Have you ever thought about being a hairstylist? It’s certainly a very creative career path with many and varied avenues to fall into. Whether you work on film and television shows or own your own salon. I have been told many times over the years “People always need their hair cut!”
But hairstyling as a career goes way further than only cutting hair – let’s not deny that haircutting in its own right is a wonderful and necessary job the world over!
I recently caught up with the talented and successful New Zealand hairstylist Jaime Leigh McIntosh. Jaime’s credits include such films as Bladerunner 2049, Bombshell and Us. We discussed her career beginnings, and where it all goes from here for a Kiwi hairstylist whose world is her oyster these days. Jaime Leigh is one inspiring woman!
Hi Jaime Leigh – thank you for taking the time to chat to Utter Musings about all things hair and makeup! First of all, I’d love for you to tell us about your hair and makeup career. How did it all begin for you?
I could never remember when I first thought about wanting to be a hairstylist. That was until I opened a letter I was given on my 21st birthday and it was from 8 or 9yr old me. My school teacher had asked us to write a letter to our grown-up selves.
In it, we said what our favourite and least favourite parts of school were. Also what we wanted to be when we grew up. I had listed a hairstylist, ballet teacher or air hostess. Which is funny because I had never been to a salon for a haircut as my mum always did it. And had never been on a plane but of course, I did do ballet as a child.
As a teenager through high school, I was always pretty set on knowing that’s what I would do when I finished school. I would do hair somewhere, somehow and that’s what I did.
I went into polytechnic for 1 year and then into a salon to finish my apprenticeship. My makeup training came about 4 years later, I had watched the behind the scenes film Full Tilt Boogie (the making of From Dusk Til Dawn).
After I had seen that making of movie, I thought ‘Man that looks way more fun than working in a salon‘. I just knew I wouldn’t be able to spend my working life walking into the same building, with the same people, doing the same routine day after day and so that’s when I enrolled to learn how to do makeup for film and tv.
Did you always know that working as a hairstylist for film/tv was where you would end up in your career?
I didn’t know exactly at the beginning what I wanted. I knew when I first started working in salons that I didn’t want to own one.
My clients would always ask “So when are you going to open your own place?” I would always say “Never!” I must have known my career was going elsewhere, but I certainly didn’t think I would be working in LA.
Was it difficult to find film work in NZ in the beginning?
I will say I struck it luck pretty soon after finishing my makeup course. I was hired as a trainee on a television show that was running for a good 5 or 6 months. It had 2 units shooting full time. So I was kept busy and was able to work under 3 amazing hair and makeup artists who shared a lot of their knowledge with me.
What was difficult was the long gaps in between film jobs. It isn’t the busiest or most consistent country for filming, so work would come in waves. Lucky for me I had hairdressing to fall back on and would work in barbershops in-between to keep the money coming in and to keep on top of my cutting skills.
Sounds like the perfect introduction and training ground to get on the job. We met when we both worked together on The Hobbit films between 2011 – 2013.
This job ranks pretty highly for me in terms of life and professional experience – getting to see incredibly remote and beautiful locations, and working on such a massively creative and epic fantasy movie. How was this experience for you?
Amazing! I was so incredibly grateful to have been hired on the main team for those 3 films. Not only did I learn so much from everyone I worked with, I now have what I think of fondly as my Hobbit family!
The connections that I made with the people I worked so closely with for those years was incredible. I would work with them all again in a heartbeat! The most invaluable support team a gal could ask for.
Ah! Such an incredible experience! So you basically lived in Middle Earth (that’s New Zealand for those who like to live under rocks on occasion!) then what prompted you to move to the US?
I had always wanted to explore the US. So many things I love come from here; music and films and the road-tripping possibilities are endless. Aotearoa (New Zealand) is so small it wouldn’t take long to have seen it all.
I was then introduced to the green card lottery by the same woman that hired me on my first television job. And from that initial moment, I entered every year until I won.
I believe it took 5 years for my name to get drawn. I will say the move to the US was never a career move and the only reason we moved to LA when we first got here was because it was the only place where we knew a couple of people.
Has life here in the US exceeded your expectations/plans?
The move here has been exciting. It is a very different place to New Zealand, so it has taken a moment to adjust. But we have enjoyed it and feel very settled here for the time being.
Do you think living in the US has been impactful on your career?
Without that really being the plan! Fortunately living in the US has had a positive impact on my career. There is just so much more work available here and at all different levels.
What are the main differences (pre-Covid) between working on set here in the US and your home country?
The biggest is not being able to do both hair and makeup in the US. To be in the Hair and Makeup Union, I had to pick one only. And hairstylist was what I chose.
That certainly took some getting used to, especially to stay in my lane and turn off my makeup brain when working on set. I will say it is little more everyone for themselves here at times. I do miss the close-knit support system back home.
It also seems that within the hair and makeup departments, I would say there appears to be a lack of a strong trainee/assistant system set up here. Other than that I feel like most film sets international feel pretty similar in how they function.
That’s interesting. Did that make it challenging to work here initially in the US?
It was difficult to make new connections and trying to understand how it all worked to get into the local union. I felt like there was a secret code I had to crack at times.
It did take some time and for the first few years, I kept leaving the US to New Zealand, Australia and Europe for work. Until I got into the Local 706 Hairstylists and Makeup Artists union and at that point, I was able to work on productions in the US.
Where do you see your career as a hairstylist venturing from here? Do you enjoy hair-designing productions?
I have been designing projects more and more and I love it! So I hope to continue on this path. I have so many favourite things about this line of work.
Thank goodness I do because they somehow outweigh my least favourite thing, which is the hours of my life I give to a project when I am working. Because of that I am always sure that I have time off in-between projects to re-fuel and re-balance. To dedicate time to my home life and road trips!
And now, to your latest career jump. 2020 has thrown a massive curve ball at us all in terms of our industry shutting down for the most part of the year.
In your resourcefulness, you created an extraordinary podcast called “The Last Looks Podcast”.
Congratulations first of all – you know I love the show. I wanted to ask you how this concept came about?
Ha! I am a podcast listener and just after the project I was on was paused due to covid-19, I was at home and decided I would continue to prep some wigs I had brought home.
I was getting a little tired of true crime and I wanted something more industry based. My searching came up with a few bits and pieces but mainly makeup artists. Which is great but I thought hairstylists should get a look in too.
I had also been to the hair and makeup symposium they have before the Oscars earlier in the year. And I had thoroughly enjoyed listening to the nominees chatting about how and why they did what they did.
At the time that I was searching for those podcasts, my husband had just decided to create his own show where he chats to underwater photographers and DP’s (Director of Photography). When I had mentioned to him that I couldn’t find anything listen to about my line of work. He said “Well, you know what you need to do, right?”
And I was like “Oh hell, no!” So far out of my comfort zone! I’m sure there are a few people out there that know me well who are very surprised I actually went through with it. Every now and again though, I have to violently throw myself out of my comfort zone and normally it works out well.
Once I started doing the interviews I really wanted to make sure I chat with people who are inspirational to other, also who have a professional work ethic and believe in working as a team and with kindness.
Ha! I’m the same. I never expected to be a blogger! I love your thoughts on kindness and teamwork. Couldn’t agree more.
There is something very immediate about the conversations you have. Some of my favourite episodes are when you really get a sense for the character of the individual hairstylist or makeup artist you are chatting with, instead of them just talking about what products they like, or what filming locations they enjoyed.
I think it was Lois Burwell who touched on the notion of what a great resource your interviews are, and will continue to be in the future.
Professionals being interviewed by professionals instead of a talk show host-type thing. Is it your intention to keep the interview quite loose as far as where it goes?
I love the podcast WTF with Marc Maron. I listen to his interviews and feel like I’m in the room and somehow involved with the conversation. So that was the way I wanted to do the show but with a little more structure.
I like to ask my guest a small handful of the same questions each time, as they all seem to give different answers and I love that.
I have so much fun doing the interviews and it’s so great when even the most nervous guest gets to the end of the interview, when we have stopped recording and says “Wow, thanks Jaime Leigh, that was really easy and fun.” That’s the aim, I guess to make it feel like a couple of buddies catching up, which has been the case for a few interviews with people I have worked with.
So now that our industry is slowly returning, and we’ll all be back at work again soon. How do you carry on The Last Looks Podcast? More importantly, WILL you continue interviewing artists for the show?
It will be trickier for sure! I will have to nail down guests when they have time and when I have time. Especially guests in different time zones; the last thing I want to do is have someone dread coming on the show in their weekend after an 80hr week. Luckily I smashed out a large number of interviews, so I have a little backlog currently.
Okay, that’s great to hear!
Who do YOU want to see be interviewed for your podcast?
Oh, the list is long and I’m certainly not on it!
What do you tell young hairstylists or artists starting out that are looking for a career in film/tv?
The truth, it’s a job that’s very demanding of your energy and your time. You have to love it and be passionate about your work. But if you tick those boxes, it’s the best job in the world!
I know we’ve touched on your back ground being in hair AND makeup as well. I am aware that you are a very talented makeup artist, aside from being an incredible hairstylist too. Do you miss makeup? Do you ever get the chance to dabble in it these days?
I do miss makeup and I worry how I will fair when I move back home to New Zealand and have to jump back into it. I may have to do a refresher course of sorts.
The last job I did both hair and makeup on was Pirates of the Caribbean 5 in 2015. That job was all tan, dirt and sweat. So it’s been a hot minute since I’ve done beauty makeup. I will say I still have all my makeup brushes stashed away for when the time comes around again. I love my brushes!
Your husband is also an incredibly talented artist in his own right. He is a photographer. Do you work together very often? Is it difficult both working such ’unorthodox’ jobs when it comes to how often we travel and work unusual hours?
He is. He does so many wonderfully creative shoots that I can’t keep up with them anymore! We have worked together only maybe twice in the last 5 or 6 years.
Our schedules normally don’t leave much room for it and even if we get time off at the same time, we generally want to hit the road or do home renovations instead. We do have a couple of concepts that are sitting on the back burner for sure. The one day photo shoots!
What is your dream hairstylist job for the future that you haven’t yet got to work on?
I have a job coming up next year that I am extremely excited about. It keeps getting pushed, so fingers crossed it happens. The script is brilliant and the aesthetic the director is going for is everything for me.
Apart from that, a practical dream would be a job where I don’t have to fight for time, money and man-days.
Ha! The practical dream. Love it! How about a certain director or peer that you desperately want to work with?
Directors I’ve always wanted to work with. The usuals, like Quentin Tarantino, David Lynch and Ridley Scott.
Peers I would like to work with. The list is growing especially since doing the podcast and chatting to so many amazing artists!
Thank you so very much for taking the time to share some “Utter Musings” with us today. It’s been a pleasure!
You’re very welcome!
Would you like to be a hairstylist? Did you enjoy Jaime’s interview? Please comment below, I’d love to hear your thoughts!
You can catch up on all of Jaime’s previous interviews via her podcast The Last Looks Podcast. And stay tuned to the big (or small) screen for her upcoming work on the Marylin Monroe biopic Blonde.
Featured image by Diogo Brandao (not Jaime Leigh’s hair work!)
All other images courtesy of Jaime Leigh McIntosh