Inside Jessica Chastain & Michael Shannon’s Transformation Into ‘George & Tammy’

Jessica Chastain & Michael Shannon in 'George & Tammy'
Exclusive
Dana Hawley/Courtesy of SHOWTIME

Jessica Chastain and Michael Shannon transformed into country music legends Tammy Wynette and George Jones in Showtime‘s George & Tammy. But their acting was only one part of the job. George & Tammy‘s hair department head René Warnes was tasked with making sure the actors’ looks were authentic representations of “The President and First Lady” of country music. She spoke with TV Insider to share all the details behind the George & Tammy hair design.

The limited series spans decades, marking Warnes’ biggest hair design overall to date. Viewers have seen Warnes’s work in shows like Loki and The Hunger Games movies, which allowed much more creative freedom. George & Tammy required extensive research and old techniques to make sure the hair pieces were as realistic as possible.

“With period work, it’s almost archeological because you’ve got to really study and research and investigate,” she says. “You could be creative within that discovery, what you discover as being authentic and true to the time period, true to the character, the original historical figure. With Loki and Hunger Games, it’s more fantastical, so you really can just explore the farthest recesses of your mind. It’s a different kind of creativity where you can really dig into your own thoughts more than trying to honor something that’s already been established and existed in real life.”

Jessica Chastain in 'George & Tammy'

Brownie Harris/Courtesy of SHOWTIME

The George & Tammy journey started with research. Warnes and her team scoured through archival photos and footage of the couple, their family and friends portrayed in the series, and general period fashion to envision the overall goals of the hair design throughout the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s.

Warnes’ team was comprised of herself and three other leads, in addition to personal stylists for Chastain and Shannon with whom they collaborated to make the stars’ wigs. They also had a team of 10-12 hair stylists who handled hair for the hundreds of extras on set, all of whom wore meticulously crafted pieces as well.

Due to limited resources, they had to be economical; some pieces were restyled and reused. And in some scenes (like when Tammy cuts George’s hair early in the series), natural hair was the best tool they had. (Shannon’s personal hairstylist gave Chastain tips on how to “cut” Shannon’s hair. Warnes says they toyed with whether to actually cut a small hair extension, but they settled on Chastain simulating the cut of his natural hair.)

Throughout the show’s four decades, viewers saw bouffants, beehives, flipped bobs, bombshells, and pompadours for the early ’60s and ’70s, Jheri curls for the mid ’70s and ’80s, mullets, and teased big hair for the ’80s, and layered haircuts, feathered bangs, and round brush blow-outs for the ’90s. Authenticity being the goal, the team agreed the salon techniques used for all of these styles would be applied to the wigs. That meant hood dryers, curlers, the works.

“The Tammy Wynette wigs were wet set, just like you would’ve done if you went to a beauty salon on a Saturday once a week. They were done with setting lotion after shampoo. And Stephanie [Ingram, Chastain’s personal hairstylist who also handled hair design on The Eyes of Tammy Faye] would roll them up with classic rollers and put them under a hood dryer and style it just like you would’ve in the day. That really makes a difference, as opposed to taking a hot iron to it and trying to create the same look with modern techniques.”

Warnes is elated by how the vintage techniques translated on screen. “You could see the work in it. I think it’s just spectacular. It really shows the lengths the beauty industry would go to to get those looks. And those days were much different than now. It shows on camera. They’re just fantastic.”

Michael Shannon in 'George & Tammy'

Dana Hawley/Courtesy of SHOWTIME

Through her research, Warnes discovered that George and Tammy were always on the nose of the latest trends. She couldn’t find much influence from other artists of the time in their hairstyles, telling her the couple and their crew were always “just a little step ahead” of the fashion curve. It expanded to their wardrobes and makeup as well. “They always looked fantastic,” says Warnes. “You just can’t find a bad picture anywhere of either one of them.”

George’s obsession with high-quality clothing was shown in the series. And Tammy always turned a look. The commitment to the latest trends extended to their band members, the lamb chop sideburns on which Warnes says “pushed the trends” of the time. “They would always push it to the very most fashionable edge,” she explains. “If you look at some of the historical pictures, they really took it as far as they could go, which made it very theatrical and really fun to watch on stage.”

The band’s hair pieces are some of her favorite from the show (their more “modern” styles were hidden behind their ears and under hats to save time and money), along with a Tammy wig she had to replicate for an extra George confused for his longtime love. She mimicked Ingram’s process step-by-step to assure it was a perfect match. One of her all-time favorites from the six-episode series was George’s aging looks.

“For Michael, I loved the aging pieces when his hair got lighter and the chops were so big. It just looked so dramatic watching him and seeing him age that way from a young man with very short, cropped hair and looking really fresh and young, and then really aging.”

Jessica Chastain in 'George & Tammy'

Dana Hawley/Courtesy of SHOWTIME

“Tammy’s are really hard to pick because she had so many, all of them are gorgeous and iconic, but there are two that stand out,” Warnes continues. “There’s one where she’s sitting by the pool and she’s in yellow pants and I believe a white top. She’s sitting out there with very large sunglasses on. If you look at the research, there’s pictures of Tammy Wynette originally and then Jessica as Tammy and it’s just spot on. Her expression, the hair, the wardrobe, all of it. It’s just amazing work, and it’s a beautiful look. I loved her ’70s looks. They’re so fun there. There’s movement there, but they’re still done. The flips to the bangs and things like that when she ends up moving into her own home … Her hair there is really gorgeous.”

Warnes feels George & Tammy marks her best work to date, saying, “I’ve done some fun things with period pieces, but this intensely and going this many decades” was new.

“It’s always fun to do periods for people in this industry,” she continues. “We all love the hair and makeup, wardrobe, set — all of it is just super creative. It’s like paying homage to an earlier time, so there’s like a special connection historically. I had just finished the last final episode last weekend, and I cried happy tears. I felt in all of the 12 years I’ve been doing this, which is not long in this business, this is one that I’m most proud of.”

George & Tammy, All Episodes Streaming Now, Showtime