John Lee Hancock’s “The Little Things” started out as a contemporary thriller. But since it took 20 years to come to the screen, it now amounts to a period piece, says costume designer Daniel Orlandi. The film is coming to HBO Max and theaters Jan. 29, but Hancock first mentioned the project to his frequent collaborator two decades ago.
The latest from Hancock (“The Blind Side,” “The Founder”) stars Denzel Washington and Rami Malek as sheriff’s deputies in the 1990s on the trail of a serial killer. Orlandi went through a number of outfits to find the look that “makes the actor feel like the character.”
The murder trail leads Washington’s character, Kern County deputy Joe “Deke” Deacon, south. “He comes to Los Angeles, and he buys an outfit from a thrift store,” Orlandi explains. Initially, the designer had suggested a work jacket with a shirt, but it was Washington who helped put Deacon’s look together. “Denzel said, ‘No. I think I’d try to dress more like detectives.’”
Orlandi found a vintage jacket from the ’90s and added some wear to the item to fit a character who favors a nondescript, mud-colored jacket with a dark blue shirt. “He almost blends into the walls,” Orlandi says.
In contrast, Malek’s young detective, Jimmy Baxter, is slick and well dressed. “It’s not fashioned at all; it’s him,” Orlandi explains. “It’s his character. His look suits his body. His character had his clothes tailored, and he knows what looks good on him. He’s more of a Brooks Brothers character.”
While doing research, Orlandi found a survey of juries that showed they trusted navy blue, so lawyers started wearing navy blue more instead of black. “We wanted Baxter in police blue,” he notes.
When Baxter is home, we see his casual side, but it’s in keeping with the police palette and the ’90s-era film — fitted khaki pants and a dark blue T-shirt. “We had a bunch of different options, but that just felt right,” Orlandi says. “Rami looks good in it. But also, that character knows what fits; he wouldn’t wear baggy clothes.”
Jared Leto plays suspected serial killer Albert Sparma. His gray, mechanical shop uniform is the “banality of evil,” says Orlandi. Leto weighed in on the choice, suggesting that Albert doesn’t change his clothes at night when he goes out. “He said, ‘I think I wear this all the time and I’ve never washed it.’”
Orlandi and Leto scheduled a number of fitting sessions with different incarnations of what that uniform could look like. “It was about a third of a way through that Jared said, ‘This is it. I don’t need to try anything else on. This makes me feel like the character,’” Orlandi says. To complete the look, they experimented with different hairstyles and facial hair for Leto. “We did an all-day test, but the outfit never changed,” the designer notes.
Orlandi sees Deacon and Albert as people who want to disappear and not call attention to themselves: “You want them to help define the character but not spell it out.”
The designer notes a change in Baxter’s attire toward the end of the movie that adds to the fun. In a flashback to Deacon earlier in the film, we see him wearing a gray shirt. In one of the final scenes, Baxter is wearing the same color.
“Baxter is becoming more like Deacon,” Orlandi says. “The audience might not notice it, but the actors do. It makes them feel like the character.”