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How Sharen Davis Went From Actress to Oscar-Nominated Costume Designer

Sharen Davis Costume Designer Variety Artisans
Catherine Ledner for Variety

“I always say, ‘Your art will find you,’” says Sharen Davis. She speaks from experience, having started as an actress. Then, from a random job in a costume shop, she rose quickly to assistant costumer, to wardrobe supervisor, to designing costumes for the stage, and, finally, creating them for features and TV.

“I really fell in love with film,” she says. “When I did costumes for theater, I wasn’t that interested. But for film, it was very interesting. I loved the camera — I loved working with actors and doing their arcs with clothes. It was like acting for me, but I didn’t have to get in front of the camera,” she says with a laugh.

Davis laughs readily, and displays great affection for the directors who mentored her. Her first costume-design job was for Alan Rudolph, for 1992’s “Equinox.” “I was in love with all his movies,” she says. After that, she worked with Carl Franklin (“Devil in a Blue Dress”) and another favorite, Percy Adlon.

She thought she’d stay in art-house films, but instead moved on to higher-profile pictures: “Dreamgirls” for Bill Condon; “Django Unchained” for Quentin Tarantino; the 2014 “Godzilla”; “The Help.” Her upcoming projects include “Fences” and “The Magnificent Seven.”

She counts 2004’s “Ray” as a turning point in her career. “Taylor Hackford was incredible,” she says of the director. “He forced me to really understand film more than costumes. ‘Look through the camera — see this, notice that.’” “Ray” earned her the first of her two Oscar nominations; the other came two years later for “Dreamgirls.”

But it’s a little indie she singles out as among the projects she loves most: “Akeelah and the Bee,” which came out the same year as “Dreamgirls.”

“It was the children and the message and doing something worthy of doing,” she says. “I know it makes people feel good. It was right before the Oscars, and I was nominated, and it was sort of my little safe haven.”

Time Traveler
Davis, who has worked on dozens of films in genres from sci-fi to historical, has two Oscar noms.
Looper (2012)
Rian Johnson’s film about a dystopian future starred Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Emily Blunt
The Help (2011)
Davis was nominated for a Costume Designers Guild award for this multiple Oscar nominee set in the Deep South
Dreamgirls (2011)
She was nominated for the costume design Oscar for the film based on the Broadway musical
Ray (2005)
Davis was nominated for the costume design Oscar for the Ray Charles biopic