Katie Ballard, the hair department head of A Friend of the Family, Peacock's new drama series starring Jake Lacy, Anna Paquin, and Colin Hanks, recently spoke with ProductionHUB on her process including how she transformed actors into identifiable characters that resembled the real-life people the story was based on, including making Colin Hanks' transformation into Bob Broberg, who is partially bald by shaving the top of his head consistently throughout the eight months of filming.
PH: Hi Katie! Can you share a bit about your professional background, as well as some of the projects you've worked on?
Katie Ballard: Hi there! Where to start…I’ve been dressing hair my entire life. I knew what I wanted to do from the age of four, and I have consistently sought out the best path toward success in the art of hairdressing. After beauty school, I completed five years of advanced training under the Sassoon curriculum. I also trained with a hair and makeup designer named James Ryder. He’s the one that set me on the right path toward becoming a strong department head while I also pursued a rich education in hairdressing. From there, I split my time between film and fashion before most heavily leaning into the film industry. I’ve worked on a wide range of projects, including Creepshow (AMC/Shudder), Do Revenge (Netflix), Candy (Hulu), and A Friend of the Family (Peacock). My strongest professional experience includes elevated fashion, period-specific hairdressing, monster and creature FX, and wigs of all kinds.
PH: How did you become involved with your latest project, A Friend of the Family?
Katie Ballard: In 2021, I was hired to work on a mini-series called Candy for Hulu. During that time, two of our Executive Producers, Nick Antosca and Alex Hedlund, were also developing another series set in the same time period. This, of course, was A Friend of the Family. I had such a good experience on Candy and such a strong passion for the content as well as the looks that we were developing that when I found out that they had another series in the works, I couldn’t wait to ask them if we could keep a good thing going, and to my elation, they said yes!
PH: You had the task of transforming the actors into identifiable characters that resembled the real-life people the story was based on. How did you do that? Were there any challenges you encountered?
Katie Ballard: The character design for this series was very much a strong collaboration between our showrunner (Nick Antosca), our producers, the actors, and myself. We were very blessed to have Jan Broberg as one of our executive producers, and she worked very closely with all of us to assist in accurately portraying the actual events that take place in this series. From there, the conversation always goes to the actor and what they’re comfortable with. We never want to be rigid in the character design that we distract from the story, but it does feel important to utilize our skill sets to present the strongest product possible. In the end, I think that we found a balance that allowed us to tell the story in the strongest way possible, which is always the ultimate goal.
PH: I'd love to learn more about how you created Colin Hanks' transformation into Bob Broberg, who is partially bald by shaving the top of his head consistently throughout the eight months of filming. How did you make the bald skin look realistic?
Katie Ballard: That is the million-dollar question! It was a strong collaboration between myself and our very talented makeup department. When we established Colin’s look, I did everything that I could to get his shave as close as possible, but Colin’s natural hair is very dark, so a hint of a shadow remained.
Our makeup department head, Karri Ferris, and key makeup artist, Shorty Arble, collaborated to develop a system for covering the shadow from his natural hairline in a way that the lace pieces could be applied over the top of it. From there, we utilized a combination of mattifiers and dry oil spray to ensure he had just a hint of natural shine in all the right places. We were also able to play up those details during the scripted summer months for times when he was meant to look more oily.
PH: How did you use and create custom handmade extensions for the main characters, and how were they used as shooting jumps between periods?
Katie Ballard: We have an incredibly talented wig maker in Atlanta named Gretchen Evans, who makes an exceptional set of custom, hand-tied extensions. By utilizing this method, I can hand-select the hair used and create something that is hyper-realistic and catered to our needs. We used virgin, untreated hair and tied them to be very fine so they could easily blend into the shorter hairstyles that Jan and B wear early in the season. We used them to show B and Jan’s hair getting shaggy during their time living nomadically in Mexico and also to add a bit of a sun-kissed, natural highlight to their hair.
Beyond that, we had six stages of aging for Jan, so various sets of extensions were used to show Young Jan’s (Hendrix Yancey’s) hair progressively getting longer, leading up to our longer, lightly feathered hairstyle for the transition into Older Jan, played by McKenna Grace. We also used a set to age older Jan during the prom scenes, where we enhanced her feathering. All of Jan’s looks throughout the series were matched to styles that she actually wore during that time.
PH: What was it like working closely with Jan Broberg to determine what hair looks were most accurate? How did she help advise you on what styles would give a reminiscent look for the main characters?
Katie Ballard: It was an incredible opportunity to collaborate with Jan on this series. She provided endless resources like family photos, keepsakes, clothes, etc. From the resources she provided, I was able to accurately track the hairstyles that her family wore throughout the time and discuss how they played into the story. It was such an honor to recreate her father’s look, to show her parent's age throughout the experience, and to ultimately see her and Colin face to face in a scene together, as well as to watch her interact with her younger self. Beyond the look, Jan was able to communicate what the feeling behind the aesthetic was every step of the way. To me, it was the richest form of filmmaking and brought a new level of depth to the experience.
PH: Can you briefly describe your experiences working on projects such as Do Revenge, Candy, and Creepshow, as well as how they differed and presented different creative opportunities for you?
Katie Ballard: Creepshow was by far one of my most challenging productions, and I can comfortably say that no challenge is too large for my team and myself. I’ve always worked very closely with FX artists, but on Creepshow, we shot a new episode every 8-10 days, with two stories per episode and a new cast for each one. We were churning out fully developed characters, creatures, and monsters with dynamic transitions, at the drop of a dime, and we often had 2-3 different units filming simultaneously, all with the Greg Nicotero stamp of approval.
I call Candy my unicorn. I’m still not entirely convinced that it wasn’t a dream. I was so in love with every single wig and hairstyle that we designed. The scripts were some of the best scripts that I’ve ever read; our showrunner (Robin Veith), producers, directors, and cast were the most talented and creative human beings that I’ve ever met, and more often than not…we managed to stay on schedule to the point that we were able to go home each day feeling great.
Do Revenge is the gift that keeps on giving. Having the opportunity to create characters and looks that our audience is so excited to adopt and incorporate into their own look is the highest form of flattery for a hairdresser. It was visually stunning and vengeful in all of the best ways.
PH: Can you share any upcoming projects you have in the works?
Katie Ballard: I had a few fun wig challenges after we wrapped A Friend of the Family. I had the opportunity to give Colin Hanks his hair back in the form of a custom lace topper made by yours truly. He went right on to another project in which he needed to look like his old self again, so I was able to make a piece for him that matched his real hair. After he finished filming that, he was finally able to shave his head. (It was the most anticipated haircut of the year!) I also had the opportunity to do some wig work with my dear friend, Justin Timberlake, for Reptile. And I’m currently in prep for a new film for Disney+ that starts filming at the end of January. Stay tuned!