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Costume Designer Mary Zophres Went From ‘Hail, Caesar!’ to ‘La La Land’

In her 23-year career in costume design, Mary Zophres has worked for the biggest directors in the business, outfitting all manner of stars on their films. Having garnered her second Oscar nomination for her work on “La La Land,” Zophres spoke with Variety about inspirations for the film, her long-term collaboration with the Coen brothers, and George Clooney messing around with his outfit on the “Hail, Caesar!” set.

La La Land” was inspired by old Hollywood and French musicals; did you apply similar techniques that they used back then to your costume design for the movie?
I wasn’t around in the heyday of Hollywood, but I’m sure they had conversations like the ones we had [when they were making] movies like “Young Girls of Rochefort,” because the synchronicity of the shots and the dance numbers and the color, it doesn’t happen accidentally. But we had the advantage of modern technology because when we find the right fabric, we can just email it to the art department to demonstrate the desired color. Making it was fast and furious and magical, and I think it shows in the final product. There was a synchronicity of the art and other departments that was definitely on purpose.

You worked with Emma Stone on “Gangster Squad,” and then after “La La Land” on the upcoming Billie Jean King/Bobby Riggs movie “Battle of the Sexes.”
We did “Battle of the Sexes” a couple months after “La La Land” wrapped, and talk about a transformation! Emma packed on pounds and muscle and it was kinda fun. She worked so hard to prepare for “Battle of the Sexes,” and in fact we had to do an additional insert, a little montage bit, for “La La Land” right after “Battle of the Sexes,” and we had to cover Emma’s shoulders and her biceps because she was bulked up; she wasn’t like that at all for Mia. It’s funny, we joked that if it seems too much like Mia, it’s definitely wrong for Billie Jean.

How comfortable was George Clooney wearing a Roman dress throughout “Hail, Caesar!”?
I think he really enjoyed it to be honest with you. I was impressed with him for him agreeing to wear it for the whole movie. I think Joel and Ethan were amused by the fact he was going to be in this tunic the whole time, and George was joking about it at first, but every time he put it on he never complained, and he would use it as a comedic prop.There was one day when he came out of his cabin and yanked his boxers out of the dress, and he would lift it up and put bits of leather in between his legs, and he used it as part of his physical comedy and that was thrilling for me. When the costume is supposed to be comedic, as it was in this instance, there’s something really gratifying about having a costume work so well like that.

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