Sean Flanigan has some serious hairdresser chops, but the only thing he doesn't pull out of his magical hair bag is attitude. He is instantly warm, friendly, down-to-earth and incredibly funny.
When I caught up with Sean by phone he was at work on the film Driving Lessons, with Dermot Mulroney and Hope Davis. He greeted me like an old friend he hadn't chatted with for awhile and appeared genuinely happy to hear from me. Never mind that I was a complete stranger intruding on his busy day behind the cameras.
I instantly discovered Sean is a great story teller and I was truly mesmerized by his many hair tales, no pun intended.
Many times throughout our all-too-short, forty five minute conversation, he had me laughing out loud as he regaled me with fascinating anecdotes from his work in TV, films and his early days in theater and the soaps.
Even though he was on constant celebrity "hair alert" during our chat, he was willing to talk to me, even resorting to set appropriate whispering, until I literally ran out of questions. As we were ending our lovely conversation he graciously volunteered his private phone number and email address so I could "call anytime if you have more questions."
As I hung up the phone I was thinking "WOW, this is a really great guy". While many Hollywood hairdressers loudly toot their horns, Sean Flanigan lets his vast experience and stunning work humbly speak for him. And speak volumes it does.
Award Winning Hair Accomplishments
One of those rare birds, a native Californian, Sean is well-known for many hair dressing accomplishments including being nominated for an Emmy for his spectacular hair work on TV's hit, Buffy The Vampire Slayer.
Many hair consumers also may know of him as the resident head hairdresser for the wildly popular Grey's Anatomy TV show.
Indeed, even though he recently left the Grey's set behind, Sean will continue to coif the magnificent tresses of gorgeous blonde star, Katherine Heigl, whom he fondly refers to as "Katie".
The mere mention of her name evokes a flood of compliments ending in "she's a really great girl". "We have so much fun together all the time" he continues, "we try to carve out some time to just hang out or go shopping".
While Sean and Katherine have a very successful long term working relationship, they also have forged a close friendship.
Besides being the former head hairdresser for Grey's Anatomy he is also a celebrity hair guest artist and spokesperson for Joico hair care products as well as being a highly sought after "free lancer" for film, print and other mediums.
Although he is currently focused on coiffing hair for feature films, when I asked if he would ever consider going back into TV as a head hairdresser on a series, he paused for a moment and thoughtfully replied "never say never". At the present time, he confided he "does not see returning to do TV hair" in his immediate future.
From Buffy To Grey's Anatomy
Before his hair reign on Grey's Anatomy, Sean was head hairdresser on the set of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. He did the hairstyles for Buffy, played by Sarah Michelle Gellar, as well as doing styling for the vampire slayer's popular sidekick, Alyson Hanigan (Willow). He also did hair for some of the other Buffy cast members on an as-needed basis.
The hair requirements for Buffy involved lots of flashbacks to other centuries and time periods. As a result, Sean was tasked with developing "authentic re-creations of hairstyles from past centuries" which he often accomplished through the use of wigs or hair extensions". He explained the flashback hairstyles also called for "a lot of perfect pin curls and finger waves".
Sean explained, "doing wigs can be more difficult than doing actual hair". He continued "there's an art to styling wigs. It's not just as simple as "plopping it on someone's head and off you go".
On Buffy, "lots of wigs were also used on a regular basis to make actors look like a wide range of creatures" Sean noted. Of course there was also "the ongoing challenge of creating vampire coiffures".
In addition some of the ongoing Buffy flashbacks "required actors and actresses to look a lot younger" which required "custom designed wigs" or "very creative hairstyling".
Sean believes most people don't really understand "doing hair for television and film encompasses a lot more than just haircuts and blow dries". Depending on the show and its storyline, there may be a "huge demand for period hair styling" as well as a "constant demand for wigs and hair extensions".
Luckily for Sean, his background in doing hair for theater served him well for his work on Buffy and Grey's Anatomy. Sean said "anyone interested in doing hair and makeup for TV or movies should definitely start in the theater". Even it if means "going out and volunteering to work in local community theaters" because "no one ever turns down volunteers".
Due to his love of theater he has accumulated "a large stash of books about different periods". He also has a treasure trove stuffed full of "lots of pieces of hair that he has saved from different wigs he has created". Sean explained he always has "boxes of hair" available for a variety of instant hair emergencies.
Grey's Anatomy Hair Tails
Sean "started doing hair from the very beginning" of Grey's. The seasoned hair pro was not only responsible for coiffing hair for the Grey's stars, he also held the title of "head hairdresser" in charge of all the hair and other hairstylists on the set.
On “Grey’s,” the women "wear a lot of ponytails and buns and look pretty messy" a lot of the time. This is done deliberately for the sake of authenticity because the show is set in a busy hospital where it is common to wear hair up and off the shoulders. The hairstyles worn by the cast members is very "real life".
Ironically, even though the hair on Grey "looks easy" because it involves more "relaxed and natural styles you would find on busy doctors in a bustling hospital" in a sense "it is a lot harder to design messy hairstyles to look easy and casual."
Sean explained "I've gotten so many comments from “Grey’s” fans who love the fact the actors look like real people!". Of course on the flip side, he has also "received complaints about the ponytails from fans who want to see different hairstyles".
He chalks up the dichotomy of fan ponytail reactions to "part of the business" and the fact "you can't please everyone" because they (the fans) will always have "their own opinions of how hair should be done" on the different TV shows.
His primary hair client for Grey's, as well as off the set, is Katherine (Dr. Isobel "Izzy" Stevens). Whether coiffed in a ponytail, a bun, or with "a paper bag on her head, she’d still come out looking like a beautiful woman". "And", he continued, "she has great hair".
Working With The Grey's Cast
During his tour of hair duty on Grey's, besides Katherine, Sean always worked with Ellen Pompeo, who plays lead character Dr. Meredith Gray. Although they "did not work together off set", during his time with Grey's, Sean did all the styling and color for the lovely actress.
For her role as Meredith, Sean explained "Ellen specifically liked to wear her hair down". Not only was it "easier, but it worked best for the various camera angles and looked good on her".
In addition to coiffing Ellen, Sean was usually responsible for whipping out hospital appropriate hair styles for Sandra Oh (Dr. Christina Yang) and Patrick Dempsey (Dr. Derek Shepherd).
Sandra, he noted, has "really great hair and loved wearing it in a bit of a messy pony" giving the image "she had just rolled out of bed". The actress also liked it when he "pulled her hair up into a messy twist anchored to the back of her head with a metal beak style clip". Sometimes, when appropriate for a storyline or scene, he would dress up Sandra's hair a little bit more by adding a thin headband.
Katie, unlike Sandra, preferred "her hair more styled and finished". Even when he styled Katie's hair into a casual pony or updo, he always put extra time into dressing the hair, which meant he might curl the ends of a pony or work on cranking up the shine for a sleek finish.
Besides always cutting and styling Patrick's hair for Grey's, he also colored it. Depending on timing issues, sometimes Sean also did hair on set for actress Kate Walsh (Dr. Addison Montgomery-Shepherd), Chandra Wilson (Dr. Miranda Bailey) as well as Eric Dane (Dr. Mark Sloan) and Justin Chambers (Dr. Alex Karev).
Some of the unique challenges of a TV hairdresser may not be obvious to the average hair consumer. One interesting fact is that the show's producers don’t necessarily shot scenes or even episodes in order, so the challenging part for the hair and make-up team is keeping track of what the actor's hair looked like where they left off with shooting.
As head hairdresser it was Sean's job "to make absolutely have to make sure all of the character's hair looked the same from scene to scene". Which also explains why the hairstyles of major characters on a popular series don't change very dramatically during active filming.
Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow
So why did Sean decide to leave the security of a hot TV series like Grey's Anatomy?
Actually, "it was a combination" of factors, none of which involved major drama or tabloid worthy headlines. Sean's agent, in response to the 2007 writer's strike, pushed him to spread his hair wings into feature films, print and more diverse free lance projects.
Even though he professed he "loved every single minute he spent on Grey's", at times he wasn't being pushed to the limits of what he could do with hair. Of course working on Grey's required him to stay within the boundaries of what the show's theme and setting required.
In that same vein, doing pretty much the same hairstyles on the same actors, whom he was very fond of, for four years in a row, prevented him from continuing to evolve his talents. He also confessed at times he felt "he wasn't feeling fulfilled".
When you work in TV with the cast from a long running popular show, you "do the same people over and over, instead of having a large client base as a hairdresser would in a normal hair salon".
The writer's strike also gave him some time off ,and he enjoyed a less demanding work week. Sean has spent so much of his life working on TV sets that he wanted to take things a little slower and make time for his three kids and partner. In essence Sean went from three years as a full time hairdresser on TV's Days Of Our Life to Buffy The Vampire Slayer and then four years with Grey's Anatomy.
A regular weekly television show can require you to be on set anywhere from 65 to 85 hours a week and it is very physically demanding work. TV hairdressers don't leisurely hang around the set in-between scenes. The hairdressers are constantly working on the next actor's head or they are hovering in the background making sure that the hairstyles aren't creating weird shadows and the lighting is working right on the hair color.
It's mind boggling the many things that on-set hairdressers have to take care. Even more exhausting is being the head hairdresser and dealing with everything related to hair for that show.
"TV work can be exciting and a lot of fun but it is definitely hard work". There should be no mistake about that. However, Sean continued "if you want to succeed at this, you will.
Paying His Dues In The Hair World
Sean is very vocal about his feelings about doing hair. He "loves what he does" and it is still "fun" after 15+ years in the biz.
In fact, he almost gushes with enthusiasm about "how very fortunate" he is to be able to "go what he loves most". "Honestly", he confided, he "loves going to work and it is still as much fun as it was at the very beginning of his career."
Sean does not take anything for granted and was very humble about discussing his many stellar career accomplishments. He told me "he very much appreciated the successful run" he has had "doing hair in TV, films and for celebrities".
Growing up in Los Angeles, Sean hails from a family of hairdressers that included his grandmother, mother and aunt. Although he initially went off to college to study business, with a focus on sales, he eventually returned to his roots, which was hairdressing.
But before he did, he embarked on a very exciting journey traveling and teaching all across Asia, visiting amazing locations like Singapore. Eventually he tired of all the travel and made his way back home to Orange County and hair school.
How did Sean enter the world of celebrity hairdressing? About six months after he graduated from beauty school, he got very involved with doing hair for theater, which has always been his passion. It was a great place to start because of the constant demands.
Since Sean grew up in the hair trade "working in theater" he had many fantastic opportunities "to work with hairstyles from the 30s and the 40s". As a result of his combined passion for theater and wig making, he has collected "stacks of books" with lots of different hairstyles he can research to get new ideas and constantly remain fresh.
Hair For The Big Screen
Doing hair for the big screen is nothing new for Sean. Although he enjoys the work, it's definitely a different pace than working for TV.
Sean recently served as personal hair stylist to Ms. Monaghan on the film Made of Honor with Grey's Patrick Dempsey. Working with Michelle required him to travel back and forth between film locations in London, Scotland, Los Angeles and New York.
Besides his work on Driving Lessons as hair department head with Dermot and Hope, he worked as Katie's personal hairdresser on The Ugly Truth, while also doing double duty as hair department head for the entire film.
Sean served as the personal hair stylist to Lindsay Lohan on Labor Pains which is set to premiere in 2009.
In the past Sean was also the key hairstylist for the films Serenity, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Life of the Party, Little Black Book (as an assistant hair stylist) and A Cinderella Story (hair stylist).
2008 Academy Award Hair
Besides working with Katie on Grey's and for film and print, Sean also "does Katie for Red Carpet events such as the Emmys, Golden Globes and Academy Awards".
I told Sean how much I loved the Katherine's hair for the 2008 Academy Awards show, which he designed and styled for her. According to Sean "Katie loves Old Hollywood glamour with a modern twist". As a result, Sean and Katie put their heads together to come up with her breathtaking Academy Awards hairstyle that was designed to pay homage to glamour queen Marilyn Monroe.
Note: Check out the related article: Katherine Heigl Channels Marilyn Monroe's Hair
Sean confirmed "she looked absolutely stunning" in person and "everything worked". He noted "Katie is such a genuinely nice person, so sincere, but still able to really pull off a sophisticated glamorous look like she did for the Academy Awards".
Katie has specifically told the media when she's not all glammed up, she's a "jeans and sweatshirt" girl who just prays she doesn't end up in the "What was she thinking?" category of the tabloids.
In response to this quote Sean laughed and explained the actress will probably never have to worry about being criticized by the tabloids. Sean said "Katie has a great sense of her own style and knows exactly what works for her".
She also "knows her body really well and what looks great on it". Of course, as Sean pointed out, she has "a really great body which is just the right size". Ironically, Katie, hardly works out, which she has also told the media, but manages to always look really good.
Katie reminds Sean of "Grace Kelly" because she is very versatile in the hairstyles she can wear. Katie is also willing to "do the make-up and the clothing" to create the glamorous look she desires".
Sean commented "Katie gets more gorgeous with each passing year". In a sense he has watched her grow up and claim her place as a world class beauty.
Obviously Sean adores her and said "Katie is awesome" and just "so much fun to work with". In fact, he confessed that when they're working together it really doesn't seem like he's on a job because they have such a great time talking and laughing.
Katie's Hair Hues & Styles
Since Sean had previously explained he had been working with Katie for four years and understands intimately how her finely textured hair works, I referenced all the different hair colors Katherine had morphed through over the past few years and asked if she had a personal preference.
Sean laughed "Katie loves being blonde". According to Sean, "she loves her current hair color" which is Joico Verocolor. Sean, who is a Joico celebrity spokesperson and platform artist "loves their color line" which he uses on all his clients.
He has high praise for several of Joico's other award winning products, which he uses on Katie and his other celebrity clients. I mentioned my own personal love of Joico's K-Pak and he agreed it is a fabulous conditioning product.
Although he is often required to do everything for his clients from color, cut, styling and extensions, he thinks of himself "as more of a hairstylist than a colorist".
Joico's Design Collection Line offers a sleek arsenal of cutting-edge styling tools which dramatically influence hair's movement and condition without adding weight or causing buildup or flaking. It contains the Total Defense Complex™ which is a breakthrough hair care and style technology.
Sean is personally very partial to the new Humidity Blocker and the Dry Spray Wax. Sean "uses all the Joico products whenever he is getting Katie or one of his other celebrity clients ready for a Red Carpet appearance".
Katie's Changing Hair Lengths & Styles
As part of her recent role as the celebrity model for Nautica's "My Voyage" perfume, Katherine was filmed with her hair curled and pinned up to look like a newly clipped bob. As a result she told reporters "I so want to cut my hair this way. I think it's so chic! I've had long hair for so long."
I asked Sean what Katie's preferred hair length is - long or short? He replied "at the moment her natural hair length hits the top of her shoulders and she is definitely enjoying the new shorter length and may at some point even go a bit shorter."
He confided "even though Katie has fine tresses, she "has a lot of hair with a little bit of natural wave". Depending on the event, he "sets her hair to build in a beautiful curve and will use magnetic style rollers".
In order "to give Katie a more contemporary hairstyles he avoids wet sets which will create too much of a period piece rather than a contemporary polished look".
Does she prefer a particular style? Sean noted "After working together for so many years, Katie has a lot of trust for what Sean recommends and will often tell him to do whatever works best. Generally speaking she enjoys the "whole package" with styles that are soft, glamorous and with a sophisticated edge.
Wedded Hair Bliss
Sean had the unique opportunity of creating bridal hairstyles for Katie both on and off the screen. When the gorgeous actress married her music man Josh Kelley on December 23, 2007, she was beautifully coiffed in a stunning soft and sensual updo hairstyle custom designed and created for her by Sean.
One month after her fairytale wedding, Katherine appeared on Oprah with a gorgeous soft and wavy hairstyle also masterfully created by Sean.
Shortly after in March of 2008, when Katherine hit the premiere trail for 27 Dresses, where she ultimately becomes a bride, she had her Grey's Anatomy hair maestro in tow. He was by her side attending to her locks as she did press junket duty in London and Paris.
How did Sean decide what hairstyles to design for the various high powered celebrity events? Quite simply, Sean explained, "it's tied to the dress" or outfit she wears. Of course it's also an ongoing collaboration between Katherine and Sean.
Sean confirmed that "Katie definitely has her own ideas of how she wants her hair styled", she is "very relaxed and easy going and trusts Sean to help her select the ultimate hairstyle she wears". Which is just another reason why the actress and her mane man work so well together.
Sean is personally a "big fan of hair accessories" and likes to use them, when appropriate, on the characters. He loves "cool headbands" and "hair clips" that really hold the hair well. He also likes to experiment with brooches and other jeweled pins. He has used gold and diamond brooch clips and fashioned them into faux barrettes to decorate Katherine's hair for various Red Carpet events.
Celebrity Dream Clients
I asked Sean who his dream celebrity hair clients might be. He laughed and said he is already working with a dream client - Katie. No, no, I said, whose hair would you love to do besides Katherine? Ahhh, he mused, there are so many, "a whole group of women he would love to work with.
He would love the opportunity to work with Jessica Alba and Anne Hathaway, to name a few. He is "very attracted to Old Hollywood glamour and believes Jessica and Anne fit that mold".
But seriously, life for Sean "is good" and he appreciates all the fabulous clients he already works with. He feels very blessed for the career he has.
What The Future May Hold
Although Grey's Anatomy continues on without Sean behind the main chair in the hair trailer, the wonderfully talented hairdresser will continue to create magnificent hair designs as a free lancer.
Sean is fierce and willing to take risks. He told me "if you have a goal you wish to accomplish, don't be afraid to go for it."
Always in demand, he will enjoy many opportunities to coif a myriad list of interesting new characters for several upcoming films and put in some platform time for Joico. In addition, Sean will spend some cherished time with his beloved family. Sean is devoted to his children and expressed a commitment to make time for them and his partner.
Regardless of where this warm and charming man does hair in the future, there is no doubt he will be immensely successful.
As this hair maestro likes to say - "put your heart and soul into your dream, and you’ll succeed." There's no doubt whatever dream Sean Flanigan decides to pursue, he will always finish at the very top.
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