For actors, a costume represents an intimate way to be transported to a bygone era. Whether through zipperless pants or rich wool fabric, wardrobe provides an immersive character study.
Clive Owen, for example, “tried to find Hemingway through his costume,” according to “Hemingway & Gellhorn” costume designer Ruth Myers.
The period wardrobe impacted not just the lead actors, but director Philip Kaufman as well, says Myers. Before shooting, “Clive said to the director, ‘I’m really happy with how I look,'” Myers recalls. “And the director said, ‘Yeah, well let me be the judge of that.’ So, Clive put on the costume, and I saw the director’s eyes fill with tears … he said, ‘Oh yes, you are Hemingway.’ It was a lovely moment.”
“Boardwalk Empire” costumer John Dunn says “period authenticity gives the actors a very physical experience of inhabiting a character.”
Thesp Michael Kenneth Williams describe the time in the skein’s dressing room as “a ritual.”
“Before becoming Chalky White, I de-role,” says Williams. “I take off all of Michael and then it starts with the socks,” which require garters since socks from the ’20s had no elastic. “There’s an energy that comes with that,” Williams notes.
Dunn even points to the use of “period underwear, even if it’s not going to be seen … these things all influence how the actors carry themselves.”
Period clothing does require a level of adjustment, though. Dunn acknowledges that on the “Boardwalk” set “most of the actors find it challenging to get into their costumes, especially the men,” with the cufflinks, suspenders and detached collars.
But Williams credits John Dunn and fellow designer Lisa Padovani’s extensive research for helping him understand his character. “When I put on each layer of clothing,” Williams says, “I’m watching Chalky manifest.”
Dunn was pleased to see actors taking their wardrobe home with them. “Michael emerged from his dressing room one day with a gorgeously tied bow tie,” recalls Dunn. “He explained that he’d gone to YouTube to find bow tie instructions and had practiced for a week.”
And since then, Williams has found that Chalky White transcends the “Boardwalk” set: “Now,” he beams, “I’m wearing bow ties in the club!”
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