The 'Menendez Murders' wigs were more high maintenance than its stars

When you take on a real-life crime story, nailing the look of the characters is crucial. And when that case is the Menendez brothers murder case, getting the hair right is an essential part of bringing the crime of the ’80s to life.

Is it a wig or just good hair? Getting the actors’ hair to look just like the real Menendez brothers took major work. (Photo: Justin Lubin/NBC)

Law & Order debuted its True Crime series last week with The Menendez Murders. Since the Sept. 26 premiere, there is one thing that everyone is talking about: Edie Falco’s hair. The Emmy award-winning star, who plays lead defense attorney Leslie Abramson on the show, proudly rocks a tight curly-haired blond wig. And she recently spoke out about how she is loving it just as much as the rest of us. “That’s exactly what I wanted,” Falco told Seth Meyers, playfully referring to her Law & Order locks as her ’90s dream hair. “I wish I’d seen this picture when it was the ’90s because I would have been so frickin’ happy. I tried, all the perms I got, and how badly they came out.”

Transforming Falco’s locks into Abramson’s, however, was no easy feat. To get the hair of the show’s actors courtroom-ready, hair department head Anthony Veader and his team worked tirelessly around the clock.

“We have well over 100 cast members, and they all require hair,” Veader tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “They are playing somebody, and we want them to look like the people they are playing.” For the jurors and background actors, much of that process involves the team styling the cast members’ locks, but the main players, like Falco (Leslie Abramson), Heather Graham (Judalon Smyth), and Julianne Nicholson (Jill Lansing), all rely on wigs to transform themselves into the real-life personas that they are striving to bring to life on the small screen.

No hair? No problem. Anthony Edwards’s natural bald scalp and hair made this look believable. (Photo: Justin Lubin/NBC)

Contrary to popular belief, the process is not as simple as ordering a stock wig and slipping it on and off of an actor’s head in between “action” and “cut.” A month before production, Veader and his team began brainstorming on the types of wigs that they’d need for the principal cast members on set, with the exception of Anthony Edwards, who plays Judge Stanley. “That’s his hair,” says Veader. “He is very easy. We just put a little product so the sides stick out, and then he’s out the door.”

Then it was onto measuring each of the stars’s heads so that they know exactly what size wig to order, a process that Veader says involves tying down the hair and placing Saran Wrap on top of the actors’ heads. “You use a tape measure and a Sharpie to draw on the plastic wrap where the hairline is and you are good to go,” he explains. The custom wigs were then ordered, and some of the higher-end ones, like those for Falco and Lolita Davidovich (Kitty Menendez), were personally designed by renowned wigmaker Victoria Wood.

“It’s very tedious,” says Veader, of the work that goes into crafting a handmade wig. “Strand-by-strand go into these wigs, and they are knotting them on a piece of lace that have all these little perforated holes.” He adds that the wigs are made of human hair “typically from Russia or Italy” where women sell their virgin hair to local wigmakers for money.

After the wig comes in, the hair team does a final fitting with the actor to make sure that the sizing is right and that the hair is falling in the right direction. Then it’s time for final adjustments; Veader and his team will cut, style, and comb the wig into the precise look that they are going for.

Edie Falco’s perm is definitely its own character. (Photo: Justin Lubin/NBC)

The most complex wig situation and the one that had to be the most spot on for the show was Falco’s. Veader tells Yahoo Lifestyle that the star actually wore two wigs throughout the series, as her character was portrayed from 1989 to 1996. “In ’95, we switched to a wig that is slightly a different style just because in the research, you notice that Leslie Abramson makes an attempt on the second trial to do something with her hair,” he explains, “not much but something! I don’t know if you’ve seen pictures of the real Leslie. It was kind of frizzy mess. She was a wash-and-wear kind of girl, I think, or didn’t know how to really tame her curls,” he jokes. Veader adds that he did his best to capture the true essence of Falco’s character’s hair while simultaneously keeping her locks somewhat respectable. “We have our little moments where the wig looks a little disheveled, but for the most part we’re not really matching to anything ugly. The silhouette is there, but I can’t do that to Edie. We have history together,” he says, with a laugh.

Veader also revealed that the bigger ticket wigs, like Falco’s, also require the most preparation and storage efforts. “They have to be blocked every night, put back on the wig block that has been built out that is exactly the shape of their head,” he says. “They get pinned on there. You have this cotton tape, grosgrain, that is blocked around the hairline. Since the wigs are being constantly shampooed or styled, you have to make sure you’re not stretching out the lace. It has to constantly fit them perfectly, like a glove,” he adds.

And yes, the wigs are shampooed, on a weekly basis. “They have to get shampooed, reset, re-blow-dried, and handled with care,” says Veader, especially Falco’s artificial hair. “Edie’s wigs have to be set first with small rollers and sit under a dryer and then combed out, and then I use the iron on it,” says Veader, who then smooths out some of the curls so they don’t look too uniform. “I’m trying to get it to look as natural as possible and not like it’s a curling iron,” he explains.

The right curling iron technique helped to perfect Aunt Marta’s look. (Photo: Justin Lubin/NBC)

Constance Marie, who plays the boys’ Aunt Marta, also wears multiple wigs on the show. “I have her in a fall half wig in the beginning for the ’80s shoulder length, and for the ’90s I’m using just her hair, which is longer,” says Veader. “It’s a bit straighter; it’s not as big as the ’80s. So you can see there is a passage of time that has happened.”

Miles Gaston Villanueva actually had his own hair cut to portray Lyle Menendez. (Photo: Justin Lubin/NBC)

Recreating Lyle Menendez’s hair was also a lot of pressure, especially since he wore a toupee in real life. The challenge with that, says Veader, was recreating the look on actor Miles Gaston Villanueva without making it appear too phony. He wanted the big hairpiece reveal to be kept as a surprise until it was time to reveal it to the audience. “With Lyle, I kind of cut his hair so that it looks like he’s wearing a hairpiece almost. It was the way the real Lyle had his, bangs and the top would be a little spiky or kind of brushed over directional, maybe like he had somewhat of a part but there wasn’t a definite parting on the side of his head,” says Veader. “We always made sure that you didn’t see his hairline so he always had bangs.”

Hair dye and a lot of cutting went into making Heather Graham’s wig. (Photo: Justin Lubin/NBC)

And there were some tricks to pulling off Graham’s Judalon bob as well. Veader reveals that getting her hair to come to life was an example of his “I don’t take no for an answer” attitude. “Judalon’s wig was one of my wigs that I had,” he says. “It was long, probably down to the middle of your back one-length hair.” And getting the color just right was tricky. “We tried a lot of brunette wigs on Heather but they were a little too dark for her skin tone and didn’t look great on her. It looked like she had a wig on,” he says. “So what I ended up doing was taking a dark brown wig and dying it with a light brown and then I kind of spliced some darker brown chunks into it. And we cut it and we cut it some more and some more. That’s how we came up to the bob that she has now.” He also gave Graham’s wig bangs, slightly teased it, and made it a bit asymmetrical on one side.

Not all of the wigs were custom created. Some of the men’s hairpieces, for example, were picked up from local beauty supply stores like Frends and Nigel Beauty Emporium. But even these stock wigs required Veader and his team to tailor them to fit each actor’s head. He cites Josh Charles (Jerome Oziel) and Gerald Chaleff (Jose Menendez) as examples. “Their wigs are lace wigs but they are not custom made for them. Those are a little trickier because you have to have them fit these people’s heads so you either use a little of their hair on the sides or you take the sides of the wig off and just use the side of their hair,” he says. “And they also have to be blocked and prepped for the next day if they are working.”

A lace wig brought Jerome Oziel’s character to life. (Photo: Justin Lubin/NBC)

The men’s wigs required less curling and heat treatment, however they still had their share of primping involved. “A lot of times, with the men, especially when they are not custom made, you do have to glue the lace down in certain areas just to make sure that they stay on, because they are not perfectly fit for these people,” says Veador, “versus the women, if they have bangs, you don’t have to glue them on, as long as they are securely pinned on.” He notes, however, that the men’s hair is still slightly less work than the women’s because you aren’t really setting them; you’re just combing them, styling them, maybe giving them a quick blow dry and iron if it’s needed.

Gerald Chaleff’s wig made him a picture-perfect version of Jose Menendez. (Photo: Justin Lubin/NBC)

And while there were no major hair bloopers on set  all of the wigs and hairpieces were meticulously planned out ahead of time  Veader did have to tiptoe around one wig. And of course that was Falco’s. In an ideal world, the show’s lead hairstylist would like to have seen Abramson’s hairpieces arrive having been made with real blond hair. But since natural and healthy blond hair is getting harder to find and is the most expensive to obtain, Falco’s wig was made with bleached blond hair. “I’ve had to take such care of Edie’s wigs because they are so processed with the color and the perm,” says Veador, adding that “bleach and perm together is just not a great combination. Because you are working with a very expensive wig, you want to take care of it so that it lasts you the whole show,” he says, joking that not being kind to a wig of Falco’s Law & Order character caliber would be a crime in and of itself!

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