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‘The Americans’: Hair department spills 8 tidbits about the show’s outrageous ’80s wig

One of the best parts of watching FX’s rollicking spy drama The Americans is getting to see just what Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell wear next — on their heads, that is.

Peg Schierholz, who leads the show’s hair department, has plenty to say about the fun that goes into creating the gorgeous 1980s styles that adorn Phillip, Elizabeth, and the rest of their Russian-American spy friends. And in fact, that’s why their hair is so big: it’s full of secrets.

Read on for eight little factoids we learned from Schierholz in anticipation of Wednesday night’s episode, which might answer a few questions fans have about one character’s locks in particular.

1. The show’s first season used around 27 wigs, which Schierholz says is above average for your standard non-Game of Thrones, non-fantasy show. Rented from two wig houses in London — Campbell Young and Alex Rouse — Schierholz receives shipments of 10 or so and holds sessions with the actors for both fitting and brainstorming, “if a certain wig gives us any ideas.” By the 10th episode of season 2, production had already surpassed the first season’s wig count.

2. Schierholz’s favorite part of channeling The Americans’ ‘80s style is in the research, getting to dig into photos from the time period. For this series, the team used a stash of Time magazines from 1981, a year of Playboys, copies of Louisville Today, and a yearbook from a local high school in Virginia. The hardest part? Schierholz says, “I get distracted because I start reading the articles!”

3. Any disguises reused from season 1 have retained their name but are layered differently to create alternate characters. For instance, Matthew Rhys’ Fernando, the pilot episode’s pedophile-punching libertine, returns later in the series as the maintenance man and as Ned the Vietnam vet. “Matthew loves Fernando,” laughs Schierholz, adding that the actors have a particularly special affinity for certain looks. “He gets into that whole getup and he transforms. He talks differently, he walks differently, his eyes become a different shape, even.”

4. Not all wigs are created equal, and not every one is approved by the actors. “Keri will look at something and say ‘I love this’ or ‘This is making me really uncomfortable,’” says Schierholz. “There was one we kind of forced on her that shows up later in the season.”

5. Occasionally, there are disguises that are so good, even the production is confused. Case in point: the aforementioned “forced” wig turned Russell into a nearly unrecognizable freckled face on set, thanks to Jenny Gering’s costumes and Lori Hicks’ makeup. “It was one of my favorite days on set because we were all hanging out in the woods and the AD department started getting really heated, and you could hear over the walkies, ‘Where are Keri and Matthew!? Pull them out of that trailer!’” recalls Schierholz. “And Matthew just kind of tapped on the AD’s shoulder and said, ‘We’ve been here.’ So they have fun with that too.”

6. It’s not just the characters who get storylines — the wigs have their moment as well, and the show’s current “wig arc” with buzzy character Clark even culminates in Wednesday’s episode. “I think a lot of viewers’ questions will be answered in episode 6 tonight, as far as how does he pull this off? How does this stay on? How does he make it believable?” The final episode of the season also includes a follicular coda with Clark and Martha that “puts a little closure on it all.”

7. The production uses wigs for both disguise characters and everyday citizens (or ex-pats) of the Americans world. “It’s the 1980s, so men had hair, but poor casting agents, there are all these guys with shaved heads now,” laughs Schierholz. “You’re not supposed to know they’re wigs.” That includes Derek Luke, who played Elizabeth’s lover Gregory in season 1. “He tried to grow his hair out, but he was hired the day before! So we pulled together a little afro for him.”

8. As a hair fanatic, Schierholz was pleased to work with Keri Russell and her famous Felicity locks, though they haven’t had a direct conversation about it. However, fans were buzzing for a Felicity look for Keri, so Schierholz designed one and made Russell try it on. “We had this photo of Keri in her Felicity wig with a Mona Lisa smile and a sideways glance, almost like, you’re not really serious about putting this on me, are you?” Afterward, Rhys saw the photo and tried on the wig himself, launching an entire wall of cast, crew, executive producers, and directors all putting on the wig. Laughs Schierholz, “I’m still threatening to use it on Keri.”

The Americans airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET on FX.