Gonzales native and Emmy winner Inga Thrasher talks about her big win

Lisa Yates @Lisa_editor
Inga Thrasher holds the Emmy she won for Outstanding Hairstyling for a Multi-Camera Series or Special.

Inga Thrasher's legend is growing in her hometown.

The Gonzales native, who works behind the scenes at Saturday Night Live (abbreviated as SNL) helping to create some of the crazy characters seen in the sketches, won an Emmy for her work. She won in the category: Outstanding Hairstyling for a Multi-Camera Series or Special.

Thrasher, 50, is one of three supervisor/stylists at SNL, whose name appears in the closing credits. She's been nominated four times, but this is her first win.

"It sounds cliché, but winning is the icing on the cake. Just being nominated by your peers is pretty amazing," she said in a recent telephone interview with Gonzales Weekly Citizen from her home in Leonia, New Jersey.

She said the Emmy Awards are unique among the major entertainment awards.

Unlike the Grammys, Tonys and Oscars, winners are chosen by peer judging panels of the 15,000-member Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.

Winners are selected by "blue ribbon" peer groups, ranging from 18 to 700 jurists, depending on their specialty - makeup, writing, performance, directing, etc. These judges watch tapes at the academy and/or at home, and then narrow their choices down to just a few nominees.

Thrasher said 30 competing shows in her category were narrowed down to just five nominees. She said each nominee was allowed to submit only one TV show episode for judging.

"They have to nominate you for just one episode, not an entire body of work," she said.

She said the episode SNL submitted for judging featured guest host Zooey Deschanel. Thrasher said that show won because it demonstrated the great range of their work at SNL.

"We did a lot of political stuff during the year, so it was difficult to choose," she said. "We chose the Zooey Deschanel episode because it showed variety - the scope of what we do. That episode featured some political, plus it had a period piece – a sketch set in the 1940s with a variety of wigs and costumes."

In addition, she said the show was shot live using the same actors with just a few minutes in between commercials to create entirely different characters. She said this is standard operating procedure at SNL.

Thrasher said a long commercial break is three minutes long; however, standard commercials range from 30-seconds to one minute and 30-seconds long. She said that leaves little time to change wigs, hairstyles, costumes and sets.

"SNL almost can't be compared to other shows because there are no other shows like it," she said. "Each episode is shot live. You don't get a chance to do it over again."

Her favorite guest host at SNL

During her 12 seasons at SNL, Thrasher has worked with just about every celebrity in popular culture. She's said if she had to pick a favorite, it would be Betty White.

"She's amazing and such a hard worker," she said, noting the star opened the show and appeared in ever single sketch.

She said White was 88-years-old when she hosted the show, which was approximately four seasons ago. Thrasher said the entire cast and crew at SNL was impressed with her stamina, professionalism and kindness.

"Before we go live on Saturday, we do a complete run through of the show on Friday," she said. "That Friday she worked from 8 a.m. to midnight and never complained once. She always had a smile on her face."

Thrasher said during the show on Saturday, Betty White gave an outstanding performance which is still talked about today.

"Moments before we went live, there was so much electricity and anticipation in the air by the audience, the cast and the people behind the scenes – everyone was so excited," she said. "At that moment, I realized: I'm here as history is happening. Those moments sweep you away. That was a very special episode."

Thrasher said like many people, she grew up watching Betty White on television.

"She did not disappoint," she said. "In fact, she was so good, everybody stepped up their game that week."

White's legendary bawdy sense of humor was also on display that week, according to Thrasher.

"She was very bawdy in a sort of 1950s way, but still very classy," she said.

From Broadway to SNL

Before working at SNL, Thrasher worked as a hairstylist on Broadway.

"My first permanent job on Broadway was 'Victor, Victoria' staring Julie Andrews," she said.

She said working with Julie Andrews was a stand out time in her career.

Besides being such a talented performer, Thrasher said Andrews treated everyone involved with the production with kindness and respect.

"She knew everyone's name," she said. "Not just the actors, but the stage hands and everyone who worked backstage."

Thrasher's parents, Carol and Frank Frederic of St. Amant, also got to meet Julie Andrews while visiting their daughter at work in New York.

Her mother said the visit was "phenomenal!"

"Inga is a business woman and she doesn't get all ga-ga over the stars," she said. "But when she took me backstage and I saw the costumes, I said 'Look, I get to touch the costumes that Julie Andrews wears.' She said 'Mama, take your hands off those costumes and behave yourself.'"

Carol Frederic said about that time someone stepped in and told them, "Julie would like to meet your parents."

"Somehow she found out we were visiting from Louisiana and she wanted to meet us," she said.

Frederic said Andrews didn't act like a huge star, but was very warm and friendly.

"She was just a regular human being like we all are," she said. "She treated us like we were all very special."

Another memorable moment for Frederic was meeting Reba McEntire. At the time, her daughter was working as a hairstylist for the Broadway show "Annie Get Your Gun."

"Reba was a touchy-feely person," she said. "When we were meeting her, she said, 'You're from the South, so give me a hug!' She introduced us to her husband and her son. We were in her dressing room for about 15 or 20 minutes talking. That was very special, too."

In addition to these Broadway shows, her daughter worked on "Sunset Boulevard," "Steel Pier," "Hollywood Arms," "Into the Woods," Thoroughly Modern Millie" and Nine. Thrasher also worked as the assistant hair designer of "Steel Magnolias," and also swing hairdresser on "Phantom," "Les Miserable," "Chicago," "The Producers," "Titanic," and more.

However, Thrasher didn't start out as a hairstylist. Her career on Broadway began as a performer. In fact, she met her husband Mark in 1986, when they were hired for a bus and truck tour of "A Chorus Line."

"Mark was in the orchestra and I was playing Maggie," she said.

Thrasher said her interest in hair and wigs began while working as an actress.

"As an actress I had worn wigs onstage," she said. "I like hanging out in the hair department learning what I could because I was interested in the process. One summer I even convinced a producer to pay me to maintain the wigs for a show I was in."

After a five-month tour with "A Chorus Line" in Europe, Thrasher returned to New York and discovered everyone on Broadway had become tall.

"Not good news for a five-foot tall actress," she said. "I really loved the industry and tried to find a way to stay. So I started over. I enrolled in cosmetology school in Manhattan and was soon hired as a swing (substitute) hairdresser for 'Showboat.'"

In 2001, Thrasher was hired at SNL and assigned to Seth Meyers, who is now the show's head writer.

"Each one of us takes a cast member to style," she said.

Currently, she styles for Jason Sudeikis. Among the many roles he plays on the show, Sudeikis portraits Vice President Joe Biden, Mitt Romney and Lance Armstrong.

Thrasher said she enjoys creating some of the crazy hairstyles worn by Kristen Wiig on the show. She said to create so many different characters for the cast between 40 to 80 wigs are used on an average week at SNL.

"We use wigs for the digital shorts, commercial parodies, and of course, the live sketches."

She said her work both as an actress and hairstylist on Broadway helps her to choreograph the quick turnaround that is needed on a live television show like SNL.

Advice for others

Thrasher said many people have told her that they couldn't transition from being onstage to working behind the scenes.

"I'm not jealous that they're onstage and I'm not," she said. "I know how important the supporting role is, so I'm very happy working backstage."

Her advice for others who want to go into show business is to be well-rounded.

"Participate in everything you can – on stage, backstage – there are so many jobs in show business beyond just performing," she said. "Performer-wise, learn to sing, dance and act."

As a high school student at East Ascension in Gonzales, she participated in theatre. During high school, she also performed with the Jambalaya Singers traveling all over the state promoting the Jambalaya Festival.

Even after graduating from Louisiana State University with a degree in journalism, Thrasher continued performing. She said that's what led her to Broadway.

"In 1986, when the rights for 'A Chorus Line' went public, I was chosen to play Maggie at the Baton Rouge Little Theatre," she said. "Bob Longbottom from New York City directed and choreographed the show."

She said he encouraged several of the cast members to come to New York to audition for summer stock shows. Thrasher said she and six other cast members decided to go.

"My week of auditions resulted in a year-and-a-half of work and a national tour of 'A Chorus Line' and a summer of shows at the Maine State Theatre," she said.

Another piece of advice offered by Thrasher: Go to the theatre.

"It's important to go to the theatre," she said. "I know ticket prices are expensive, but as a performer you learn just how important an audience is to the performance. As an audience member, you actively participate in that experience."

Thrasher's final piece of advice: Learn to collaborate with other people. She said in addition to the staff of hairstylists at SNL, there are as many as 15 people applying wigs behind the scenes.

"You have to be able to collaborate with others and learn how to make other people shine," she said. "The star is surrounded by a lot of great roles. Not everybody can be the star and that's okay. There are a lot of gems in the ensemble."

To get a video tour behind the scenes at SNL, visit www.weeklycitizen.com. Also online, see a video from the 2012 Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Awards, Sept. 15, at the Nokia Theater in Los Angeles.