“I Am The Night” costume designer Rhona Meyers is no stranger to female-centric stories in which the look of a character helped inform who that person was. She previously worked on films such as “Erin Brockovich” and “Monster,” for example. But the TNT limited series was her first foray into longer-form storytelling on the small screen and came with the new challenges of television’s “intense” pace, as well as having to find and make clothes reminiscent of multiple decades.
How did you get your start in costumes?
I was a fine arts major at UCLA and I worked on a music video where the director then wanted me to act in a commercial he was doing, and they called me in, but I completely blew the audition. They said the costume department needed some help, and that was my first wardrobe job, and I have been doing it ever since.
What made you want to stay in that field?
I loved the whole idea of the film camaraderie and collaboration. I was just gung-ho. I was a punk rocker, and when I first started there was a lot of vintage shopping. I was really good at doing characters. It just felt right, so that was it.
“I Am The Night” is based on a real-life woman, Fauna Hodel. Was there a particular piece you felt really captured her essence?
I purchased this red coat for one of [the character’s] primary pieces of wardrobe. We had already been shooting with it, and one day Yvette, who’s one of Fauna’s daughters, was on set talking about how she was at [her grandmother] Jimmy Lee’s house when she was about 3-years-old and Jimmy Lee was drunk and kicked her out of the house. She was like, “I didn’t know where I was going; I don’t know where I am, I’m in the middle of Sparks, Nevada.” But she put on her red coat and started walking, and she walked by her godmother’s house, and her godmother recognized her by the red coat. And I was like, “Yvette, do you know that Fauna wears a red coat in this?” She was saying she felt like Little Red Riding Hood, and the coat we had looked like that. It had a hood, but we ended up taking it off. It was so weird because when I found that coat, I was like, “I have to have this.” I thought they might not want to shoot red, but I had to have it. And then the same thing happened with the shoes: We made them red, and Yvette was saying her mom never knew her place and would always click her heels like in Oz and want to find her way home.
After coming from film, how did the more expansive real estate of a limited series affect your process?
Film is different, but it can be super busy, too. And the way I started prepping this show [was] as a film so I could see how the characters were arcing or moving on. I like to prep that way because it feels more cohesive to me. The amount of time it takes doesn’t matter as much: What matters is amount of work we have to do in that time, and our pace was so intense on this show. The amount of stuff we were making to order because of the multiples needed, we were making the ties; we were making the shirts. It was period, so you’re not going to find five of the same shirts or five of the same ties. We also were always ganged up one episode after another, and in our episodes we were still fitting. We always had some party scene or day players to fit. So I would have my assistant designer, Paula Bradley, start looking for fabrics for the next episode, but we didn’t really get to start until almost three or four days before the next episode. Sometimes we have five or six people to make five multiples of something. We had to find all of the fabrics, we had to find all of the trims, everything for however many people we were multiplying in 24 hours — and we had to get it to our makers, our tailors to make all of this stuff. There was a lot of hoping and praying that everything was going to be done on time.
What was the balance of the number of pieces you could find versus had to make?
When it was one-offs, yeah, we could find it and we would use some of that stuff, but when we started getting into making clothes, I just made a lot. It was a lot. So sometimes even if we just needed singles, we would make those, as well. But for the most part, there were a lot of multiples needed, and there were a lot of characters.
How true to the time period of the setting did you want to be?
The show actually takes place in 1965, but it blended the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s together. Patty [Jenkins, the director] wanted to show a difference of Fauna in Sparks to when she comes to Los Angeles, and the great awakening she has [there]. We kept Sparks in the ’50s, very Americana, very prim and proper — so when she gets to L.A. she gets a big boom. The colors were more defined by the periods. Even when she was going into her ’60s look, she still had to be demure and proper, to a degree. Patty wanted to keep the Hodel clan, the artists, in the glamorous ’40s because that was the highlight of their life. So we blended all of that.
How did collaboration with Patty, or even actors such as India Eisley and Chris Pine affect the vision for certain looks?
It’s always collaborative, not only with the director but also with the actors, but I’ve worked with Patty a couple of times, and we have a bond. She always has big ideas and we piece it out together. Originally Patty had some outfits she wanted like in the later ’50s when they had bolero matching with the big, full skirts, but it ended up looking too sophisticated. It’s always a work in progress, and we’re always changing as we’re going. With the actors, it all happens in the fitting. India’s tiny, so we needed to go a little bit smaller. Chris’ character was based on James Dean, Paul Newman, Clint Eastwood, Steve McQueen — all of the outsiders. So there were some photos of Paul Newman with super short pants and tennis shoes, and he wanted to keep that as his look the whole way through, so we did that. The actors have a lot of say because basically my job is to make them feel comfortable in the skin of the characters they’re taking on.