Charles Yusko is the hottest hairdresser in showbiz, but you won’t find him in Hollywood. Yusko, a native Texan, works his magic with the cast of TNT’s “Dallas,” which is filmed in its namesake city and will begin its third season on Monday, February 24. Yusko recently took time from his busy schedule to answer our questions.
Let’s start with the basics. Tell us what you do.
I’m the department head. I maintain “the look.” That artistic vision is created by a team — including myself, the actors, writers, producers and directors. And depending on how elaborate the scene is, the hair department can include two or three more team members. To get ahold of my vision, I read the script and break down the scenes. I also articulate my vision to each actor. For really dramatic transformations, I convey my concepts to the director, producers and writers. To set the tone of “the look,” I closely collaborate with our wardrobe whiz, the timelessly impeccable Rachel Kunin.
Interesting. Can you give an example of how you and Rachel collaborate?
In Season 2, Rachel came to me and wanted to talk about the emerald earrings for a scene with Pamela. [She said,] “Hey, I have these fabulous earrings. Can you show them off? I’d really love her hair up.” But I don’t really like to do hair up. I like natural-looking hair. So I said, “I’ll give you those earrings shown off, but with her hair down.”
Now that I think about it, you did manage to show off Pamela’s famous emerald earrings — even though her hair was down.
That was an instance where the hair was a big deal, at least for me. We didn’t want to make it all about the earrings. But it was all about the earrings. So we gave just a hint of them, and then all of a sudden it was — bam! — the big reveal of the earrings.
A lot of fans probably don’t realize how important a character’s hair is. Hair tells us a lot about someone’s personality, doesn’t it?
I think we showed that last year with Julie [Gonzalo] and Emma [Bell]. Emma started off with the braid. That was a symbol of her innocence. And Julie’s look changes dramatically depending on if she has a side part or a middle part.
So what’s a typical day for you like?
Well, I usually start around 4:45 in the morning. When an actor comes in, they’ll come to me first because they’re going to have wet hair. And I’ll start [working on] them while another actor is in makeup. And then the department head makeup artist, Frieda Valenzuela, and I will flip flop: I’ll take the actor in her chair and she’ll take mine. And then I’ll go to the set, and then I’ll come back and do more actors. It ends up being a 65- to 70-hour week.
That includes weekends?
Yes. I spent part of last Saturday buying wigs for the show.
So for Season 3, has anyone’s look changed?
The show’s look was established by Melissa Yonkey [the department head from 2012 to 2013], who did a beautiful job. When we worked together on the first two seasons, Melissa shared her expertise. I gained as much as possible from her — like how to keep a swoop bang from falling in someone’s face. This season, I’m making some dynamic changes. To viewers, the changes might be subtle, which — for the most part — is how it should be. But the creative process has been extraordinary. However, you’ll just have to watch to see what happens.
So the actors give a lot of input?
All the time. It’s their hair. Their feedback — even if they tell me something ain’t working — is priceless. Oftentimes, we’re on the exact same page. Trust and communication are huge. They have a lot on their plate when they step out of the hair trailer. And when they do, I want them to feel like I’ve invested all of my talents into their performances.
How about Jesse Metcalfe’s new beard? Are you responsible for that?
No, that’s makeup. That’s considered the face, so that’s all makeup.
Do you have an opinion about the beard?
I love it.
Me too. I know it’s going to go away midseason. I’m already sad about it.
He looks great with it. But with the character, it was definitely the perfect time for that change to have a beard and not to have one.
Well, I know you can’t give away plot secrets, so let me ask you this: What happens when Mitch Pileggi sits in your chair?
He comes to my station and gives me a hug and then he walks back to makeup. [Laughs] But he’s so wonderful because he gives every single person in the trailer a hug, every day.
Hey, that’s not a bad deal at all.
He is the sweetest man. That’s the thing about the actors on “Dallas” — they play the most horrible, ruthless characters, but in real life, they’re the sweetest, most amazing people.
That brings me to Linda Gray. She’s such an icon; I would imagine it’s a thrill to do her hair.
Ever since my first day on “Dallas,” I would watch Linda on set. I was craving an opportunity to do her hair. And now that I’m the department head, I do Linda’s hair and she’s wonderful. On Halloween, she gave me this fake fur coat. She had done a photo shoot with fur coats and while she was doing it, she said she thought of me. So I said, “What do I do with this?” And she said, “You need to wear it for Halloween.” Well, I’m in Texas. It’s hot on Halloween. But it snowed last week and so I finally wore that thing. They kept calling me Cruella de Vil on set.
And did you get to work with Larry Hagman?
I did. I wasn’t his hairstylist but I did get to do his hair before he passed. The last scene he filmed was the one where he meets with John Ross and Bum in the courthouse restroom. I was the hairstylist for that scene.
What was that like?
Well, first of all, I’m a gay man with John Ross and a bunch of camera boys in a bathroom. So Larry made a joke. He said, “Aren’t you in heaven?” [Laughs] But working with Larry was incredible. I didn’t grow up with him — my family was Baptist, so we didn’t watch a lot of “Dallas” — but meeting him and knowing how much he did for the environment and how wonderful he was…. I mean, he didn’t have to be the person that he was. I was in awe of Larry.
Well, the way I hear it, a lot of people are in awe of you. Everyone speaks highly of you.
I’ve been on the show for three seasons, but this is the first season that I’m the department head. I was a key [a junior stylist] for a long time. And early on [on “Dallas”], they demoted me.
No, it’s fine because Jesse swooped in and said, “Nobody cuts my hair but Charles.” [Laughs] He pretty much was the reason for me keeping my job. And in the second season, they asked me to be the key and I said, “OK, this is my chance.” And I went back and I worked really hard. I feel like I proved myself.
You’ve had an interesting road to success.
I was going to school to become a teacher to work with autistic children, and it was just hard on me. So I ended up working in the opera for a while, doing theatrical makeup, and then some friends and I took a “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” trip across the United States in an RV. We did crazy, fun drag in the Grand Canyon, and that really brought out my creative side. I ended up in hair school, and then I wound up working on movies like “The Alamo.” And every time I thought about getting out of film, something pulled me back in like “Temple Grandin.”
You were nominated for an Emmy for that one.
It was a great honor. I got to go to the ceremony and everything.
And now you’re a department head on “Dallas.”
It’s been a crazy, fun journey. The network and the producers have told me, “Thank you. You’re doing a great job.” And I just freeze up. All I can say is, “I’m so happy.” Because I love what I’m doing.
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