The Good Lord Bird is one of the standouts of the current Emmy season. Based on the book by James McBride, and with an all-star cast of talents, the series dives into Antebellum America through the journey of abolitionist John Brown (Ethan Hawke). The looks of the series are impeccable, and unlike a lot of Civil War era pieces, the costume design, makeup, and hair of The Good Lord Bird are infused with humor.
Belinda Anderson was responsible for the hair looks of The Good Lord Bird. With a resume that spans all genres and time periods, Anderson is striving to build her way up. Keeping an open mind, she’s declared that working on projects such as The Good Lord Bird has helped her to build momentum and connect with her roots. So far, she’s worked on major projects such as Wu Tang: An American Saga, Harriet, the Luke Cage series, and Precious.
Awards Watch was able to speak with Anderson on her experience working during The Good Lord Bird, her creative process, and her hopes for the future.
Adriana Gomez-Weston: What was one of your favorite aspects of working on The Good Lord Bird?
Belinda Anderson: Oh, the whole project. The time period was great, the story was wonderful, great story, and all people that have worked were just amazing, especially Josh (Joshua Caleb Johnson), Josh is amazing.
AGW: What was it like for you working with a lot of historical figures? You have John Brown and then you have characters like Frederick Douglas, so how did you approach the work on their makeup and hair looks, and did you do a lot of research prior to creating the looks for the show?
BA: Yes, I did a lot of homework studying the time period, the 1800s, I just looked up a lot of pictures.
AGW: For Daveed Diggs as Frederick Douglass, how did you work with his character? I like the way he portrayed Douglas, he’s larger than life on screen. I was able to talk to the costume designer Amy Andrews as well, and I enjoyed hearing her story and how all those looks came together.
BA: Yes, he was wonderful, his hair was not that complicated. He actually had wonderful hair anyway, so we had to blow it out to make it bigger. And then we actually added the gray hair in and we sculpted it into the look of Frederick Douglass. We added texture, products and things of that nature, but it was fun, he’s amazing. He’s an amazing actor too, and his role was amazing.
We just had to blow him out and keep him tamed at the same time because his hair could get really big, so we had people controlling it. We always had to add those pieces in, blending it proper, and did a little bit of color at the root, you know a little process to just maintain it, but he had wonderful hair. But we did have to change the texture a little bit because its natural texture is a little bit curlier and tighter. It’s not the same texture of the Fredrick Douglas we were trying to portray.
AGW: Going off of that, were there any like particular challenges?
BA: Heat was a challenge, but prior to that we kept everybody dirty and dusty. That particular time period, water and traveling was a little different. So, it was about keeping them dusty, keeping them soiled looking, keeping the hair not so clean. Even though it was cleaned everyday, we had to give it a particular look. It’s a particular type of dirt, it’s a dirt that we use for hair and makeup, professional dirt just for the hair and for the face.
AGW: I see you also worked on Harriet, which came out fairly recently, and also you did another portrayal of Harriet Tubman in this series. So, what was that like, you’re working in a similar time period, did that help you out?
BA: Oh, it was great. It made it easier because I was already prepared for what she should look like. So it was much easier to do the other Harriet Tubman, was much easier, plus she had her hair wrapped a little different because Harriet went through different phases. The other Harriet that I did from the time she was little, all the way to the time she became the Harriet Tubman, and this Harriet was Harriet already. So, it made it pretty easy for me to achieve the goal and both Harriets were great, I enjoyed doing both of them. And the look of this Harriet, she had a great distinctive look, she looked great.
AGW: Oh yeah, very distinct. Were there any specific things you learned about the time period of the 1800s when you’re working with that kind of hair and makeup?
BA: Yeah, everything is more natural, and there is a technique for sure, there’s a particular way that you would put hats on. For black people, we had a different type of look, we wrapped our hair a lot to keep it from dust and dirt because we did a lot of service work. There was slavery so a lot of wrappings were done, and they did a lot of braiding, they still had a lot of style and dignity about themselves. Even through a lot of hardship, they still kept themselves as best they could, and I learned a lot of things about my own people while working on this film, a lot more detail. And I came back from Africa two days ago. I go to Africa a lot now too, so it helps me even more to understand doing these types of films. It’s even more mind-blowing and more understanding, I’m learning backwards actually. To play something and to feel it, and then going to Africa where we actually see the people with their wraps and different cultures and you see what it means, the more details of what really happened, it really starts to sink in and it affects me more than ever.
AGW: It’s always interesting to see the beauty interpretations, and how things evolved.
BA: Yeah, it really is, it’s so true. I’m just learning backwards and I’m happy that I’m able to do the art. The art comes naturally, but to learn the art and have meaning behind it at the same time, it’s a wonderful thing. Because you see it on TV, I never actually touched it until I started going backwards, like going places, going there to see people and then coming back and then doing it. And then putting the art into the work, it’s a whole different experience for me, so I really appreciate it, and I have respected it so much more which helps tell the story.
AGW: What’s next for you? What are you hoping to work on next that you can talk about?
BA: I have a few things. I don’t talk about anything until I have a job, but I have a few things popping up. I don’t really care about budgets and things like that, it’s always about what touches my heart, especially as I get older. So I’m glad I can say I do jobs that I want to do, that I like to do, that I think are good for me. And so, I have a few things popping right now and we’ll see where it goes from there. I like to keep it versatile; I like to play worldly. I don’t like to do the same things all the time, that’s why I started doing this type of filmmaking, doing different periods now because I like doing the 80s and 90s. I’m kind of universal, but I love to take challenges that I’ve never done before.
AGW: I see some of your work such as Wu-Tang, Harriet, and I see you’re working on Lincoln Road.
BA: Yes, I’ve done a lot of TV series, but I’ve done white, black, and then a little bit of everything. I like to keep it a little mixed, I don’t want to get stereotyped a little bit, but 80s and 90s, is my thing really, but I’m starting to get into this, I love this period too as well. So, you master it and then keep moving, I haven’t mastered it yet, but I want to master it.
AGW: Working on a project like The Good Lord Bird, has it helped you bring better skills, even if it’s a more modern project?
BA: Oh, it’s just helped my whole life in a different aspect of just viewing things, looking at things and just the whole time change, where we are now and where we’re going. Even in Storytelling, I met James McBride, who wrote the book, it’s just been wonderful, so it has changed my life.
The Good Lord Bird is currently available to stream on Showtime. Belinda Anderson is Emmy eligible for Outstanding Period And/Or Character Hairstyling for the episode “Mister Fred.”