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March 03, 2015

Coif and Dagger

To stay incognito, the stylish spies of The Americans need a closet full of wigs.

Jason Lynch

In the FX drama The Americans, Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell play Russian spies living in deep cover in '80s suburban Virginia, but Peg Schierholz is the show's real master of disguise.

As the show's hair department head, she crafts the wigs used by the duo in their many aliases.

Schierholz and Lori Hicks, the show's head makeup artist, incorporate a broader palette than the regulation look favored by creator-executive producer Joe Weisberg, who used to work for the CIA.

"We have this friendly back-and-forth of how far Lori and I can push the limit," says Schierholz, who admits she's "gone mad on eBay buying [vintage] yearbooks and magazines" for inspiration. She needs all the ideas she can find: for only the first four episodes of season three, she used 16 wigs to create 18 disguises.

Schierholz relies on two wig companies — Alex Rouse Wig Company and Campbell Young Associates — then restyles and reuses each piece. "Keri and Matthew sometimes share wigs," Schierholz reveals. "I just have to be careful, because all of a sudden in the schedule I'll find that, oops, one wig is working in three scenes in three different disguises!"

The Americans has been a dream job for Schierholz, who started her career in a costume shop, then realized "that hair and makeup people were making more money — and having a lot more fun."  She taught at Juilliard and worked on Broadway for 10 years before transitioning into film and TV (including Mildred Pierce and Enchanted).

"I love getting involved in re-creating a different period," she says. "I enjoy the history and the politics, and then re-creating it physically with my hands."

She's done plenty of that on The Americans, but there's one hairpiece she's still trying to get on screen: a wig she patterned after Russell's famous Felicity mane. Says Schierholz: "It's still waiting for its moment!"




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