Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street has been at the center of a major debate with fans calling it an cutting criticism of the American drive for excess, and detractors declaring it a glorification of the very debauchery it claims to critique. No matter which side of the debate you stand on, you can probably recall one scene where the repercussions of Jordan Belfort's reckless hedonism are made clear for one brief but unforgettable moment. I'm speaking of course of the scene where a female employee of his firm has her head shaved in front of hundreds of men hooting like animals so she might get $10,000 for a boob job.
As someone who regularly took an electric shaver to her scalp in college, I watched that scene thinking, "They didn't fake this. This woman was absolutely shaved." But thanks to the investigative work of Vanity Fair's Katie Calautti, we now know all the gritty details of this unnerving sequence. I highly recommend you read her terrific piece in full, but we'll break down its major points below.
First off, it wasn't some fame-seeking ingénue who sat down in that impromptu barber's chair. She didn't give up her hair for a chance to meet Scorsese or the film's star Leonardo DiCaprio. In fact, she'd known DiCaprio for years, being a sister to a good friend of his. Her name is Natasha Newman Thomas. She's a Los Angeles-based stylist, and this beautiful women gave up her locks solely for the cinema.
Those who've never gone from long locks to a buzzed cut (or in this case totally bald) may not understand how traumatic such an experience can be. (Watch just about any season of America's Next Top Model for a crash course.) But the head of Wolf of Wall Street's hair department Michael Kriston was aware, so a back-up person was cast in case the pressure proved too much for Thomas. Remember, she wasn't only having her head shaved--which can be a pretty emotional experience--she was also having it done while DiCaprio goads a room full of 250 bellowing men, 40 strippers strutting around, and of course a marching band reduced to their underwear.
Adding to her potential anxieties, it wasn't a professional hair stylist who would be administering this cut. Instead, it'd be actor P.J. Byrne who was playing Rugrat. To prepare, Kriston set Byrne up with the very powerful electric razor in advance, and let him shave wigs to get a feel for it. To keep her stress level as low as possible, Scorsese stayed away, watching everything unfold via monitor so his presence wouldn't overwhelm her. But once they go the shot, Marty personally came out to thank her, and "everybody congratulated her."
Asked if there was any way they could have faked this scene, Kriston said:
" Oh no, there was no way we could do it with a wig. The budget on this film was very tight while we were shooting it—there would’ve had to have been a prosthetic-makeup artist, $1,500 a day, or more, to put a bald cap on this girl. And then the wig would've had to be fine lace, custom-made, around $8,000 or $10,000. And then the whole thing would’ve had to be glued to the bald cap and then the clippers would've had to have gone through three layers. And if you made a mistake and cut through the bald cap, you're done. So in order to do that, I would’ve insisted on having at least three wigs."
To thank Thomas for her sacrifice, Kriston not only cleaned up Rugrat's messy shave job, but also offered her a special gift:
"Afterward, she came back into the trailer, and I had set aside a wig for her that I was going to give her. I didn't tell her that, because in production it wasn’t budgeted for her to have a wig. But just as a human being, I wanted to have something. But she was cool with it! She went with it, and so I finished it off and made it neat, and that was that. I mean, we shaved it right to the bone! There was nothing left! By now [a year later], her hair would probably be to the point that it would look like Jennifer Lawrence’s."
Cheers to you, Natasha Newman Thomas, for making one of Wolf of Wall Street's balliest scenes possible!