Exclusive Q&A: Downton Abbey hair stylist talks to us about his training, trade and triumph at the Emmy Awards

Exclusive Q&A: Downton Abbey hair stylist talks to us about his training, trade and triumph at the Emmy Awards

Adam James Phillips is a hair stylist for film and television, he also just happens to have won a prestigious Emmy Award for outstanding hairstyling this year.

These two things are exciting to us for two reasons. 1) The fifth series of Downton Abbey made a return last week, and 2) At Creative Media Skills we are passionate about teaching people the art of Downton Abbey hairstyles, ie. Perfecting the Wave.

Read our exclusive Q&A with him for our blog about what life is like as a Downton Abbey hair stylist and how he got there:

1. Can you tell us a bit about your background as a TV hairdresser?

Originally I taught myself some basic hair skills as a teenager, but then having completed my training in Musical Theatre at ArtsEd London, I decided my true love was hair. I applied for a trainee assistant job at Ray Marston Wig Studio, where thankfully they recognised I had an arty side and passion, and agreed to employ and train me. My first break! I stayed there for nearly five years, effectively becoming Assistant Designer, working on some incredible projects including Elizabeth The Golden Age, before then deciding I wanted to go back to my theatre roots, only now as a ‘wiggie’. Thereafter, I worked on productions including Priscilla Queen of the Desert and Love Never Dies, occasionally and tentatively dipping into the crowd hair and make-up world as a daily. But my big break came when my then supervisor on Kiss Me, Kate!, Campbell Young, recommended Magi Vaughan (Hair and Make Up Designer on Downton Abbey) to meet me. Amazingly, Magi took a chance on hiring me as part of her team after liking the look of my portfolio!

2. What was your job on Downton Abbey and how long did you do it for?

My position on Downton was as Key Hair on Series 4, hair styling for Phyllis Logan, Laura Carmichael and Dame Maggie Smith. We filmed for nearly eight months in total.

3. What parts of the job did you love the most? And what parts were the most challenging?

Aside from loving getting to work with Maggie Smith, I loved researching into the world of the 1920s hairstyles. The challenge was trying to replicate them. It’s a gorgeous age of demure glamour and style, but those waves need practise. I do love a fingerwave! Keeping such styles in place is a labour of love. And at times in all elements. But the most challenging aspect has to be long hours, like any long shooting job. Also, each of my ladies wore a wig, every one needing thorough prepping, setting and restyling post-wrap, ahead of the next day’s shoot.

4. How did you feel about winning an Emmy?!

It felt amazing!!! It was already incredible for Magi and I alongside her to be nominated, but to then win?!! It was such a shock! Especially as we were nominated against the work of other hairstylists on productions I watch in awe of their talent and skill. I felt truly honoured. It was a huge high that night – one I will never forget!

5. What kinds of skills as a hair stylist for film and television do you think we must carry on learning in?

A good set! Know how to set hair properly, and effectively, no matter how simply. Whether it be heated, wet or a blow dry – it’s crucial. There’s always further scope for learning how to create shapes in methods you hadn’t thought of before. Ask other people’s advice and guidance too. I’m always the first to ask if someone would mind telling me how they achieved a look. That’s how I learn. And always looking for ideas and inspiration. I don’t think I’ll ever stop learning how to make hair look natural, and in the case of a wig – real. And perfect a fingerwave! If you can master a wave, you can do anything! In my opinion it gives you best understanding of how to mould, sculpt and shape hair.

6. What are you working on at the moment and what are your future plans?

I’ve spent the summer working on a variety of productions, including crowd on the features Tulip Fever and Through the Looking Glass, hair styling on the new M&S clothing commercial and looking after the hair and make-up of Kevin Spacey on the Old Vic Theatre’s production of Clarence Darrow. Earlier in the year I completed work on a feature – Girls’ Night Out (which is due out next year) as Key Hair, styling for the gorgeous Sarah Gadon. As for next… I will be starting as Key Hair on a feature film which starts shooting in a couple of weeks, production has not been announced yet, but I can say it will be fun! And I think audiences will love it…

Thank you for the fascinating insight Adam!

  • Find Adam on Twitter at: @ajphillips62 and IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm5976959/

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