When we first saw images of Neil Patrick Harris' transformation into a transgender woman for the Tony Award-nominated musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch, all we could say was, "Wow." And with that, not only has Harris' ability to truly embrace the role earned him rave reviews for his performance ("Harris is beyond fabulous, holds nothing back and plays it any way but safe," writes The Hollywood Reporter theater critic David Rooney) but also a lead-actor Tony nomination for the title role.
Helping transform the How I Met Your Mother actor into the glam-rock star was none other than hair and makeup veteran Mike Potter, who has been part of the Hedwig production since its first incarnation as an Off-Broadway show in 1998, through the 2001 film directed by and starring John Cameron Mitchell, who created the cult musical with composer Stephen Trask.
Given Harris' onstage presence during the entire show, Potter had to figure out how to design wigs that allowed for quick changes. So, what did he do to solve the problem? Design magnetized wigs.
"A lot of them are pieces attached that make it turn into another wig. All of his wig changes have to be a piece of hair that gets snapped out, or a lot of his wigs are magnetized so he can duck behind a car with a magnet, so he can change in a split second," Potter tells Pret-a-Reporter. "They're built on these hat bases with magnets. It's almost like a yarmulke with a wig." Potter and his team cut and dyed all the wigs, and created custom bases for each of them.
Potter has come a long way since the beginning of his wig-designing days; his first-ever wig design -- which was made from toilet paper, hot glue and staples -- fell apart during Hedwig's Off-Broadway debut. But now, Potter has become the ultimate master of his craft, having designed and built all nine wigs for the current Broadway production.
In addition to working on Harris' wigs, Potter also had to determine a way to keep the actor's makeup on during his performance. At least, for most of the show.
According to the makeup maven, Harris' makeup isn't meant to be perfect the whole time. "It's beautiful throughout, but there's elements that stay on like his eyebrows and eyeliner. The glitter starts to go about a quarter of the way in and it starts to melt away, " explains Potter, who adds that the glittery makeup used for the show's poster, shot by famed portrait photographer Max Vadukul, represents the way Harris' character looks at the end of the show, adding a touch of rawness to the story.
"I could design the makeup so it could stay flawless, but I feel like it's about a breakdown," he explained. "By the end, she's very much a mess in every way, so that's why we did that poster."
To make the eyes stand out -- and stay on -- he uses MAC crème liner in "Black Black" for definition, and adds MAC eyeshadow, with shades in Carbon (jet-black), Electric Eel (bright sky blue) and Deep Truth (midnight blue). Potter finishes off the look with MAC paint stick in Hi-Def Cyan (electric blue) on the eyes, and MAC powder blush in a rosy Rhubarb shade and a MAC sculpting powder pro palette in a Shadowy brown hue to contour Harris' bone structure.
"Once he's on that stage, I don't get an opportunity to fix or change him," adds Potter. "As long as she's pretty the first 90 seconds, then I'm happy."
As for Harris' co-star Lena Hall, she does her own looks every night -- and only has 90 seconds to apply a full face of makeup during the show's climactic key costume change. Over the months, Hall has gotten so quick with her beauty routine that she'll now throw in more blush or lashes. "The first time, she could barely put lipstick on!" Potter joked.
And as anyone would wonder (because we most certainly did), has Potter done anything to help accentuate Harris' toned bod when he performs a scene wearing only a pair of black shorts?
"No, God, no -- I don't touch his body, I wouldn't dare. That's all him!" Potter says laughingly, denying any sort of shadowing by him on Harris' chiseled abs. "It's funny because being onstage and running around, he doesn't need to go to the gym. I have nothing to do with the beauty of his body."