As if he was checking off boxes from an actor’s challenge, Taylor Kitsch went through an entire transformation to play cult leader, David Koresh. Weight loss? Check. New accent? Check. Historical figure with a mind as unique as his look? Check, check, and check.
But one treacherous final piece put everything else at risk: His hair.
“We agonized to a level you wouldn’t believe over the hair,” co-creator Drew Dowdle said in an interview with IndieWire.
And they should. Recreating a true story for television isn’t just about looking at pictures and matching everything up. Adjustments have to be made to make sure the period details don’t get in the way of the story. Think about the movie “J. Edgar”: Do you remember what happened in Clint Eastwood’s two-hour bipoic of the F.B.I.’s most powerful leader, or do you think about how weird Leonardo DiCaprio and Armie Hammer looked in all that makeup?
The “Waco” team didn’t have to worry about aging its lead — Kitsch is only three years older than Koresh was during the raid — but they did have to account for the Branch Davidean’s distinct, early ’90s look: big glasses, whitewashed jeans, and a few even more singular fashion choices.
“My favorite picture of Dave Koresh is one — and you could Google Image it — it’s him in a black shirt, rainbow across his chest, and he’s just standing there,” Kitsch said to IndieWire. “He’s got the perfect hair. Just because it was accurate — and he had like the full rockstar mode hair where it’s long everywhere — we had that. We tried that and tested that.”
But it didn’t work. The look that Kitsch compares to Guns ‘N Roses guitarist Slash‘s look, was “too much.”
“[The character] was just about hair at that point,” Kitsch said.
“We had three or four different hairstyles that we were all experimenting with, and we had one that was like, more — longer — and we actually shot one day like that, and Drew’s like, ‘We gotta kill that,'” John Erick Dowdle said. “‘Don’t make the audience accept two hairstyles. Let’s just rock the mullet the whole time.'”
What they settled on was a combination of extensions and Kitsch’s hair. The back was a wig that “took an hour to put on” (per Kitsch), and the top was his actual hair.
“The business was his, and the party was ours,” John Dowdle said.
“I really want to tip the hat to the hair and makeup teams, everyone behind that,” Kitsch said, nodding to Audrey L. Anzures, John Caglione Jr., and their crew. “She was just awesome, and just as excited to do a great job. I mean, it’s tough, man. You’re shooting this far away [Kitsch holds his hands close together], and for it to not look [fake] — it looked seamless.”
It really does, and Kitsch’s look caught early, largely positive attention from the press. Vulture’s Hunter Harris called it out in her trailer headline, and GQ‘s Tom Philip said, “Taylor Kitsch’s mullet/huge glasses combo? Sign me the hell up.” Since the premiere, Kitsch has earned high marks (from Variety, IndieWire, and The New York Times, among others) for his “compelling” performance.
How much credit goes to the mullet? Kitsch is quick to cite how hard it was for him to find the right voice for Koresh, calling it “a stress.” “It was tough,” he said. “[But] once you get it, you fly.”
And yet when he donned the complicated ‘do, he noted a “huge” difference and described it as a “big part of the character.” He said the final cut, so to speak, helped hone his overall image, drawing proper attention to his glasses and slighter physique while not overwhelming the audience with an ostentatious wig.
But the creators give a lot of the credit to Kitsch simply for pulling it off.
“Taylor’s Canadian, he used to play hockey. He’s born to have a mullet,” John Erick Dowdle said. “He’s always needed this. There’s just something… He can rock it. He makes it look cool.”
In other words, few actors could have made the look work like Kitsch does. So unless you’re the next Tim Riggins, let’s keep the haircut where it belongs: in the past.