Poor Things interview: Holly Waddington Reveals How Emma Stone Influenced Her Character’s Costumes

Summary

  • Costume designer Holly Waddington discusses the challenges of creating costumes for Poor Things, including the last-minute decision to incorporate black and white scenes.
  • Bella’s costumes in the movie reflect her evolution and journey throughout the story, starting with childlike fabrics and progressing to a more mature and independent style.
  • Waddington drew inspiration from various sources, including the book, paintings, German expressionism, and 19th-century portraits, to create the unique and visually striking costumes for the film.


Poor Things follows a young woman named Bella, who was brought back to life by the unorthodox Dr. Godwin Baxter. As Bella evolves, she craves more worldly experiences. Eventually, she runs away with Duncan Wedderburn, taking on the world without the preconceived notions or prejudices that others hold. While on this whirlwind adventure, she finds her true purpose.

Yorgos Lanthimos and Emma Stone team up as producers once again on Poor Things, with Lanthimos helming the movie as director and Stone as the star. The cast also includes Mark Ruffalo, Willem Dafoe, Ramy Youssef, Christopher Abbott, and Jerrod Carmichael. Poor Things is written by Tony McNamara based on Alasdair Gray’s book of the same name.

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Screen Rant interviewed costume designer Holly Waddington about her new movie, Poor Things. She explained how Bella’s costumes reflect her evolution and what the last-minute change to black and white meant for the wardrobe. Waddington also discussed Stone’s involvement in her costume design and the art style that inspired the Poor Things costumes.


Holly Waddington Talks Poor Things

Screen Rant: This movie is spectacular and the costumes are amazing.

Holly Waddington: Oh, glad you think so.

One of the first things that jumped out to me with this movie is we get black and white as well as in color moments. How does that affect your job with the costume design?

Holly Waddington: Yeah. So I think that, in normal circumstances, you would probably work very carefully with the idea of having black and white, and you would probably choose very high contrasting materials. I didn’t have that luxury because Yorgos made that decision quite close to the date that we started filming. So I’d actually made everything, I almost made everything. So we just had to… And actually I designed everything to be tonal.

So that whole beginning of the film, if it were in color, the colors were all different shades of the same color palette for each character. So no contrast, just lots of different shades of, let’s say, maroon. And so it was a bit of a last minute thing to try and quickly remake a few things with more contrast. But I think I didn’t really have the luxury to plan that. What did work though was that we were working with a lot of texture. So texture works really well on black and white, really deep textures in the cloth. So we have done lots of that, so that was good. But I know a bit more about it for next time, if there is a next time that I do black and white.

Definitely. I truly would’ve had no idea it comes off so well.

Holly Waddington: I’m glad. There were moments when Yorgos and I were walking through the fabric store with iPhones on the black and white function, looking at everything to see what was going to work and what was not, and then remaking the bits that were not going to work.

Mark Ruffalo with his arms around Emma Stone in Poor Things.

Wow, that’s amazing. And then Bella has such an incredible evolution throughout the movie. How do her costumes reflect that journey?

Holly Waddington: Oh, okay. Well, at the beginning, she’s very much a child. She’s a very young child in this house. She’s been looked after and the clothes are made of very childlike fabrics, and it felt very comfortable. She’s a very young child, and physically she has to wear things that are easy to move in. And also there’s this sort of idea that she’s been fully dressed in the morning by Mrs. Prim and within no time everything’s come off, so she’s got… She’s wandering around in her pants and sometimes you see this funny tail, which is a bustle. Things are a little bit akimbo.

And then when she goes off to Lisbon, there’s this idea that she no longer has anyone to dress her in the morning, Mrs. Prim’s not there, so she has to get herself ready. So whilst she looks quite put together in certain scenes, like when they go out for dinner and she wears the gold dress, I was imagining that maybe Duncan has helped her get ready, or maybe they had some people in the hotel who could help.

But then there were lots of… We had a really great time playing with this idea of her just dressing herself and what does that look like? And in my mind, it was a bit like a young child of maybe, I don’t know, five, getting themselves ready for a fancy dress party. So it’s all playing with the bits of the costumes that you don’t normally see in Victorian dress. Like the underskirts, when she does that dance scene. It’s a petticoat and it’s see-through and you can see her knickers underneath, and she’s wearing it with this little thing called a fill-in, which is a kind of modesty piece that the Victorians used to wear underneath their bodices to kind of conceal their décolletage, because that was something that you wouldn’t show unless it was nighttime.

So we had a lot of fun playing with all of those ideas. When she gets on the cruise ship, she just wears a dressing gown with a pair of knickers as an outfit, with a kind of evening cape thrown over the top. They’re quite discordant, but they needed to be. We had a lot of fun. And then the student costume were sort of building towards this moment when she realizes who she is and who she wants to be and she’s on a trajectory towards being a doctor.

And I wanted her to have a proper suit, like a sort of masculine quality, well-tailored black suit. But we decided in a fitting, Emma Stone, actually, it was Emma’s idea, to just wear the jacket on its own, not to bother with the skirt. So there’s all these different stages and it’s all heading towards the end of the film. When we see her at the very end, she’s just wearing a jumper and a pair of culottes. The clothes are no longer very conspicuous.

It’s interesting that Emma Stone got to make that decision.

Holly Waddington: I mean, it’s very important that they’re involved. I mean, some people, Emma I had worked out her plot very carefully before I met her. But then when I went to meet her in Athens and took all these ideas and these big suitcases of things to try on, and then lots of it happens in a very organic way, and there’s lots of input from actors. It’s very important that they can bring things to it as well.

It’s sort of helpful for them in creating their character. But there was just this moment when she was in this… We’d made the suit, and when she put the jacket on with the boots, we just looked at each other and thought, “Oh.” And she said, “I just think I like this.” And I completely agreed. So it’s a collaboration. It’s less that… Yeah. It’s a collaboration.

Can you talk to me about some of the inspirations you looked to when creating the costume? Did you look to the original book? Were you looking at movies? Or even maybe styles of art? Because so many of these scenes, to me, felt like a portrait.

Holly Waddington: Yeah. I mean, I looked very widely. The book was inspiring. It’s a brilliant book, so it’s just an inspiring thing to read anyway. Particularly for Baxter, I was inspired by the book, less so for anyone else. I drew a lot of inspiration from paintings, looked at lots of German expressionism, actually, lots of Otto Dix and loads of… Like Georgia O’Keeffe was very inspirational for these, for Bella, particularly, these very sort of organic forms. Oskar Schlemmer. Like lots of early 20th century surrealist, avant-garde designers. I looked at Elsa Schiaparelli.

This guy called Rodchenko, the Futurist designer, particularly for Baxter. I was looking at Rodchenko’s boiler suits that he was wearing in Russia in the early 1900s, and they were kind of made of felt with plastic trimmings. I’d looked at loads of stuff. And also lots of 19th century portraits. John Singer Sergeant’s probably was the one that I looked at the most. And got lots of historical reference from the 1890s. It was just almost too much. And then it’s about distilling what you want to take and what you want to put on camera.

Deformed Willem Dafoe looking at surprised Emma Stone on his chest in Poor Things

Can you talk a little bit about collaborating with the director, Yorgos, to really cultivate what each of these characters looks will be?

Holly Waddington: Yeah. So Yorgos and I were working for quite a long time before we started really hitting the prep hard in Budapest, which is where the film was made. We were working a lot in the pandemic through having conversations on Zoom like this. So lots of the thoughts and ideas were shared just through talking and looking at references. He is not a prescriptive person, which is a great thing. He’s very trusting in his collaborators and allows a lot of free rein to come up with stuff, which I think is a brilliant thing for a designer.

But then is quietly, gently steering this kind of huge juggernaut of a production around and giving very clear responses to things. “Do you like this?” “No, but I like this.” So sort of careful steering through the whole process. Great. And Shona Heath as well. Often Yorgos and Shona Heath, who’s the set designer, and I, one half of the set design team, we would meet. And then when we got to Hungary, it would be James Price, who’s the other set designer.

Very collaborative.

Holly Waddington: There’s lots and lots and lots of conversations. Lots of very careful conversations with Yorgos about color. He’s very particular about color. So we would have 20 shades of yellow for each thing that we made. I’m very particular about color too, so I over dye everything. So we would have all these swatch cards with many, many color choices based on one shade. Like mango yellow, 20 versions of it. So we’d often chat about those things. There’s a lot to talk about when you’re making costumes. There’s a lot of components.

What was one costume or one character where it was maybe a little bit more challenging to figure out what the look would be, and then one that maybe snapped immediately in your head and you’re like, “No, I have this. I know what this is?”

Holly Waddington: I think Swiney was the easiest. Madam Swiney in the brothel. I think she was the easiest one. I just could visualize that one almost whilst reading the script. She’s got very strong character, and I just had, in my head… There was a TV soap called Coronation Street, which was set in the north of England, which is where I’m from, and I used to watch it religiously all through my childhood. And there’s this character called Hilda Ogden, who wears a turban on her head, and she’s a really kind of… She’s a real northern matriarch and real sort of solid, salt-of-the-earth sort of person.

Like a bit of a grafter, hard-boiled. So I just knew, and mixed her with these image of PJ Harvey from the 1990s with this kind of garish face, and then texture, very strong textures that made me think of varicose veins. So she was kind of quick. And then Bella was actually the hardest one to fathom. Because the costumes needed to tell this journey and go with her on this journey and help define that story. So she was the hardest for sure.

About Poor Things

poor-things-movie-emma-stone-mark-ruffalo-stranded-snow
Emma Stone and Mark Ruffalo in Poor Things. 

From filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos and producer Emma Stone comes the incredible tale and fantastical evolution of Bella Baxter (Stone), a young woman brought back to life by the brilliant and unorthodox scientist Dr. Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe). Under Baxter’s protection, Bella is eager to learn. Hungry for the worldliness she is lacking, Bella runs off with Duncan Wedderburn (Mark Ruffalo), a slick and debauched lawyer, on a whirlwind adventure across the continents. Free from the prejudices of her times, Bella grows steadfast in her purpose to stand for equality and liberation.

Check out our other Poor Things interviews:

  • Robbie Ryan
  • James Price & Shona Heath
  • Mark Ruffalo & Willem Dafoe
  • Tony McNamara
  • Ramy Youssef
  • Emma Stone

Poor Things will debut exclusively in theaters on December 8.

Source: Screen Rant Plus

  • Poor Things Poster

    Poor Things

    Release Date:
    2023-09-08

    Director:
    Yorgos Lanthimos

    Cast:
    Emma Stone, Willem Dafoe, Mark Ruffalo, Ramy Youssef, Jerrod Carmichael, Christopher Abbott

    Rating:
    R

    Runtime:
    141 Minutes

    Genres:
    Comedy, Romance, Sci-Fi

    Writers:
    Tony McNamara

    Story By:
    Alasdair Gray

    Studio(s):
    Film4, TSG Entertainment, Element Pictures

    Distributor(s):
    Searchlight Pictures