Any fan of The Americans knows that stars Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys are ably supported by a bevy of scene-stealing costars—and we’re not talking about Frank Langella and Margo Martindale. The real “special guest stars” of each episode of The Americans are the wigs. Sourced from New York wigmakers Campbell Young Associates, the hairpieces range from a librarian-style blond bob to a choppy jet-black number for Russell and a dirty trucker mullet to the parted graying swoop of Clark, frequent disguise for Rhys. Fans are obsessed: Witness the online lists ranking every wig to ever appear on the show. By the end of season five, the show will have logged 79 getups in a dossier called the “disguise” bible.
Each disguise has a name, explains Lori Hicks, head of the The Americans’ makeup department. That shiny rocker-chick wig Russell wore in an early season is the Joan Jett. Then there is the Margaret Thatcher, a disguise that involved Russell wearing a dental plate to produce an overbite. “Sometimes you have to make them look bad,” says Hicks. “That means trying to make Keri Russell look less attractive!” The Prince Charles forced the makeup team to give Rhys protruding ears.
Some of the wigs are worn multiple times, by both characters—just as a real spy couple on a budget would have done. “The showrunners want the disguises to be real,” says Hicks. “In real life, the spies were trying to blend in and not be noticed. I can tell I’ve been successful when Keri and Matt walk on the set and people from the crew don’t know it’s them. In TV, that’s the line we walk—to create disguises for not being noticed but to keep it interesting enough for people to want to see it.”