Costume Designer Mark Bridges has done some wonderful work in his career – Boogie Nights, anyone? – and he hits another home run with The Fighter. Here he talks about high top Reeboks and Z. Cavaricci!
First, can you tell us about how this job came about for you?
I had worked with David (O. Russell, the director) before on I Heart Huckabees and had a great time. He asked me to do The Fighter.
What were your meetings with Russell like – what did you talk about in terms of design direction?
Meetings with David are exciting with a lot of back and forth. I had prepared some boards from the period, early nineties, catalog looks and primary research. We looked them over, and discussed the direction of each character. David talked about some of his favorite images of the family in some of the period pictures of them and what they were like now. Production had prepared a whole notebook of DVDs of Micky Ward’s fights we were going to recreate. They also had Dicky’s famous fight with Sugar Ray Leonard, and of course a copy of the HBO documentary mentioned in the film, High On Crack Street. With that came a taste of Lowell, Massachusetts and the characters we were about to create.
How much access did you have to the Ward/Ecklund family? Did you get pictures from the family? The newspaper? Tell us about how you researched this very specific period and story –
The only person from the family that I spoke to directly was Micky Ward. I called him and asked him specific questions about his feeling about clothes in general and what he remembered wearing in those days. The brand that stuck out in his mind for dress up was Z Cavaricci. I sometimes find pants in rental houses with that label, essentially multi-pleated chinos – half casual, half dress up. It made sense for Micky’s character, and I put two different pairs on Mark Wahlberg; one pair when he travels to his fight in Atlantic City and the other for his first date with Charlene.
Other than that, I was only able to find out that he wore boots to work on the road crew and didn’t (and still doesn’t) care much about clothes. The Ecklund family gave us access to their personal photo albums, but the photos represented the whole family, through many years. I was able to get a sense of the characters but not anything specific to the story we were telling.
It was helpful, however, to have the real Mickey O’Keefe in the film playing himself, so I could pick his brain. He brought some vintage t-shirts that Micky wore in training, and wore them in the film. Also David (director Russell) gave me a one-sentence description of each of the sisters with their place in the family and what their lives are like today. These little bits of information about the sisters were clues to who they were and who they might have been back in the day.
What did the actors have to say about their costumes – any special requests from you? Did you have enough time with the cast to develop ideas?
The actors seem to live in those costumes. I generally work from the feet up – if you get them grounded and walking like the character, you’re halfway there. Mark Wahlberg is much like Micky Ward in that he’s not very interested in clothes and he trusts you, as long as he’s comfortable. We’ve done four films together and have a certain level of trust. Christian (Bale)’s only request was for a pair of cotton balloon pants. I was glad he was game for them because I had pulled a pair and was desperate to get them on someone; they were so much a part of the early nineties fashion.
Amy Adams as Charlene was an interesting choice. I started to put her in very 80‘s/90’s tank dresses and tops and it really didn’t work for the character. The goal really became to make her look like she had an edge, or “hot…but not”, as Amy and I came to say when working out Charlene. She was a real sport about the clothes and we were in complete agreement when we landed on something that felt like Charlene. Again, working from the feet up, if she had a significant heel or platform she could feel like Charlene and the heels would make her legs look incredibly long. I didn’t have a ton of time with my actors but I did have at least two good solid fittings to work things out, working out script beats along the way.
The aging and dyeing on this show is superb. Who did it, and what kinds of discussions did you have with him/her to achieve this look?
As to the aging and dyeing – due to budget restrictions and logistics, I did all of the aging and dyeing myself. It was just easier and quicker for me to do it.
WOW! Good job, Mark – that is truly impressive!!
We couldn’t afford to bring anyone from Los Angeles and there aren’t ager/dyers in Lowell Massachusetts. If there were, they were taken by bigger shows. We had one washer and dryer set up in the production office next to the kitchen. Not the ideal situation, but it worked. My goal in the dyeing was to make the garments look real by giving things the patina of bad laundry and to bring the feeling of working class to the road work crew.
Hair and Makeup also played a huge role in creating these characters – the overall look is an artistic collaboration, so how did that work for you and the Hair/Makeup departments on this film?
As to hair and makeup, I had worked on The Italian Job with Johnny Villanueva (hair) and Donald Mowat (makeup) so we had a great rapport. Johnny and Donald worked a lot with David Russell, as well as the individual actors. They knew what he wanted them to look like and what the actors were willing to do. I did my thing and when we put it together it worked!
Use of color. Can you speak to your use of red on Charlene and Micky? And the white boxing trunks – did Micky always wear white, or was this an artistic choice?
As for the color palette, it was decided by David, the production designer (Judy Becker) and the director of photography (Hoyt Van Hoytema) before I arrived in Lowell that we would try to do a “classic look” which is used beautifully in many 1970s photographs and movies. It is particularly well done in Rocky, which was our prime example. In Rocky, most of the sets are fairly monochromatic medium values in the brown, yellow and orange range. We followed this template – a medium value neutral and somewhat monochromatic set with one main color accent. In the boxing world, these accents were determined by the boxing colors. In the domestic world, we used some of our 1980s/1990s colors – for example, teal and light burgundy – but very judiciously and in a very planned fashion.
Sometimes these color accents were incorporated in set decor items, props or cars, but often it seemed that costumes were the appropriate place – one example I think was the crack house. I used the bright colors to punctuate the scene visually, and sometimes it was to draw focus to a character: on Micky in the “hot seat” with his mother and sisters, or on Charlene in her first scene, to emphasize several things (she’s sexy, a romantic interest, visually pull her out of a dark crowded bar). I like red on a redhead, and their making contact is ultimately what the scene is about.
As for Micky’s white trunks, all of the fight recreations were what he actually wore. We just happened to recreate two of the “white trunk” fights. Dicky’s lack of color is the way the crack house reads in the High On Crack Street documentary, and emphasizes the bleakness of their existence.
Where did you source your costumes? On location? Thrift? Rental? What was your budget?
The costumes were sourced the way I usually work for a project like this – a combination of pulling from costume houses in Los Angeles, where I can find the general look that I want, and then shopping and thrifting when I get to location and have my actors cast. Thank goodness for Savers and St Vincent De Paul thrift shops!
There was no shopping in Lowell, Massachusetts, where we were based (except for Kohl’s), so a shopping trip meant a trip to a New Hampshire mall in 15 minutes or an hour round trip to a Massachusetts mall. Thrift shopping had to be done on Saturdays once we began shooting, because it was farther away. With a 35-day schedule, we were constantly establishing costumes on film and I couldn’t be away from set for that amount of time. I believe the costume budget for purchases and rentals was $100,000.00.
The sisters. My God, the sisters. How did you approach them as a unit, differentiating them, yet keeping the congruity between them? I thought this was excellent.
I had some ideas for the sisters, but they were a mystery to me until they presented themselves to me for fittings. I think my goal was to make them feel as period as possible (high rise jeans, Reebok high top sneakers, dated tops) but also to be individuals. “Little Alice” would be a bit like mother Alice; “Red Dog” was the toughest of the girls and had the most boyish physique; “Beaver” helped the father sometimes in his roofing business, and Shari was the baby and the most feminine.
With these things in mind, I fit a closet of clothes for each of them. They were all very accepting of whatever I chose. However, as you know when you have a bunch of characters that are always in a group, it is always a challenge to vary them so that not everyone is wearing flowers or stripes or jeans or whatever. Juggling that was a challenge, and I was fairly successful in mixing it up. Ultimately, if you stayed true to their character, the rest fell into place.
What discussions did you have with Melissa Leo about her character? Her costumes stand out to me in the way they echo her fierce character, and I wonder how far she was willing to go with the costumes, jewelry, hair, etc.
Melissa Leo’s character Alice really took shape for me once her hair had been dyed and cut like the real Alice. I had a first fitting with her with her real hair, which was longish dark blond/brown. Between that and the first go-round of clothes, the result was period, real and maternal, but rather dull and flat. I showed David the photos from the fitting and he said, “More sexy! More leg!”
So I really pumped it up by making everything tighter, shorter, more 1980s and younger. At the second fitting her hair had been cut and colored and with the new clothes, something very exciting was happening. We knew we had found Alice, and she was hot! Many of the details of her look were based on the real Alice – her use of jewelry, the bodysuits, the length of skirt to show off her legs, matching purses and shoes. Melissa was all for it!
Little Dicky – was his ear already pierced or did you do it? Or was it a magnetic earring? Absolutely brilliant choice.
Little Dicky (a local hire) came to us with his ear already pierced. David liked it and I thought it was just right.
Product placement details – I noticed Everlast. Were there other vendors who were particularly helpful?
Everlast was a natural to be part of product placement, as they were, in fact, used in all of Micky’s fights. Everlast provided what we requested, and then Randy at Sichel Embroidery http://www.sichel-embroidery.com/ beautifully did all the logos and embroidery work to recreate our research of the original fights. Randy worked very hard to get us all the pieces in a timely fashion, as all of the fights in the film were shot in the first week of shooting! It was close, because once we got the trunks, they all had to be altered to the dimension and lengths worn in the research of the 1990s, not the baggy proportions that the trunks are now.
Thank you so much, Mark, for sharing your stories with us!! I absolutely loved the costumes in this movie – way to go and congratulations to Mark Bridges and his costume team!