Yvonne Depatis-Kupka recently designed and styled hundreds of wigs for Harold Ramis' prehistoric comedy "Year One," but when it comes to hair, she has a pretty impressive history of her own. She discovered a natural affinity for cosmetology at a very early age.
"I was doing hair when I was about 7 years old," she recalled. "I had this little doll, and I didn't like her hair. So I took it down and brushed it all out, and it got really crazy. I just started playing with it and gave her a different hairdo. And my mom used to let me comb her hair. She still thinks nobody can do her hair as well as me."
In 1966, Depatis-Kupka went to work for Gene Shacove, the legendary Beverly Hills hairdresser who was rumored to be the inspiration for Warren Beatty's character in "Shampoo." In the 1970s, she moved to Northern California, where she opened her own salon in Santa Rosa before joining a theater troupe called Free Store.
"It was live street-performance theater up in the San Francisco Bay Area," she said. "We were very political -- crazy costumes, full face masks and all of that. We painted our faces differently for every performance."
After 15 years, the L.A. native returned to her hometown and began to pursue work as a hair and makeup artist in the entertainment industry, something she had vowed to avoid as a child. (Her parents worked for NBC and Universal Studios.)
"I don't know why, but I can look at a picture and duplicate anything," she said. "I started getting phone calls to take care of actresses or actors who cut their hair off and then they had to go back to do some reshoots or additional photography. They'd call me to come and match them. I love working with wigs. I really enjoy making them look real."
Splitting hairs: Custom wigs are a far cry from the impulse buys picked up at the local Halloween store. "Depending on the length, a custom wig can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000," Depatis-Kupka said. "I only had two custom wigs made for 'Year One,' and one of them was for Michael Cera, and the other one was for Matthew Willig. A wig maker named Justin Stafford made those. I went to him and picked all the hair colors I wanted. I told him how long I wanted the hair, and then he sat and made the wigs. He hand-ties each strand [to the netting]. He can do it in five days, a full wig, if it's a rush job. So he spends hours and hours -- 12, 14 hours a day -- just working on one piece."
Head shop: If the wig maker lacks a particular shade, Depatis-Kupka has her own sources. "If I'm having a custom wig made and they don't have the hair I want, then I go to the compounding house, which is over in Van Nuys," she said. "They have hair in bundles from around the world, silver hair and gray hair and blond hair, big clippings bound with string or rubber bands. Natural silver hair is hard to get ahold of, so the bundles are much smaller. The two wigs that I had made were untreated, uncolored, natural hair."
A sense of dreads: Finished wigs just hang there, so it's up to Depatis-Kupka to bring the style. "I get a wig that's just all long hair," she said. "So I design it and make it look like something else -- either a style or ratty and messy. For Michael Cera in the beginning of the film, his hair was really long and matted and dreaded, because they were hunters and gatherers. Because Matthew Willig was 6-foot-8 -- and still is -- I made his wig really long. On me, it would be closer to my waist. But on him, it came below his shoulders. I worked with it and dreaded it, and put leather bindings in it and twigs and all kinds of found objects and things that I bought at the local hobby shop in Shreveport, La., where we were filming. I go a lot on my intuition."
The Midas touch: For a scene set in Sodom, the wigs were naturally a bit gaudy. "We had really pretty people, and their bodies were completely painted gold -- faces, everything," Depatis-Kupka said. "And then my team made eight of their wigs. A German company called Kryolan has this gold powder pigment. The makeup artist bought big bottles of it, so that I could also use it. And it's very expensive. I'm sure there is some actual gold in it. It was mixed with just a little bit of water and a little bit of a sealer. So after I styled the wig, I just painted the whole thing gold and let it dry."
Something extra: Some scenes had 600 extras, and nearly all of them needed wigs. "We were filming in Shreveport, and there's not a lot of hair there," Depatis-Kupka said. "There were a lot of military people and a lot of other people with very short, buzzed hair, so a lot of wigs were used on the film to make it the before-Christ period of time. I bought extensions or cheaper wigs, and I also rented wigs in Los Angeles. For the extras, I brought boxes and boxes of wigs, probably 200 to 300. It was definitely a wig show!"