Costume designer Colleen Atwood has had a large hand in crafting the worlds of “Chicago,” “Edward Scissorhands” and “Dumbo,” using a detailed approach to help tell nuanced stories. Her latest, “Bombshell,” sees Atwood recreating the hectic world of Fox News.
In addition to watching real-life footage, Atwood started with photographic research. “I went through old news stories. I hung outside of Fox News in New York for a little bit and checked out to see what the younger girls were wearing to base the Margot Robbie character on.”
In the film, Robbie plays Kayla, a composite character, alongside Charlize Theron, who transforms into Megyn Kelly, and Nicole Kidman, who plays Gretchen Carlson. “I just walked away and created the world around it based on the images and info that I had.”
To build the female leads and distinguish them, Atwood says, “For Charlize, I chose the more stripped-down minimalist color palette — navy, grey, white with splashes of red here and there.” For the opening dress, director Jay Roach had scripted that Kelly was wearing a red, white and blue dress. “I just came up with that design. We made that out of research in looking at dresses and then I came up with that design,” Atwood explains.
In the film, Kelly is not only seen in the workplace — she’s also at home, among her husband and kids. That called for a more casual look, comprised of jeans and a t-shirt. “She’s, like, a normal wife and mom living in New York and we dressed her according to her level of income.”
Kidman plays Carlson, the news anchor who files the sexual harassment suit against Roger Ailes that eventually sees him ousted from Fox News. “I used the more typically bright newsroom colors on her: bright pink, bright blue.” When Carlson is at home or with her attorneys, “I put her in casual suburban. She was in cashmere light rich tones.”
Kayla (Robbie) hails from Florida. When she starts at Fox News, she’s shown in soft and summery looks, reflective of the Sunshine State. “As she got into the groove of the newsroom, I started putting her in High Street clothes; pinks, blacks, whites and young but very high street,” Atwood says.
Without revealing any spoilers, Atwood continues, “When she has her moment to become anchor Barbie, I put her in nude and black. Her other moment was a white dress.”
Working for Ailes meant employees had to adapt to the dress code he enforced, a strict one. (The network has denied a dress code was enforced).That called for a lot of short skirts. Atwood made 80% of the clothes for Theron and Kidman and 60% for Robbie. “I bought and tailored into the right length and always accompanied them with the super high-heeled shoes.” Atwood says she would cut and recut or tailor to ensure she showed enough leg, but not too much.
One scene takes the audience inside the wardrobe room, which had skirts and dresses for the newswomen to choose from. “That was close to Jay’s heart because he felt he really wanted to show the inside of all that. He wanted to show what it meant to be who those girls were and are. We got every kind of Spanx and the highest, craziest shoes we could get and we set it up like a real room.“ It was a room filled with rented dresses and lots of colors, and Atwood explains she had fitting sessions with the extras to make sure the dresses fit. “We thought it was great with the way they cut it to show what these people do every day, and maybe the rest of the world does two or three times a year.”
It wasn’t just the women who had to fitted. Atwood also worked with hair and makeup artist Kazu Hiro, who helped with transforming Theron into Kelly and John Lithgow into Ailes. “I talked with Kazu about where the fat would be on the body,” Atwood explains. “We had pictures of people without their shirts on. When we tried to make it, we tried to make it look as real as possible. The neck was prosthetic, so we tried to coordinate where there might be fat on the fat suit once the neck ended. Once we got that together, we built his costumes over that. We had a few adjustments, as you do. We worked together on that. John came in and embraced the whole thing and the movement of Roger in that discomfort that he had.” Atwood’s tailoring for Lithgow was loose, as Ailes didn’t his clothes tight at all.
The key elevator scene where the three leads meet for the first time and is featured in the trailer was something Atwood didn’t think much about. “I knew they were coming together. I knew Gretchen was going to be leaving the building. I knew Kayla was going up to the next floor. I wasn’t thinking in a sense of how powerful that scene would be at the time that I chose the colors. I definitely wanted the colors to look good together without looking like they were the lineup from ‘Showgirls.’ It was interesting that it defined each of them strongly in a second and it worked so well for the story. Megyn was in her classic look, Kayla in the scene is wearing New York black, Gretchen was a little bit loud in pink.”
Atwood also reveals that she added some padding to Kidman’s costume to give her “a bit more hip than Nicole normally has.” “I did that to make her curvy,” she explains. “I padded her up a bit for that character, which people don’t tend to notice because she totally sells it.”
“Bombshell” hits theaters on Dec. 13.