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Meet the Maritimer who gave Bardem his bob

His name may not be recognized by many Canadians, but Paul LeBlanc of New Brunswick is a hairstyling legend, a status that could be solidified in Oscar gold this weekend as the architect of Javier Bardem's "killer hair" in No Country For Old Men.

The "bob of a lifetime," as the hairstyle has been called, got practically as much press as the movie itself. It was the haircut, Mr. Bardem has said, that brought his character Anton Chigurh to life as one of the most chilling of screen villains.

While Mr. Bardem is widely expected to bring home the best supporting actor statue at tomorrow night's Academy Awards, the man behind the hair is a world away from Hollywood, on set at a used-furniture warehouse in New Brunswick, with snowdrifts the size of bungalows piled in the parking lot.

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There may be no paparazzi here, and no red carpet, but the slight, unassuming man is being swarmed by trainee hairdressers bursting with questions about the "killer hair."

"Where did that come from?" one of them eagerly asks.

"It could be either 14th century or the 1970s," Mr. LeBlanc explains. "It's a kind of bob, but not cute, not one that Vidal Sassoon would like. My job was to make Chigurh an individual, strange and twisted, not like other 'monsters' we've seen; he definitely didn't go to a hairdresser, and might have cut his own hair."

Mr. LeBlanc admits he never dreamed his interest in hairstyling would take him as far as it has.

Born in Dieppe, N.B., 62 years ago, he attended Harrison Trimble High School in Moncton and spent his lunch breaks combing out his classmates' hair at a nearby bowling alley. He graduated from the New Brunswick Institute of Technology in 1966, and owned his own shop in Moncton before landing a job at Glemby Co. in New York, where he encountered his first high-profile clients.

"I met my first super-high-maintenance divas," he recalls. "I actually gave Jackie Kennedy a shampoo. Loved it, but I was nervous."

Stints abroad followed, as well as work in Montreal and Ottawa. In the mid-1970s, he worked for the CBC in Toronto.

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While working at an upscale wig salon in London sponsored by Marlene Dietrich, he met the screen legend who was also a customer.

"She was a lovely lady to work with," and "it was she who suggested I should try working in film and that's where I got the idea."

An offer from Lucasfilm took Mr. LeBlanc to California for the 1979 film More American Graffiti. After that, the work just kept on coming.

His hairstyling credits include Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi, Shoot the Moon and Places in the Heart. In 1985 he became part of the Hollywood elite, winning the Oscar for his work on the period film Amadeus.

"I did a lot of research for Amadeus, and started every week by going to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York city. I discovered all sorts of things, for example, not all wigs were powdered white, there were other colours … I love the prep part," he says.

Between working on films, he's also built a career as a hairstylist to the stars. "I've done the red carpet, hairstyles for Susan Sarandon, Sharon Stone, Ellen Burstyn," he says, which he playfully calls a "drama of another sort."

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Mr. LeBlanc moved back to Dieppe three years ago from Los Angeles, and hasn't regretted it for a moment.

"I'm a Maritimer," he says. "Sometimes I was the only Canadian on a shoot, always alone, it was lonely."

Mr. LeBlanc will celebrate the 80th annual Academy Awards tomorrow night with friends in Moncton at a gala complete with red carpet.

Mr. LeBlanc is sharing his wisdom as a mentor, invited by New Brunswick screenwriter and director Tony Sekulich to consult onsite with trainees from the New Brunswick Film and Television Certificate Program, part of the province's filmmakers co-operative and New Brunswick Film.

Mr. Sekulich contacted him on a whim last summer and was thrilled when Mr. LeBlanc accepted the invitation to act as a tutor to a group of young hairstylist hopefuls.

"When I looked up his credits, I said 'this guy is never going to come here,' but I had to ask," Mr. Sekulich says. "He didn't hesitate and said to call if we needed him again … so here he is."

While the three short films being shot here in the next few days are not exactly big-budget blockbusters, Mr. LeBlanc seems truly happy to be able to get back to his roots. "I am delighted to be here, thrilled to be able to give back to an industry that has been so good to me," he says.

"What he brings" Mr. Sekulich says, "is his expertise and knowledge that hair is not just something pretty, but part of a character. It blows me away to think that a story can be told from a hair-design perspective … and he's a great teacher."

Special to The Globe and Mail

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