Award season nomination buzz is ripe on the lips of everyone in the industry. While there is always talk of who will take home the big awards like best leading actress and actor, the background calculations that go into preparing the setting for these roles to shine often fade to obscurity; but that is hardly the case for American Hustle.
American Hustle tells the story of con man Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), who along with his equally cunning and seductive British partner Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) is forced to work for a wild FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper). But the real tale in a film that concentrates on the reinvention of personas as con artists, is the wardrobe.
Fresh off the news of 7 Golden Globe nominations for the yet-to-be-released film, we spoke with the film’s wardrobe designer Michael Wilkinson about his vision for the film’s fashion, boobs, bouncing around with Jennifer Lawrence, and of course, more boobs (hey, it’s the ’70s!)
Take a look at our exclusive interview below.
What was the initial vision you had after the first flip through the American Hustle script?
I knew that this was a very special project and especially exciting for costume design; it’s a film where the clothes are really important in telling the story. We meet these characters who are constantly re-inventing themselves in the fight to stay alive in the way they use clothes to dress themselves as the people they aspire to be. So I knew straight away that the clothes really had to be impactful and really spot-on to describing who these characters are.
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence have worked together previously on Silver Linings Playbook. People are used to seeing them together, but clearly the dynamics of their characters changed. So what did you keep in mind aesthetically to differentiate their look?
With Jennifer’s character, it was such a leap for her. She really just attacked that part with such commitment and it’s a character we haven’t seen from her, it’s a character who is a little unstable. She has wild mood swings. She’s either hiding and not wanting to leave the house, or she is out on the town dressed to kill and wearing some very high-impact pieces. We had her at home in luminous muumuus and velour sweatsuits and we also had her in very strong eveningwear ensembles. She had a halter neck chiffon leopard print jumpsuit in one scene and then in the second scene I designed a dress for her out of a metallic white jersey that was very tight and clingy and provocative and demanding attention.
We see a lot of deep v’s in the movie and cleavage-bearing dressing that is clearly not made for undergarments. Did you get any hesitation from the actresses to be showing so much?
The women in this film really checked all of their egos at the door and they just threw themselves into it. They realized the clothes of this period were much less structured than clothes from previous periods. They really relied less on underpinnings and undergarments and especially with Amy’s clothes, there was sleekness and a minimalism to her costume choices. I think they knew it was right for the character and for this world that David (O. Russell) was creating and they were very trusting and just walked tall and let it shine.
Do you have any trade secrets to keeping the boobies in place when wearing things like that?
I remember talking to Amy about it and she was like, “I think it’s up to me, I just need to walk tall, have the attitude to be comfortable in my own skin and let the clothing do its thing” and I think if you try and fight it, sometimes it’s an even messier and unfortunate situation. So it’s really being in the right head space to own the clothes.
And no sudden movements.
Yep. Exactly. And stay out of windy environments.
I read that the men took longer in hair and makeup than the women, did you find that to be the same with the fittings?
I wouldn’t say there were many quick solutions in the film at all. We really wanted to explore everything very deeply. David encourages such attention to detail and digging very deep into the exploration of these characters. There is this sense of us really stretching our creativity to its max and getting outside of your comfort zone and pushing yourself into a space where really interesting work happens.
Amy and Christian both had over 40 outfit changes throughout the film. Even Jeremy Renner’s costumes were intricate and coming up with a signature look for him that involved his pale suits and statement ties and his pompadour hairdo. We put a lot of time and a lot of love into each look.
Did you draw inspiration from anybody in particular? Is there a ’70s icon or media portal that you were looking to for guidance?
We really tried to cast the net wide and explore the full spectrum of cultural references that these characters would have been influenced by. Everything from high fashion like Diane Von Furstenberg, Gucci and high fashion magazines, but we also looked at cheesy magazine shoots and advertising and hard-hitting documentary photos of real people.
David liked to refer to key figures from the period that had special relevance. There was a lot of Bianca Jagger, Jerry Hall and Catherine Deneuve and with Jeremy Renner’s character, we thought Sinatra in the ’70s was an interesting reference for him, because he has that old school charm. For Christian’s character, Hugh Hefner was the obvious choice, but we tried not to be too cheesy with those references. We looked at Playboy Magazine spreads and we really had no filters when it came to inspirations.
I know they’re all your babies, and there are so many looks, but do you have a look in mind that is going to be the iconic one that becomes everyone’s Halloween costume?
Maybe the most iconic look in the film is Amy’s metallic sequined dress that she wears. It might be a cold choice for a Halloween costume, but it’s pretty high impact.
Jennifer Lawrence is known to be quite the prankster. Did she play any pranks on set?
One moment that comes to mind was a great Jennifer Lawrence moment was our final fitting for the casino dress and David was really keen to see how Jennifer moved in it during sort of an impromptu rehearsal for the scene. So I found myself with the number one actress in the world in a tight jersey dress sitting on my knee pretending to fall off and sort of hamming it up in the fitting room. That’s a moment that I am not going to forget. And then of course, we whisked off after that to put her in her early ’70s wedding dress that you see in her photo in her house, and we realize that we haven’t gotten a yarmulke for Christian Bale. So I ended up making one out of a piece of paper towel and some glue at the last minute – so that was a little glimpse into a day in the life of filming American Hustle. It was chaotic. It was exciting and I am very proud of the costumes that came out of it.
*Michael Wilkinson’s designs include the hit films 300 and Tron: Legacy. He was nominated for a Costume Designers Guild Award and a Saturn Award for both projects. Previously, Wilkinson won the Saturn Award for Zack Snyder’s action thriller Watchmen, and was nominated for the CDG Award for his contemporary designs seen in the international ensemble drama Babel. He is currently designing the costumes for the new Batman vs. Superman film.
All photos courtesy of Michael Wilkinson.
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