When celebrity hairstylist Camille Friend signed on for Disney's live-action remake of The Little Mermaid, she knew that she wanted to keep the gorgeous texture of Halle Bailey’s natural locs, while remaining true to the effervescent hair that viewers have associated with Ariel for the last 30 years. No small feat.
After nixing the idea of simply designing wigs for the production, Friend was given the keys to Atlantica and complete creative control by director Rob Marshall. "I've never had any director do that for me," she says. She worked with the visual development and visual effects teams to create the style, and utilized the best hair dye and treatments to bring it to life. Sure, there's some Disney movie magic involved. But that magic is nothing without Friend's artistry.
Friend, a third-generation hairstylist, has created styles for some of Hollywood's most revered leading ladies, from Lynn Whitfield to Viola Davis, Beyoncé and Angela Bassett. She served as hair department head on Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, for which she earned an Oscar nomination for Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling. "I didn't believe it," she says. "It was joy. It was pure joy." (Her next project is Marvel's Thunderbolts, doing the hair for Julia Louis-Dreyfus' Valentina Allegra de Fontaine.)
Now, Bailey joins her illustrious list. "This girl, she's magical, she's kind, she was raised well, she's beautiful from the inside, but then she can sing, she can act, and she's angelic. She's such a beautiful spirit, so she embodies everything that Ariel is. It's already in her."
A.frame: Were there any rules or jumping-off points that you knew you needed to start with when it came to The Little Mermaid?
Camille Friend: I came into it, and I was like, 'Okay, Halle has locs.' And at first, we tried wigs. I'm not going to lie. We tried wigs. We tried a lot of different things. I'll say this: From the beginning, Rob Marshall was such an intricate part of us getting to where we needed to be. He is kind, he is patient, he understands the process. We tried this. We tried that. And I was like, 'Listen, we want to keep her natural.' I met with Halle and I met with her family and they wanted to keep her natural, but how do we marry the two? How do we keep her natural, and then give her the look that's going to be an Ariel look? We just did a lot of tests and worked through the process.
In the animated film, Ariel's hair really takes on its own character. And in this, you knew you would have to work with the visual effects team and there would be CGI involved, to some extent. What was your process for creating the look?
One thing good about doing non-Marvel movies now, I really have a great understanding of CGI and how we are married together as we work together. One doesn't work without the other. Rob Marshall did something — and I'm going to give him credit — that no other director has ever done for me. I actually knew the shots. I knew where she was going to be live action, then she was going to go into CGI, and then come into live action. It was really a first-class operation. So, I knew where we were going to stop and start. That was the first thing.
Into the hair color. In any character that I build, I always look at very simple things. What is somebody's facial shape? What is their skin color? What's their eye color? What's going to be the color palette of their clothes? All of these things play a part in what we're going to do. Ultimately, Rob was like, 'What is going to make Halle look the most beautiful?' That's how we landed on the hair color. And I was like, 'How can we change her hair color without coloring her hair?' We started working it out that way, and I said, 'Okay, if we take these colors and we mix them and we wrap her locs, that changes the color.' I took her natural hair color and we did color it slightly, so it would match. Then, when I thought about the water, the hair has to move. Locs can be very stagnant in water. How do I make that hair dance? So it's like, 'Okay, we're going to add pieces of loose hair all through it,' so when she gets in the water, you'll just see this and it would be beautiful. So that's how it came about.
The imagination and the artistry is astounding. When thinking about the color of the hair, do you have any words for people who may think Black people with locs can't be redheads?
We can have any hair we want! This is 2023. The thing that's beautiful is I am very fortunate that I get to work with the best artisans. You see this hair? It's gorgeous.
You can't get that in the shop.
No, that's custom coloring. That's people custom perming. It's all custom. I want to give a shout-out to the woman who did it. Her name is Helene, and she owns Extensions Plus in Chatsworth, California. I call her my secret weapon. I have so many artisans that are in my tribe. I'm so blessed. They can do anything that I imagine, so that's why it's endless.
Is there a moment, while working with Halle Bailey on The Little Mermaid, that really stood out for you?
You know what I like about Halle? Halle not only a great spiritual self about herself, but she has great work ethic. You have to realize she was somebody who came into this movie not totally, fully knowing that, 'Okay, you're going to have to be on wires. You're going to stunt train. You're going to sing. You're going to swim. You're going to dance. And act. And you're in every scene.' That's a lot! And she has what I call gusto. She has that thing where she was going to get it done. No matter if she was tired, if it was hard, she just kept going. That's what it takes, ultimately.
You got to dig in deep sometimes. She had days where it was hard for her, and I would be like, 'I know it's hard, but you got this because God put you here.' But you're going to have to dig deep. You got to dig deeper than you thought you could. Now, I'm watching her, I'm like, 'Go on, girl!' Because she was a young woman when we started. Now, she's a woman. She's grown into that womanhood, and it's beautiful.
"She's such a beautiful spirit, so she embodies everything that Ariel is. It's already in her."
Tell me about the first time you were able to hear her sing.
I'm going to tell you the moment that changed me as a person. We went to the famous Abbey Road in London, where the Beatles and all these megastars [recorded]. I was hyped. To walk in and be behind the glass with everybody, the controller and the orchestra starts playing, and she starts singing. I am bawling. I look at Rob Marshall, he's bawling. The producers are crying. Everybody is crying because I was like, 'This is it. This is why.'
I love that.
Then she can swim like a fish also. That's the other thing.
What was it like touching up the hair while she's coming in and out of the tank filming underwater scenes?
Usually the tanks are so high, you have to go up the scaffolding. I would just be up there sitting on my towel, waiting for her, and she would swim over, or they would pop her up because there are different rigs that she could be on and just touch her up, and then she would be back in the water. I did some of the movie, but not the full movie. I did the beginning of it, and then Tiffany Williams is a hairstylist in London, and she was very much responsible for carrying on the look for the movie. I want to be very clear about that and give her a shout-out.
Any tips for keeping locs healthy, especially in the summer, in and out of water? This is a personal question.
I do! I learned this because I grew up in Arizona and I've been a water baby ever since I was a baby. I learned how to swim when I was very, very young. So what you always want to do is before you get into the pool, you want to wet your hair before you get in the pool. Put conditioner on it. What that does is your hair doesn't just absorb all that chlorine water. If you'd like to wear a swim cap, wear a swim cap. But you want to wet the hair, actually put conditioner in the hair, get it really loaded with conditioner. When you get in the pool, you might get a little cloud, but it's better than your hair absorbing all that chlorine water. It gives it a barrier. That's my tip.
Halle Bailey has a doll that's fashioned after her Ariel, and so that hair is fashioned after the hair that you designed. What does it mean to you that that doll exists?
I don't have a doll yet! I want a doll. Actually, I just got my Madam C.J. Walker Barbie, and I absolutely love my doll. It's in my office. That means a lot to me. My grandmother went to the Madam C.J. Walker Barbie Academy, so all those little things mean a lot to me. I want the Little Mermaid doll to go right next to my Madam C.J. Walker Barbie.
You have styled some of the quintessential Black hairstyles that we see in the movies and then all emulate. What's that like, knowing that you've placed this inspiration into the world?
I come from hairdressers and I just feel like in my family, the joke is that I took the family business to the next level. I always just thank my ancestors and my family for allowing me to be here, to explore this, even to have the gift, because I think the gift is in the hands. And then to have a career like this and to be in the industry, I didn't know anybody. I don't have any family in the industry. I just worked hard. The blessing is the connections that I've made with people, and as we go along, it just continues.
This might be trying to choose your favorite child, but are there any looks for you through the years that are the most memorable, or were pivotal moments for you?
When I went to go do Glass with Sam [Jackson], that look had already been done by Robert [Stevenson], who's my mentor. And Robert gave me his blessing, because I was like picking up the torch. So those looks, definitely. Even movies like The Help. That was something. I think about all those ladies. Everybody in that movie, they went to stardom. They were on the brink and they went to stardom. Even having the opportunity to do Dreamgirls, I didn't have the resume for it, but God said, 'Get over here.' I feel like my career is created by God. I'm just the vessel and he gives me enough strength to do it all, so I just do what he wants me to do.
With Dreamgirls you've got the 'Turn the wigs around' moment too, and that's all you right there.
Oh, you know what's so funny? One of my mentees is getting ready to do a Broadway production of Dreamgirls. We were talking about it and I said, 'Okay, I'm going to tell you how to get that wig and what to do.' I love taking all my experience that I have now and be able to help other people, because I've done it or I know somebody who's done it. I love the opportunity to get to share my knowledge, my creativity, and even my business knowledge. Teaching people how to make your deal and how to make your money and how to manage your money, all of that's important, because you can make a lot of money, but you can blow it too! You want to teach people all those things. That's exciting to me now.
Shout-out the name of your mentorship organization.
We are Hair Scholars. Hairscholars.com. My greatest joy now, it's still doing movies, but it's teaching people. Me teaching classes and mentoring and doing all the things that I do, it's because I want this business to be better for people. We want to improve this business for all people. People of color, but all people, where you don't have to go through some of the things that we did. You're not going to be bullied. You're not going to have people talk to you crazy.
A lot of the things in this business have changed for the good, and I just want to be able to help people to get to where they want to in their careers. At the Oscars, there's been five of us, with one win. [Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson won the Oscar for Ma Rainey's Black Bottom in 2021, and Stacy Morris and Carla Farmer were nominated in 2022 for Coming 2 America.] I don't want it to be four. I want it to be 24, 25, 30, 40 for hair and makeup, and that we get on those types of projects that cultivate a level of excellence where you can get to the statue. That's what I want to see us do.
By Doriean Stevenson