Rick Findlater

Hairstylist Rick Findlater may yet not be a household name in the U.S., but his moniker will be announced loudly on TV screens throughout the world on Sunday night during the Oscars as the nominations for the Academy Award for Makeup and Hairstyling are read on stage. The Australian-based stylist is nominated for his work on The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, and his client Naomi Watts is being honored for The Impossible, for which he styled the actress’s wigs. While this may be his first Oscar recognition, Findlater is no stranger to seeing his work on the big screen. He’s worked on everything from The Lord of the Rings films and Avatar to King Kong and the upcoming Zulu, starring Orlando Bloom. We caught up with the talented—and hilarious—stylist to chat about his work and his inspirations.

How did you feel when you learned you’d been nominated for an Oscar?

I had been up all night waiting for the results to be posted online. Finally they were online at 1am my time, and I had to ask my dog if I was looking at the correct page! Luckily my agent then called and confirmed I had been nominated. I went to bed with a huge smile on my face.

What are some other movies from the past that you think had Oscar-worthy hair?
To date, I still think the best hair film of all time is Dangerous Liaisons. I did, however, like the work we did on I’m Not There, the 2007 film about Bob Dylan [that had several different actors and actresses portraying the rock legend].

How did you get your start in the hair industry?

I started life as an apprentice chef as a knee jerk reaction to get out of school. As much as I love cooking, it was not for me, and I moved into beauty. I started with studying makeup and then picked hair up after that. I love working with hair. These days, I often get asked to do films when the actors want to wear wigs, which is a whole new ball game.

How did you decide to focus on both hair and makeup? Do you prefer one over the other?

I like the combination of both, especially if you are doing period films.

How did you get your start doing hair for movies? What was the first movie you worked on?

I moved to Vancouver from Australia and started with commercials and small days here and there on different things. Then I moved back to Australia and started making up news reporters, which lead to TV series, then Movies of the Week and then finally feature films. My first major film was The Lord of the Rings.

Tell us about the hair you did for The Hobbit. Which were your favorite characters to work on? Any particular challenges?

Of course my favorite character is Gandalf, who I was personally responsible for. The biggest challenge for me/us was with the dwarves, as their hair was actually yak hair, which is incredibly coarse and, as you can imagine, naturally sheds water—and anything else for that matter. When cutting it, you literally have to cut it like a "hedge"…forget layers and edges and corners. Along with this, we were using up 22 whole containers of product per wig almost on a daily basis, depending what was required. The wizards and elves all wear European human hair wigs, which were easier.

You’ve done a lot of fantasy/sci-fi movies that must give you a lot of creative freedom. What’s your process for coming up with these styles?

The director usually gives you a brief on what he likes, and by the time I am hired, the art department has a basic idea of what the sets look like, so I use these as starting points. I often try and push the boundaries too far, so the director brings me back a bit…but just a bit. It seems to work and, on occasion, it works really well.

You’ve worked in several different genres—do you have a favorite?

I like any genre. It seems I was stuck in the ‘20s and ‘30s for a few years, so I can fingerwave with my eyes closed…and possibly in my sleep.

How do you prepare for each film?

Because I very rarely work in Australia, the first thing I do when I get hired for a film is work out who wants to house sit while I’m away! After that, I read the script at least three times and make notes on it. Then I start my research if it’s a period film and see what I could change or modify to put my own stamp on it. If it has no historical relevance then I start with the process mentioned above.

You’ve worked on both TV and movie sets – how do they differ?

TV moves faster. If you have any hair changes, you need to make sure you can do them in 20 minutes, and you may have to go back to the original style, so you have to be very mindful on how much and what type of product you are using. Some days the style may have to last 14 hours.

For film, you know your work will be about 4 meters by 5 meters [approximately 14 feet by 16 feet for those in the US] by the time it hits the big screen…if that fact is not enough to keep you focused and on the ball, then you shouldn't be working in film.

What inspires you creatively?

Shapes, forms and color…nature and originality of any sort

You’ve worked with the beautiful and talented Naomi Watts a lot on camera. What is your favorite way to style her hair?

When I work with Naomi, I do something that, if I have done it properly, you can’t tell what I have done…cryptic, I know. I love when her hair is above her jawline, and I loved some of the styles I had her in on King Kong. I liked The Painted Veil merely for the fact that we had moved her away from blonde…and the film was awesome. Working with Naomi is a total privilege.

Any on-set tips/secrets you can share with aspiring stylists?

Do it like it is, not as what you think it is. Build your product up during the course of the day and not all at once in the chair in the morning. Be prepared. Take it seriously, but above all, have a good time.

Can you tell us about any future projects?

I have a film I can’t mention at the moment, but it is a film about a famous documentarian and his life. I’m looking forward to it, as it involved wigs, beards and aging...
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