Some actors go to impressive lengths to morph into the characters they're preparing to play on screen. We're talking the kind of transformations the average person would never attempt had it not been written into their employment contract or accompanied by a promise for potential Academy consideration: Christian Bale lost 62 pounds for The Machinist; Margot Robbie fought special-effects smallpox for Mary, Queen of Scots; and Claire Foy got herself a jet-black bowl-cut to become Lisbeth Salander in The Girl in the Spider's Web.
Fortunately, Thompson was not required to lose half her body weight to evolve into the Oakland-based performance artist, but she did have to do something she'd never done before: bleach her hair. Any natural brunette who's gone to the light side will know that this is no easy feat, so we asked Antoinette Yoka, the head of the film's hair department, exactly how she made this character transformation look so good.
A film script often comes along with visual descriptions that lend to what the characters should look like on screen. But for Thompson’s Detroit, this wasn’t entirely the case — specifically when it came to her prismatic, dip-dyed hair color. “That was totally decided through discussions between Tessa, Boots [Riley, the director], and myself,” Yoka exclusively tells Refinery29. "But her character is very unique in the script, like her mannerisms, her dialogue, and the difference between her and Lakeith [Stanfield]'s character."
Because Thompson was still out in Los Angeles before arriving in the Bay Area to shoot, most of the brainstorming had to go down over the phone, via text, or by email. That made for countless creative conversations between the actress and Yoka. “She would come up with an idea and we’d share some photos and Pinterest boards until we could narrow it down,” Yoka says. “She really liked something along the lines of unicorn colors.”
The thing about "unicorn hair" is that, while it may look great captured in photos, the colors aren't the easiest to maintain for the sake of consistency in a film. Ultimately, the two decided that a few randomly dyed pieces would be easier to preserve than a full head of color. So Yoka sent Thompson to the Andy LeCompte Salon in L.A., where they ended up double-processing her hair, bleaching it to the point of it almost going gray, then adding in the pastel pieces (mostly orange, pink, and purple).
Yoka tells us it wasn't only Pinterest that kept her and Thompson inspired: Riley's direction had a lot to do with it, too. Since Sorry to Bother You is loosely based on the director's real-life experiences, Detroit's final look was critical to the film. "Detroit is a person in [Riley's] world, who I don't think is quite as colorful as [the character] is, but I think a lot of her elements came from this real person that I don't know," Yoka explains. "It was clear that [Detroit] was Boots' favorite look." And keeping Thompson's natural curl was a conscious decision for both Riley and Yoka, although her day-to-day style was reliant on Thompson's intuition: "When we sat down on our test date, we didn't do any different styles, we just did the curly look that day. I said [to Tessa] that I had a feeling she would just have an idea about what she thought Detroit would want to look like every day. And that was kind of what we did."
Although Thompson quickly returned to her brunette curls after the film wrapped, it’s safe to say that Detroit’s dip-dyed hair color is poised to reignite one summer trend we thought had gone the way of the unicorn.