Paul Gooch Works Hair Magic in Disney's Alice In Wonderland

Paul Gooch—one of the most gifted hairdressers working in films today was Director Tim Burton's go-to guy for creating the fantasy hair creations in Disney's remake of Alice In Wonderland. Here, he reveals all that was involved in getting the hair just right so the trip down the rabbit hole is indeed memorable.

Johnny Deppy as The Mad Hatter

Q: Did you look to the original book for inspiration in creating the hair and makeup or did you want to create something entirely fresh and unique?

A: Because Tim Burton has his own particular style, I did not refer to the book illustrations but went for a completely new interpretation with the hair. Inventing a style is a collaborative process. Tim provided some sketches for some of the characters and they evolve from there after input from myself and the actor who's wearing the style. For instance, for the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter), I arrived at the red heart design by experimenting with shapes and sizes and colors until Tim was happy. It needed to be comfortable for Helena to wear throughout the long shoot day so its bulk was created using a plastic mesh, similar to the material used for pan scrubbers, which is bulky but light. Her crown was mounted on two-inch legs so that it would rise above the huge hairstyle. If it had been attached directly to her head it would have disappeared into the hairstyle. A bald cap was used to achieve the Red Queen's high forehead and accentuate the heart-shaped hair line. The White Queen needed to be the polar opposite of the Red Queen so Tim wanted her to have white hair. Since Anne Hathaway has dark brown hair I first applied a bald cap skin to simulate her scalp before placing the wig on top on it. We also experimented with a more rock and roll style for her but Tim preferred the more ‘pure’ look she has for the film. For Lord Steyne (Crispin Glover), I tested the same red hair as the Red Queen sports, but opted for black hair because it made him look more menacing and gave him more gravitas. Alice, played by Mia Wasikowska, was originally going to wear a wig since her own hair is mid-brown and bone straight. But as we got closer to the start of filming, she requested that we try to use her own hair. She graciously underwent endless haircoloring and tonging sessions to achieve the exact style that Tim wanted. For her look in the dragon fighting sequence at the end of the film, I added wefts to her hair to create a "heroic" look. Because of their sheer numbers— perhaps the biggest hair challenge came from the courtiers for both the Red and White Queens' Courts. We had 120 characters to create—each with a unique hairstyle and facial prosthetics. The Red Queen’s courtiers had to have dark hair and large, odd-shaped hairstyles. The Red Queen’s oversized head is a big part of the story.  To make her feel more normal, her courtiers, in an attempt to ingratiate themselves, wear huge hairstyles and big false noses, ears, chins, etc. For the White Queen Court, we went for  a far more ethereal look. Tim wanted these people to all have white hair. Trying to source this number of white wigs was no easy task but I managed to track down a theatre designer in West London who had a garage full of them. Turns out, it was old stock from the Beauty and the Beast theatre show. I loosely based these hair shapes on the 17th century and restoration period, incorporating a twist of fantasy.

Q:Many wigs were used in the film. Did you create them yourself or collaborate with someone on their creation?

A: The wigs were made by London's Alex Rouse Wig Company  and the Peter Owen Wig Company in Bristol. Their work involves knotting every single real hair into a lace cap made to fit exactly to the actor’s head. This is an incredibly skilled and painstaking process. Once the wigs are made, I create the shapes and styles in exactly the same way I would with person's own hair. Pieces can be added to increase the size and intricacy of the style.

Q: Can you tell us about Johnny Depp's hair in the film?

A: The orange hair is an allusion to the mercury poisoning suffered by many hatters. The mercury used in making hats is highly poisonous and could turn the hatters' hair red and make them mentally unstable. Hence,  The Mad Hatter. Johnny actually came up with the image for the Hatter himself. His wigs were made by Bob Kretchmer and Peter Owen and his makeup was done by Patty York and Joel Harlow

Q: Hair- and makeup-wise, what were your favorite characters to create looks for in the film?

A: I couldn’t single out any one character as a favorite but I enjoyed the extreme fantasy aspect of all the hair work on the film. It’s not often one gets to combine historical period with outrageous fantasy. I have worked with Annie, Johnny, Tim and Helena before so it was a comfortable environment from which to start the creative process.

Q: What was involved in coming up with the hair designs and makeup?

A: As a hair and makeup artist, the starting point for any period film is historical research. We are so fortunate in London to have a wealth of resources  that includes libraries, art galleries and museums. I spend days gathering reference and collating it. Once I have all this visual information, I draw my own sketches. For Alice in Wonderland, I first adapted the shapes on paper; then created the styles on stock wigs using any materials I could lay my hands on. It’s messy work and good to have a dedicated room where one can just close the door between sessions.

Q: Can you tell us what a typical day on the set was like for you?

A: All filming days are long—usually a minimum of 14 to 16 hours. The first makeup/hair call is around 6 AM. My work takes around two hours to complete first thing  in the morning and, after the cast has been dressed, we all go to set. Throughout the filming day, I maintain the work I've created and implement any changes between scenes and story days. Sometimes we stop for lunch, but often we eat as we work. After the day's shooting is complete we de-rig the cast; then set about redressing their wigs. The industry is best suited to workaholics and insomniacs. More than six hours sleep between shifts is unusual.

Q; What was the most challenging part of your job?

A: Mia’s hair. It was perfectly straight so to achieve the look that Tim wanted, which was  blonde textured waves,  I had to tong it between every shot and have several sessions of coloring to lighten it.

Q: What was your favorite scene in the film when it comes to the hair and makeup?

A: The Red Queen Court Scenes. This is when all of our hard work on the hair will be on display.

Q: How many other people worked with you on the hair and makeup team?

A: In the U.K.,  I had a team of six people for the main cast and a separate team of 35 makeup and hair artists covering the supporting artists In Los Angeles, my right hand man was Terry Baliel. He was so supportive and brilliant. I couldn’t have done the film without him. Between us, we covered all the main cast and brought in additional help for the bigger crowd days. We reached a total of 25 people on our busiest days.

Q: How did you break into creating hair and makeup for movies?

A: I started my career in BBC Television, which used to run a wonderful training school, followed by two-year apprenticeships. I worked there for 12 years before going freelance in 1995. I assisted several established hair and makeup chiefs over the course of the next ten years,  learning from them and gaining experience. I have worked on several Tim Burton films, which is why he asked me to do Alice in Wonderland.

Q: You've earned quite a reputation for creating highly creative hair and makeup. Did that evolve naturally or is it something you pursued?

A: I have never been ambitious. Any reputation I may have has been achieved simply by working steadily for many years and loving the industry I am very lucky to be part of it.

Q: When movie-goers see Alice In Wonderland, what's the one thing you want them to remember about the hair and makeup in the film?

A: I would like people to totally escape into this film. I hope it will inspire and entertain them, that they'll remember the film as a whole, cohesive piece and that my work will compliment all the other aspects of the film.

Q: Can you name one or two products/tools that you couldn't live without while working on the set?

A: I can’t answer this question with only two items! My Mason Pearson Hair Brush—it's just the best brush ever. A plastic spiked tail comb—it's indispensable! Elnette hairspray because it brushes out if you need to adjust a style; Ice spray, which holds hair even in a hurricane; Techni Pli setting lotion because it dries quickly and holds all day; Marcel irons and a heater.