Mike Battle: He mentioned that you might have grown up with the Jackson 5. Is this true Michael White?
Michael White: Yes, it is.
Battle: Hello and welcome to Red Carpet Rookies. My name is Mike Battle, a film production Jr. working for studios in London. Each episode I bring you advice and stories from film, TV and content professionals to help demystify and democratize the industries for juniors and fans alike. Thanks for joining me. Let’s get started. Today’s guest is hair designer to the stars Michael White, with over 30 incredible years in the business spent working on shows such as David Fincher Seven and Tom Ford’s a single man. Michael has certainly seen it all, most notably through his long standing relationship as personal stylist to Tom Cruise, with whom he has worked on eight movies together. Michael, it’s so great to have you on the show. And I know you’re going to have some incredible stories and advice for our listeners. Thank you for being here.
White: You’re welcome. It’s a pleasure to be with you.
Battle: Now I like to first ask my guests because everybody has parents.
White: I was handed a comb out of the birth canal. My father was a hairdresser. My uncle was a hairdresser. And then my step brother became a hairdresser. So when I grew up, and I reached the age, maybe about seven, when I was able to understand what pushing a broom was all about, I used to be able to earn a quarter by going in at the end of the day before my dad got done with work. And my mom would head down to pick them up, that I would sweep the salon and my dad would pay me a quarter. So that was basically my five day a week job from six or seven on. So, to me, growing up in that business was part of my life. I really knew that was the only thing I knew. And my father was very much a trendsetter and a leader in the profession at that time. So, not knowing that I would follow in his footsteps. But as they say, “The apples don’t fall far from the tree.”
Battle: So was he very proud then that you’ve gone on to such great success within the film industry?
White: My father was Austrian. He went from Austria, from Vienna to London and then London, to Los Angeles in the late 30s. When he was living in London, he became friends with Vidal Sassoon, I don’t know what would be a great uncle or great uncle who was a hairstylist in Vienna, I kind of followed the same pattern, as my father kind of was doing as a child. And as a kind of built into, my career building up and helping him going to beauty school. There’s a story in there. When I said to him, “Hey, I just came back from London and or I flew him down to spend a month with me when I was doing Total Recall in Mexico City. And he would kind of like, get a kick out of it. And Arnold Schwarzenegger would be making him a little beanie schnitzel and talking beanies with him. And as my dad got older, he used to vicariously live his life through me. There’s so much history, I wanted to write a book called Hollywood was my playground. So I haven’t gotten there yet. But there’s so much and my dad used to believe that in hairstyling, you are only as good as your last haircut. And you have to be always on top of everything. And he was always a mentor even till the day he died. He always gave me great advice.
White: My dad, if people are not familiar, they’re in Los Angeles, there’s the San Fernando Valley. And in the San Fernando Valley, there is a very famous main Boulevard called Ventura Boulevard. And if you went to Los Angeles today and you went to Ventura Boulevard, it is packed with buildings. You have Studio City, Universal Studios, up on the hill where the tours are. If you go the other way, we have a famous place called Warner Center. There’s the Calabasas Commons, where the Kardashians hang out and all the raw, quote unquote, young social media, a list people, and then you go from there and you’re in Malibu. Well, in the day that my dad settled into the valley, where we lived in Encino, California, which was off of Ventura Boulevard. There were really no buildings and a lot of oak trees and orange groves and my dad opened up the first hair salon on Ventura Boulevard. So that’s kind of where the history goes back to where I grew up in where kind of everything kind of blossomed from. So my dad was kind of like a catalyst to a lot of hairdressers that became very famous. They had worked for my father, John Peters, who became a producer, he was married to Barbra Streisand was the Vidal Sassoon of Los Angeles. You had Alan Edwards, who was Farrah Fawcett’s hairdresser for my father and then opened up Alan Edwards. And then there was Jerry Cosenza, who worked for my father who created the Sebastian International Line. So my dad really was a, it seems like he was a home base. For a lot of people that broke out from that, from that period, when he would say is mainly, I would say, the 60s.
White: It’s nice to be important, but so much important to be nice. I have a lot of memories of what people told me. But my father used to believe that today’s peacock was tomorrow’s feather duster. So he used to always feel that if he surrounded himself with people that were younger than him, or better than him. He would be number one himself, and his business would be number one.
White: Yes, it is. The Jackson Five as if you look in their history came from Gary Indiana, and moved to Los Angeles. And at that time in Encino was a very small community, the hills of the valley had not been built up yet. And they had moved into a house that was right off Ventura Boulevard. And Havner Avenue and they had these huge gates. And you would go back about maybe a football field and you’d go into this huge property. So the high school, junior high, high school that I went to one day, these guys showed up. In those days, you only knew the Jackson Five is Ed Sullivan, and all these shows that they would be on and ABC and it was more very kind of like, where when we grew up. It was the Beatles and you know, didn’t have to so here comes this Motown. And Barry Gordy who was the owner of Motown moved into Encino. So there was kind of a group of them that kind of settled in there. So when they kind of started there was Marlon who was around my age, there was Jackie and Tito, who were older. Randy and Janet were really young. They were like, five, six years old, even if that and Michael was about five, remember, maybe 9, 8, 9, 10. And they were kind of in their own world. They had a few cousins that came along. And I kind of had the welcoming sign. And they kind of felt comfortable talking to me. So there was a market that we had at the corner of [unclear 9:12] Ventura, called Gelson’s and they would ride their bikes in the parking lot of Gelson’s. And when you would want to go get something to eat or something you would go down there so I kind of would run into them. Got to know them. The next thing you know, after school, you’re playing basketball at their house. And in the summer, they would either be swimming at their house, or there was like a group of maybe about five of us that were friendly, their father was very protective of them. And like, let’s say in the afternoon, we would go over to play basketball. We’d be shooting hoops on the driveway and Michael would be sitting over in the corner of the driveway off in the patio. Just watching in very quiet. And as our relationships grew for about maybe three or four years, they are in during the summer because they had to go to school they would do a tour. And one summer a Marlon, they were all allowed to bring a friend. And Marlon said, “Hey, Michael, do you want to go, we’re gonna go to Vegas, we’re gonna go?” We went to a few like places. I remember Vegas, I remember we went to Madison Square Garden, the forum in LA. And when we were in Vegas, we were there for three weeks because they played the MGM Grand. And my greatest memory was that I stayed in the room with Marlon, all the family was on the floor. Michael was very quiet, as you see the see him in life, or he was kind of captured. He was always kind of very much kept to himself, but very friendly. And Janet and Michael were the young ones. And the older brothers were kind of like the older brothers. So when it became Showtime, you’d go down. And if you’ve ever seen a show in Vegas, whether it’s Frank Sinatra or anybody, the orchestra starts to hit the symphonies and da-da-da. And they go, ladies and gentlemen, the Jackson Five and just like you would see him on Ed Sullivan Show here, they come out, and they’d be in their glitter outfits and stuff like that. So instead of standing there, one day, someone said, “Why don’t you do something?” And I said, “Well, what can I do?” They said, “Here’s Michael’s microphone cord.” And in those days, they carried a microphone cord with like, microphone with a cord to it. And I was sit there and when he would go out and walk around and do stuff, you’d feed it out. And when he would come back and pull it back in. And I did that for maybe, for about three shows. And then you get that age, you kind of get bored with it. And they just they do their shows and stuff. And they then you go back and you go run around and you play, you’re too young to be in the casino. And we’d find things to do or we terrorize the floor. And back in Encino, where I grew up in the summer, they would swim over at our house. We would hang out, watch TV, there were no video games in those days, but we’d play baseball, football. And they were normal kids just like you were and I. They were that they had an incredible ability to create music. And it was they were untouched. Because in those days, people really didn’t swarm over a stars. It wasn’t you know, Sonny and Cher lived up the street. And you see them drive down and you’d wave high. And it was in LA when you grew up, it wouldn’t be weird to see Dean Martin, or somebody was sitting at a bar when you walked in a restaurant or it was a very small city. But the Jacksons were probably, when I just fast forward when I became a hairdresser, they had the album The Jacksons, where they’re all on the cover. And I was good with textured hair. And at that time, they were wearing the big natural froze. And I came in and helped him pick it out. And I used to sometimes hand them their stuff when they’d get ready for the show. So I did that album cover. And as we got older, they became very isolated. They couldn’t walk in public anymore without a security and Michael went off into his world. And you grow up. That’s basically what happens. But when I’ve now lived 11 years in Chicago. So I, will my last residence was in Calabasas in Los Angeles. And sometimes I’d go down to the market near the comments, and I would see Marlon arrived and you say, “Hey, how’s it going?” And it’s no different than seeing somebody that you grew up with. And you’re good. “I’m good. What’s up? Yeah, and see you later.”
White: To really go quickly, I graduated beauty school you go there for a year. My dad bought me a little Coleman scissor and I had it around my neck. That was kind of the thing when you became a hairdresser. The movie Shampoo came out with Warren Beatty and a lot of people don’t even know of that movie. But if you would get it on streaming. It’s an incredible film, Julie Christie, Warren Beatty, and he plays a hairdresser. It’s the supposedly the true story about [unclear 15:10] from Beverly Hills. And I was going around and my dad said, “Do you want to go right into film? Or do you want to do television? What you might do?” I said, “No, I want to learn how to cut hair.” And it wasn’t, he didn’t feel it was a great idea for me to work for him. That I had to go learn how to become a hairdresser, and learn how to cut hair. And then if I would become good enough, I could work for him. And we were walking in Beverly Hills, and he met me for lunch and he said, “Where did you go?” I said, “I went up to Vidal Sassoon to apply for a job” and he said, “How did you do? He there’s 200 people on the waiting list. And he says, “Okay, well, did you leave your name?” I said, ‘Yes,’ we turn around. We walk around the corner, and suddenly I hear this man yell, “Bill White.” And it was Vidal Sassoon. And the Vidal Sassoon comes over. And he said to my dad, they hug each other. They’re talking, he says, “Look at Michael, he’s grown up.” And he looks at my Coleman scissor. And he said, “Oh, you’re one of us now.” And I said, “I just got my hair license.” He says, “Well, why aren’t you working for me?” I said, “I can’t get a job.” And he said, “Come with me.” And he walked me upstairs. He introduced me to the manager and I started the next day. And I spent six years at the Dulce Sasson at Rodeo. Under people like, Henry Abel and Sally Abel and Lee Tanaka, Christopher Berker, all the people that came from London and New York that created the Vidal salon. And I learned how to cut hair and do the things that really became the new Hollywood and I first created a foundation of learning how to become good at what you do. And I went from there to work for that Jerry Cosenza, who had started Sebastian, she approached me. And at that time it was I want my MTV and I started doing music videos. I did Pat Benatar, a few of Pat Benatar. I did Tom Petty. Brian Adams and I went through a few years of doing that. But I created a clientele of a lot of Hollywood clients. And one day a woman came in, and when needed a permanent. I turned around, it was Sally Fields. So, one day I get a phone call saying, “I need you to come to Texas and I need my hair burnt.” They put me on a plane. I went there. I’ve already now experienced the videos and commercials. And I came home and my father who had part time done television and film, but was more involved in the salon. But he carried a card. And he would go in and do a guest star on Johnny Carson. His clients were Shirley MacLaine, and Margaret and all these women, so he kind of was that time we would call a personal. So when I came back, I said I think, “I want to do film. I really liked it.” So one of my clients was Raphaela de Laurentis. From the De Laurentis family. The father was Dino de Laurentis, who did King Kong and created an incredible Empire. And she said, “Do you want to go do a film in Indiana with Sam Elliot and Cloris Leachman” and I said, ‘Okay,’ and I went there, and it was a Christmas film called Prancer, which became a classic that they play every year on AMC. And I came back and they said, “How’d you like it?” And I said, “I had a lot of fun.” “Well, we’re sending you now if you want to, to Mexico City, we have this young actress that we need to have. She doesn’t want to Hollywood, hot rollers hairdresser. She wants a salon hairdresser,” and I said, “She wants her hair blow dried and done kind of with the new way women are wearing their hair.” I said, “Oh great!” So I get on a plane. I go down to Mexico City and it ends up to be the original Total Recall. And I walk into a room and facing another area a young lady, and they say, Sharon Stone, Michael White.
White: And that was my first big picture. And I was her personal on Total Recall. From there, it just became a catalyst to snowballing from going from movie to movie. And I was very fortunate that my timing was right, that there was a new guard coming in the young actors that were coming up. And the young actresses wanted, they wanted salon hairdressers, they wanted Sally Hershberger, they wanted Fernando Romero, they wanted people from Beverly Hills. So, they don’t do that. But they do cut them. So they would they knew me and they would kind of interacted with them. And that’s how I got referred to some of the movies that I ended up doing. And then it becomes a progression after that of relationships. So with Sharon Stone was my first really big moment in the business.
White: I was doing a film called The color of Night, Jane March, she did the movie called the Lover. The producers brought me on to do Jane, Bruce Willis was the male lead. And it was a big film, huge film for those days. Richard rush was the director who had directed the Stunt Man and the studios were watching it and people were kind of Bruce Willis, Planet Hollywood. People today don’t know about that. There’s still one in London, I believe. But Planet Hollywood was owned by Bruce Willis, Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger. And all the actors would do the red carpet when they would launch them all around the world. So I kind of met Tom, when he came to visit Bruce, and the makeup artist I was working with Michele Burke was the Academy Award winner. And she had won the Academy Award for Dracula. So she was A list. She was, you know, kind of getting all the phone calls. And she got called to do an interview with the Vampire. And she didn’t have a hairdresser that she had chosen yet. And they were doing the test. And she said, “Do you want to come with me? And do the tests?” And I said, ‘Sure.’ And it was Tom Cruise. And we were over at Stan Winston’s workshop, which is now legacy because Stan has passed. And Tom walked into the room. I joined mine, Tom Cruise, da-da-da, full of life. And I did the tests. And then they cast it a young guy named Brad Pitt. So now Brad Pitt comes into the test. Well, Tom was wearing wig but Brad didn’t want to wear a wig. He wanted to have his hair done every day. And if you remember him, he had long hair in that. But he wanted a kind, they wanted to kind of natural and unkempt. So it had to be blow dried. So Tom being one of the producers, and Geffen and stuff said, “Well, why don’t we put Michael on Brad.” So, I wasn’t a personal I had keyed the movie. Jan Archibald from London, who owns the London weed company was the department head. And I took care of Brad and then if I wasn’t doing Brad, I would help out whether it would be that they needed more help with Tom, or a double for Tom or we had huge days of background. We were in Paris. And we came back to LA and we had a month of pickups. And in that month of pickups, Tom said, “You’re doing me” and I had to bring somebody in to do Brad. So that’s where my relationship started with Tom.
And after that, Brad went right to the movie Se7en. Now, Brad, there’s a very famous Rolling Stone magazine cover with Brad. He has long blonde bleached hair. And that was the way his hair was before we did the movie Se7en. And I was brought on to that movie by Brad and Brad and I and David Fincher. And it was his first film. We’re sitting in a room and he said, David Fincher said, “If you ruin my actor, you’re never going to work in Hollywood again.”
White: And not saying it seriously. But when you’re young, you’re kind of going okay. And after we discussed he said, “We came up with the idea of the young James Dean.” So Brad agreed to it and I went up to His house. And it took about five hours to cut his hair from about that length to the haircut I created for him for Se7en. And what ended up happening was is I got shorter and shorter, I kind of had the technique of being a motivated hair cutter. And I knew all the techniques, so I started chopping it up, which in haircutting, in those days, really didn’t have that. It started to become a trend as time went on. The Messier it looks, the better it looked. So I went in there and I kind of shattered it like you would take a piece of glass and throw it on the ground. And I put bleach on tin foil, and I turned his headset head upside down and I shined it. I left it on for about 10 minutes, we washed it off. And that’s how he got the blond tips and the short hair. And that haircut I think still in a lot in mostly anything in my history is one of my iconic moments of creating a character for a movie where you really did a complete makeover. I’ll stop there you continue the questions, but that’s how the Tom Cruise relationship began, was on interview with the Vampire.
White: I was in the Burj. And we were on the 160th floor and he was two floors below us. So you would go down, do your last looks, even though he was outside. In our business, there’s always the last look. Even if you’re not touching the actor, it’s the eye contact. And I had also I was doing Jeremy Renner. I was doing Paula Patton. I was the hair supervisor, I pretty much had my hands into everybody. But I was on that 160th floor looking down at him looking up at the crane camera and the helicopter, two helicopters filming. And I watched him swing from the left of the Burj below me to the right. And I could close my eyes right now and remember it. And I did the junket for mission for so we traveled we did 17 cities in 21 days around the world. And we went back to Dubai for the premiere. And we went back up into the Burj. And he did a shot of him kind of near the edge of a window. And one of those type of things just, things you just don’t forget also to he took a very famous picture of him sitting on the top of the radio tower by David James. And I remember we were always around that 160th floor and they came up with the idea of the shot and he had no fear. So he went up through the tower, there’s ladders that go up there. And David James down below, got in the helicopter, the helicopter went up. Tom popped out of the top of it and sat up there and that’s where the picture came from. So you could kind of look up and see it. And I like said to myself, “I’d be, I would have passed out.” I mean, but he has no fear. You know when you see the X Games, and you know, and people would say, “Oh, he didn’t do this.” Every time or any time I was on a movie. He did his own stunts. When we did Jack Reacher, he drove the car. When we did whatever it was, he did it he got ratcheted, he got thrown, he was outside the Burj, his stunt guys set up the scene they safety check everything and then they bring him out and they gear him up. He rehearses incredibly, he just does it to perfection and with no fear. And the one thing that I kind of learned from him was that, ‘no fear’ because if you really convince yourself to not have fear, you can do anything.
White: The most intense thing is there was the fight, which was on a set, which was in the interior of the Burj and it was with Jeremy Renner and Tom. And Paula I think was in it. And they’re in there, they’re fighting. So let’s say, Tom goes over to hit the sky, and comes back, and his hair is in his face, but in the master the hairs not in the face. So, the what your job really is, is to go right there and say to the director in the script supervisor that, that’s not going to cut to the master? Are you going to use that cut that he just did? Oh, yes, we are? Well, we have to do it again. Because you won’t, I’m sure you’ve been to films where you go, and then they cut back and forth. And one time, the actor or the actress has a hair here, and then they don’t. So, when you’re doing action movies, or you’re doing movies that are have stunts going or matching, you can’t say, “Oh, I’m not gonna say anything. Because when they go to the editing room, you’re going to be the one that they’re not going to be happy with. So one of the biggest things that you have to keep in mind is, are they going to be able to cut it together. So believe you are not that part or that hair, or the wind blowing, or when they get out of a car, if they run their hands through their hair and some hair falls down, you’ve got to keep the continuity on that. Otherwise, suddenly, they’re walking in the door and they’re perfect. So, it is stressful. When you’re on these big films, there’s a lot of accountability, you’re accountable. That goes if they yell, cut, print, your name is on there. And if suddenly, the editor sends back note saying, “A lot of this stuff doesn’t match.” They’re gonna sit you down and say, “We’ve got a problem.” And there’s a word called unacceptable.
Battle: I’ve heard of that.
White: That they first day become a licensed cosmetologist. Because in the unions in IRC, unless you’re on a waiver, meaning maybe you came from Europe or something, you have to have a license. And in Europe, there’s the apprenticeship program. They start as trainees, and they work their way up. But they don’t have what we call a cosmetology license. You can’t be in the hair unions in the United States without that license. So I tell people go to beauty school, get your license, learn the basics. You know how to cut a straight line, how to blow dry ahead of hair. And if you get done with that, and you take the we have a test, and you get your license, and you have the passion for it and you really like it, I always believe that you should go try it out. And whether it’s in a salon, or whether it’s finding a commercial to do or print. Because I my way in the door was I hooked on to photographers. And there was a guy named Jonathan Exley, who will use to shoot Mick Jagger, everybody. And I met him and I said, “Could I do one of your shoots? I do hair.” And he said, “Do you have a book?” I said, ‘yes.’ And I showed him my book. And I said, “And I won’t charge you.” I said, “I’d be just happy to do it for the picture.” He said, ‘Okay.’ And one thing led to another which led to another which led to another. I always say one on one equals two, two and two equals four, four and four equals eight. The squeaky wheel gets the oil, if you don’t knock on people’s doors, because they’re all out there. And I love when someone calls me eight times. I’ll call them back and say, “What would you like to do?” And I think persistence, you’re not going to walk out and go to the studio gate and say, “I’m here.” It’s about relationships. So you have to whether it’s by trying to get an agent by trying to find a magazine and find the name of the photographer, and contact the photographer, because now on Instagram, and social media, you can contact people very easily. In my day, you had to find them.
White: And I used to walk up to people, and just say, “Hi, my name is Michael White, I’d love to work with you.” And my famous line is knowing a complete sense. And if they would say, ‘No,’ I would say, “Thank you very much. I’ll see you next week.” If they would say, “Well, when are you available? What’s your story?” I knew I had them. So, I never took defeat. And it’s not an easy road to walk down. And there’s a saying, they might call your name. And if they don’t thank you very much. That’s just means you’re not supposed to be there. And there’s someone out there that’s going to say, “Okay, I’ll give you the break, I’ll give you the chance.” Or I used to call, I used to get phone numbers through people have very top rated or A list hairstylist. And I used to call and I used to call, or I knew where they, I knew someone that knew them. And maybe it took me a year or two, but I finally got in touch with them. And I remember one of my mentors, Barbara Loren said, “You bug me so much that so I’m going to get you to stop bugging me, I’m going to get you a day of work.” And she down the line would give me films that she couldn’t do. And you have to fight, you have to get an education. You don’t become a writer unless you learn how to write. You don’t become a filmmaker. Unless you go to film school. You have to learn how to work in camera. Whether you learn on your own, or whether you have someone teach you. You see these young kids that find these guys that go around and make these little short films and they work for nothing. They work for food. And you have to get out there, the phone will ring when the time comes.
Battle: Now to wrap it up, we’re gonna do our little Red Carpet Rookies in the actors’ studio quick fire style. And it’s my own little Ode to an actor studio. And so just I’m going to say the question Michael, and just say whatever comes straight into your head. Are you ready?
Battle: Number one, what is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
White: Take my ego, put it in my back pocket and sit on it.
Battle: Number two, do you have a favorite film?
White: Yes, I do. It’s a Wonderful Life.
Battle: And the second part of that question is if our listeners were to watch one of your films tonight, what do you think they should watch?
White: Jerry Maguire.
Battle: Great choices. Number three, what gives you a reason to get out of bed every day for an early call time, if any at all?
Battle: Number four, which job in the industry would you do if you weren’t doing yours?
White: I want to be an editor.
Battle: That’s a common choice. Number five, if you could work with one person living or dead? Who would it be?
White: Paul Newman.
Battle: Number six. What is a book that everybody should read?
White: Open. Do you know who that’s about?
Battle: Open? No, I don’t tell me more.
White: Andre Agassi.
Mike Battle: Very cool.
White: It’s his autobiography. It’s his story.
Battle: And finally, if you want an Oscar, who would you thank?
White: I would thank Michele Burke.
Battle: Anyone else?
White: I would thank, well, of course, we all thank God, but I would think Raphaela de Laurentis and [unclear 38:40].
Battle: Fantastic. And on that note, we’re gonna have to end it there. I’m sure we could have spoken for many more hours of incredible stories. But thank you so much Michael for joining us excellent advice and tales from one of the most talented and most in regard Hollywood stylists, thank you so much for joining us.
White: You’re welcome. Anybody can find me on Instagram.