Male Celebrity Apology Hair: A Close Study
Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge has three Golden Globe nominations and two SAG nods, and his beard has never been wilder.
by: Kenzie Bryant December 15, 2016
The celebrity apology tour is a time-honored tradition. Faced with a private or professional mishap, stars work their “sorrys” into their late-night talk show and event appearances, conveying that he or she takes responsibility for his or her actions and once again deserves your attention and box office dollars. It can be a career reset button when done well. In Mel Gibson’s case, it just might have worked to the tune of awards-season and box-office glory. Is it the quality of his new movie, Hacksaw Ridge? Or could it be the new look accompanying him on the promotional circuit?
Throughout the Hacksaw Ridge press tour and the film’s many award nominations, Gibson has sported a beard of biblical proportions thanks to role in the film-in-the-making The Professor and the Madman. It’s a different look for the former star of What Women Want, and helpful for the optics of an apology tour: hair is something you can control in hopes of influencing the things that are out of your hands.
On Late Night with Stephen Colbert in November, he and the host made some beard jokes and some jokes about his past, which include allegedly making anti-Semitic remarks during an arrest ten years ago and many other offensive comments since. When asked what he’d tell his younger self, Gibson said, “I’d tell my younger self to shut the f**k up.”
So does Gibson’s follicular apologia work? Karen Raphael, image consultant who’s worked with a host of people from Ariana Grande to Michael B. Jordan, told Vanity Fair over the phone that there’s only so much you can do when a project dictates hair length. “He was on Good Morning America, and he was wearing a really, really good suit with a T-shirt, so that it was clean,” she said. In terms of clothing, “he looks really put together, but also you know there was a part of him that fit in with an upcoming role.” The audience couldn’t forget that he’s a movie star because the evidence is right there, growing longer every day.
Amanda Sanders, an image consultant and stylist who’s worked with the likes of Jamie Foxx and Wanda Sykes, suggests that the look could be intentional, despite the excuse that he needed the beard for the role. “There are men who will not shave their head for certain parts and will do a bald cap,” Sanders said, explaining that Hollywood magic could extend to Gibson’s face. “Certainly, he could have groomed himself a little better to look less wild. He didn't have to look like that.” His beard, then, becomes a way to disassociate the old Mel Gibson from the new Mel Gibson. “We don't relate to him as the same person because he doesn't look the same,” Sanders said.
Phoenix at the Late Show with David Letterman in 2009 (top) and later in 2010 (bottom).
Both images from CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images.
Hair has typically been where a man can make a sizable initial impression when showing contrition. Compare, for example, Joaquin Phoenix’s face when he went on Letterman as his “I’m Still Here” faux-documentary character to Joaquin Phoenix’s face when he went on Letterman to apologize for being in full character a year later. It’s night and day. Gone is the wildman beard. In its place is smooth skin that would look at home in any Gillette commercial.
Or compare Ryan Lochte’s hair in Brazil to Ryan Lochte’s hair during his mea culpa interview on the Today Show, where he apologized for “over-exaggerating” the story about being held at gunpoint by Brazilian police while representing the U.S. on the international stage. He went from ice blue and messy to natural brown. Not a hair on his all-American head fell out of place while he was speaking to Matt Lauer. The classic side part and close crop helped to convey the message. It’s a serious look for a serious apology. He kept up this look throughout his stint on Dancing with the Stars and in a recent Cosmopolitan profile that painted him as a happily settled down, newly betrothed man.
These men said and did controversial things, and as they try to wriggle back into the public’s favor, hair will never be the determining factor. Other apology tour mainstays—like the actual apology, aligning themselves with squeaky clean projects, or getting their personal lives straightened out—matter more. But the hair is a crucial piece of the equation that visually beams out “I’ve learned my lesson!” or “I’m not the same person I used to be!” to their audiences.
After all this time, Gibson, Phoenix, and Lochte are still here—and their hair has never looked more thoughtful.