The movie poster for "The Help" says "Change Begins With a Whisper." For actors who starred in the award-winning drama based on Kathryn Sockett's best-selling novel of the same name, their physical change began at the hands of hairstylist Roxanne Wightman.
In 2010, the Stillwater resident spent three months on the set doing hairdos for Allison Janney, Chris Lowell, Mike Vogel and Leslie Jordan, who all starred in the gripping tale in which a young white woman during the Civil Rights era becomes interested in the plight of African-American domestic servants.
Sometimes that meant creating three looks per day per actor, all with the authentic look of bouffant hairstyles of 1960s Mississippi.
"Hair is one of those subtle things to frame the face that is telling the story; it's another piece that adds to the believability of the story being told," said Wightman, who will talk about her experience Tuesday at the Stillwater Public Library.
"Something like a hair that is sticking out to the side is enough to distract a person. If there is bad hair, it takes the audience out of the story. If there's good hair, you'll say 'Oh, that person looks great.' Or, 'She looks like a real bum.' Or, 'He looks like he's been drunk all night.' Or, 'They just made love all night.' That is what I get jazzed about, working with director and actor in getting these looks [and] have them believable."
Wightman's career began in the 1980s on the sets of low-budget flicks and bad TV movies. She has worked on blockbusters, too, including "Traffic," "Oceans Eleven" and "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby." She has also lent her handiwork to "A Prairie Home Companion."
She has placed wigs and highlights, and brushed the hair of Sacha Baron Cohen, Lily Tomlin, James Belushi, Bette Midler, Tim Robbins and Kirk Douglas.
Still, Wightman said her work on "The Help" was one of her most rewarding and challenging assignments. She compiled seven writings chronicling her time on the set, from the countless hours researching 1960s hairstyles and looking at pictures in magazines and high school yearbooks, to meeting producers' demands, to making the 1 1/2-hour drive to get to the nearest Target and Starbucks. She will use those writings and photographs as the basis of her 90-minute talk Tuesday.
"You can't compare when doing a period piece," she said. "We all have a passion for the movie. Many of us had read the book, but to be there and meet the actors and meet the director was wonderful. It felt like family."
Wightman has been home since late last year after she finished work on "Pitch Perfect," a comedy about collegiate a cappella singing competitions that is due later this year.
Tim Harlow • 651-925-5039, Twitter: @timstrib