Emmy-nominated television and film hairstylist Kathleen Leonard talks scripted-versus-live show work, what it takes to make and maintain a career and more in this edition of Spotlight, a Television Academy Member News series.
“I enjoy people,” Kathleen Leonard says. Make that, “I enjoy helping people.”
In addition to making actresses and musical performers look their best on such shows as popular NBC singing competition The Voice and ABC drama Mistresses, Leonard spends time at her own salon, styling wigs for people who have lost their hair due to the medical condition alopecia or the effects of chemotherapy.
A 2013 Primetime Emmy nominee for The Voice, Leonard’s other television credits include HBO vampire serial True Blood, ABC Family’s The Fosters, TNT crime drama Perception and long-running NBC series ER. She also worked on the feature Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, creating the hair extensions for the stars’ stunt doubles.
And with her own mixed heritage – her mother is white and American Indian and her father, African American and Filipino – Leonard’s lifelong exposure to and experience working with an array of diverse hair textures has proved an asset.
The youthful Los Angeles native — mother of 3 adult children who also work behind-the-scenes in production — took a moment to talk with TelevisionAcademy.com about what it takes to maintain a viable career and what is most important when helping those coping with hair loss.
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What was your first union television credit?
That would probably be ER. It was an amazing experience, on their last season (2008-09), phenomenal to work with the cast and crew.
The head of the department hired me to work with Angela Bassett.
How is working on The Voice different from a scripted series?
The huge difference is, with scripted shows, you can fix something if you don’t like it. You’re in control of how you want it to look.
On a live performance show, you’ve got one time to make it right.
If it’s flyaway, if it bounces – you have to make sure they can handle whatever happens.
If a bobby pin falls out, for example, it can hurt somebody on stage.
How did it feel to be nominated for an Emmy for The Voice?
It was so exciting when that happened! It was surreal. People realize that I have talent – it wasn’t that I was trying for it. I was just doing what I loved. It was amazing. It made me feel ever more proud of my work.
To be nominated? I felt like a winner.
Walking the red carpet was amazing. I was in shock, (feeling) "Oh my God, I cannot believe this is happening!"
Besides the nomination, what place does the Television Academy have in your life?
There would not be recognition (of hairstylists and others) – we would not be supported. We hear information, and support each other, within the Academy.
At the nominee reception, all of my peers were recognizing our work. It wasn’t like a competition. We were so glad to be there, to socialize and celebrate our work. It makes you want to work harder.
What advice would you give Academy members, or those aspiring to work in television, about having a successful career?
I tell people, this business changes all the time. The main thing is, to grow with the business.
I make sure I have strong points, that I’m educated in whatever is needed – a wig, or special effects.
There are classes given by the union. You have to keep up with what is new, so that whatever people need, you are there.
And for me, faith and spirituality play a lot into it.
We don’t talk about it, but a lot of my colleagues, we pray. Every day.
You’re planning to move in front of the camera, too.
Yes, I just did my sizzle reel, for a show called Trailer Trash Talk that we’d like to put on television. We’re in the hair and makeup trailer, interviewing celebrities and other actors about what’s going on in their lives.
It’s a perfect way for them to get more intimate with their fans, have the fans be more a part of their lives.
You’re more open and vulnerable [in the hair and makeup chairs]. We’re bringing that joy and drama to the audience.
There’s also [opportunity for] product placement and other aspects. We did a makeover for an Emmy seat-filler.
And you have your own salon, as well.
Yes. It’s called Kathleen’s Secret Salon. It’s on the rooftop of a high-rise building where Beverly Hills meets Westwood, looking over the ocean to the mountains.
When I’m on a show, I only work there on weekends, and I take off one Sunday a month. We have some celebrity clients and The Voice sends me certain people who need hair color, so that when they’re on the show, they only need to worry about hairstyling.
How did you get involved with people who are dealing with the effects of alopecia and cancer?
The woman who introduced me to this world, 9 years ago, is Amy Gibson. She was an actress on soap operas, and she had total alopecia – and she has her own wig line.
I empower people, to let them know they are not their hair. All they have to do is go out and live their dream.
The wigs I style move and flow. When I’m finished with a wig, [it’s as if] the person never knew they’d lost their hair.
It’s very important to me to give that to people, to give them back their lives.