The Lyon brothers:
Jamal (Jussie
Smollett), Hakeem
(Bryshere Y. Gray) and
Andre (Trai Byers).
The Lyon brothers: Jamal (Jussie Smollett), Hakeem (Bryshere Y. Gray) and Andre (Trai Byers).

Photo courtesy of

Lauren Quick
Lyon patriarch Lucious Lyon, played by Terrence Howard.
Lyon patriarch Lucious Lyon, played by Terrence Howard.
Kelly touches up Smollett’s hairline. Kelly says he cuts hair every day—consistency is huge for the show. They keep printed stills of the actors in every episode in case they have to reshoot a scene and recreate the exact hairstyle.
Kelly touches up Smollett’s hairline. Kelly says he cuts hair every day—consistency is huge for the show. They keep printed stills of the actors in every episode in case they have to reshoot a scene and recreate the exact hairstyle.
Kelly’s setup for Smollett in the hair and makeup trailer.
Kelly’s setup for Smollett in the hair and makeup trailer.

Photo courtesy of

Lauren Quick
Smollett jokingly tries to make his hair a little more imperfect while detail-driven Kelly looks on in horror. Kelly and the actors seem closer to friends than coworkers, and it was easy to see the mutual respect and ease in their interactions.
Smollett jokingly tries to make his hair a little more imperfect while detail-driven Kelly looks on in horror. Kelly and the actors seem closer to friends than coworkers, and it was easy to see the mutual respect and ease in their interactions.

Photo courtesy of

Lauren Quick
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The Lyon brothers:
Jamal (Jussie
Smollett), Hakeem
(Bryshere Y. Gray) and
Andre (Trai Byers).
1/6
 
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The Lyon brothers: Jamal (Jussie Smollett), Hakeem (Bryshere Y. Gray) and Andre (Trai Byers).
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Photo courtesy of

Lauren Quick
Lyon patriarch Lucious Lyon, played by Terrence Howard.
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Slider
Lyon patriarch Lucious Lyon, played by Terrence Howard.
Kelly touches up Smollett’s hairline. Kelly says he cuts hair every day—consistency is huge for the show. They keep printed stills of the actors in every episode in case they have to reshoot a scene and recreate the exact hairstyle.
4/6
 
Slider
Kelly touches up Smollett’s hairline. Kelly says he cuts hair every day—consistency is huge for the show. They keep printed stills of the actors in every episode in case they have to reshoot a scene and recreate the exact hairstyle.
Kelly’s setup for Smollett in the hair and makeup trailer.
5/6
 
Slider
Kelly’s setup for Smollett in the hair and makeup trailer.

Photo courtesy of

Lauren Quick
Smollett jokingly tries to make his hair a little more imperfect while detail-driven Kelly looks on in horror. Kelly and the actors seem closer to friends than coworkers, and it was easy to see the mutual respect and ease in their interactions.
6/6
 
Slider
Smollett jokingly tries to make his hair a little more imperfect while detail-driven Kelly looks on in horror. Kelly and the actors seem closer to friends than coworkers, and it was easy to see the mutual respect and ease in their interactions.

Photo courtesy of

Lauren Quick

Lyon's Den

Meet Nolan Kelly, barber on Fox's Empire. The show's Lyon family is strong-willed with an even stronger sense of personal style. 

It's chilly walking from trailer to trailer, but no one said shooting a hit show in Chicago would be pleasant year-round.

 

Thankfully, the hair trailer is warm, and equally welcoming are Empire barber Nolan Kelly and actor Jussie Smollett, who plays Jamal Lyon on the show.

 

It’s easy to see how comfortable Kelly and Smollett are with one another—and the rest of the hair and makeup crew.

 

“The hair and makeup team is the best,” Kelly says. “We get along beautifully—hugs and kisses in the morning.”

 

Smollett jokes about how the barber is a perfectionist (isn’t that part of the job description?) and explains that Kelly always wants his hairline to be precise, but Smollett likes it a little messy. All said, he contends that Kelly is the best barber he’s worked with.

 

“He was skeptical at first,” Kelly says of when he auditioned with Smollett. “As I was cutting his hair, they called him in for a table read, so he had to leave, and I was halfway done with his haircut. He was like, ‘This blend is perfect!’ and I said, ‘I’m not even done yet!’”

 

Being a set barber is not for the faint of heart. Kelly typically works five days a week, averaging 65 hours per week—and then he works in his own rented suite on the weekends. He is frequently on tight schedules, according to Melissa Forney, Empire’s hair department head.

 

“They may give us 15 or 20 minutes to cut a guy’s hair, and we have to make it work,” Forney says.

 

Forney discovered Kelly after the show’s first season; she was looking for a barber to carve designs into Bryshere Y. Gray’s hair for his young, macho, cool character, rapper Hakeem Lyon. She was having difficulty finding someone qualified, and a mutual friend recommended that Forney and Kelly connect. Kelly hadn’t worked on a set before, but Forney says it’s a teachable skill if someone takes the time to show you the ropes, and that's what she did for Kelly.

 

For the show's second season, Kelly talks with the actors he works on—Smollett, Gray, Terrence Howard and Trai Byers—to develop their characters’ style as their storylines progress. Gray’s hair is easily his most time-consuming, detail-driven style.

 

“He gets a new design every episode,” Kelly says of the intricate patterns he cuts into Gray’s hair. “Every eight days, it’s a new episode. Every eight days, I have to put a new design on the other side and then cover the first side with fibers, then blend that in so it's faded.”

 

Kelly has a different set bag for each actor. You can typically find pomade in Howard’s, plus a few of the actor’s personal brushes. Byers’ character is very business-focused, and his hair is meticulously well-kept, so his bag might include a razor and some brushes. Gray’s bag, predictably, contains the most—Evian mist and Andis liners, among others. His character is sporting retro styles with modern twists this season; his designs are a constant, but he’s also trying out a sponge-twist, high-top fade and other looks.

 

Kelly, a single dad of two girls, appears surprised that any attention has been drawn to him for his work; he’s humble almost to a fault. The job seems grueling, but it’s safe to say he loves it.

 

“Last year I was watching this on TV, and now I’m around, and everyone’s so friendly and inviting,” Kelly says. "No one tries to talk down to me or anything."

 

As for stylists and barbers looking to get involved in set work, Kelly advises you stay consistent, practice and take a movie workshop to get a feel for how things work.

 

“Stay on top of your game because you never know who’s watching,” Kelly says.

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