted someone who could style her hair and handle it,” Wilson told NPR. “African Americans are familiar with both types of hair, y’know? We just don’t do one texture of hair. We can do it all. And by actors now speaking up and saying that they want someone who can handle their hair, they have to bring an African American hairstylist because there are not very many Caucasian hairstylists that feel comfortable doing African American hair.”
Wilson was the hair department lead for How to Get Away with Murder, the TV series costarring Davis. Since the same show, Lopez-Rivera has been Davis’s makeup artist. For the character Ma Rainey, he fitted her with her gold teeth, and gave her face a sweaty greasepaint look, with smeared-on eyeshadow and cheek rouge.