I am a very lucky girl to be able to bring you interviews like this one. I sat down for breakfast with costume designer Mark Bridges yesterday, and have transcribed our conversation for you. Please grab a cup of coffee and join us, won’t you? Mark tells me all about The Master, his methodology, and merkins. Yes, merkins. I enjoyed this so much, I hope to bring you other breakfast-style interviews in the future. Big thanks to Mark for joining me for some toad-in-the-hole and coffee – it was lovely, and very entertaining! Please note that there are spoilers in this interview, so if you want to be surprised by the film, read this after you see it! But if you can’t wait… read on~
I loved your work on this film. It looked amazing. Please tell me about how you made it all happen:
The idea was not to make it look foreign – like another planet – to the contemporary eye. You just want to make it accessible. It had to tell the story and I love setting things as specifically as possible in a certain time period – that’s why I liked 1950. The story begins right after the war, in 1945. The film kind of suggests that Freddie wandered around until the time when the rest of the film takes place (1950). Things were sort of compressed.
I like 1950, because you look at research and movies and it still feels a little 1940s, but it’s longer – I call it “1950s with shoulder pads”. I tried to find as much real stuff from the period as I could. All except one of Amy Adams’ costumes is an actual vintage garment.
Wow – I did 1955 maternity on a film, and we had a hard time finding that. Where did you find all that stuff?
I went to every costume house, to look at their period maternity – I think I got a lot of it at Motion Picture Costumes. They had just taken over Repeat Performance, and there were quite a few pieces in that stock. Every rental house had one or two pieces, and I only ended up making one costume: the outfit she wears in Arizona.
Yes, the gold with the plum! We also made her pregnancy pad, so she could have a nice fresh one! And then we only get to see her once in the film when she’s not pregnant.
I know!! And the colors in that costume reflect the Phoenix, Arizona costume – was that part of an arc for her?
I felt so happy with how they shot that. However briefly you see her in that England scene, when she’s not pregnant, the dress is unlike anything else in the film and it really feels a little “Lady Macbeth”, if you will…
I agree!! What I thought was interesting was that it had that foulard print, and it felt so British, so different from the frothiness that we saw in her earlier costumes. I think her pieces were really well chosen, because it’s like a disguise for her.
It really is. I always think it’s interesting to do those contrasts – what they present to the world, versus what their soul is really like. When it’s that different, it makes a person more interesting. Also, I worked with Amy earlier on The Fighter, which was a completely different thing for her, and at some point while we were shooting The Master, she looked at herself and said, “This is the least sexy I have ever been in a film… and that includes the nun!!” (from Doubt).
(Laughing) That’s funny!!!
Isn’t it? I thought that was funny. And it kind of has paid off, hasn’t it? By having her look that sweet and non-sexy, and then you see how she uses that, toward the world and her husband.
The audience was freaking out at the scene in the bathroom where she’s, you know… The audience was so uncomfortable; there were gasps and whispers and stuff – it was scary!!
Yeah! It is so simple in that scene, and you fill in the blanks. She’s just so cold about it, like, “I’m doing what I have to do!” It all worked really well. One thing that she said when we did her first fitting was that she noticed a kind of circus motif in her costumes – the little collar with a swirl on it, which is completely accidental but it seems right in a way for the circus she’s a part of, traveling from town to town. It was unintentional, but maybe it came out – there are polka dots and things, but unfortunately, you don’t really see that first change too much, except in stills. That was how we were going to first meet her, in the polka dots.
So when you talked with her initially on the phone, what was that conversation like?
I don’t do that. I… (giggles) don’t do that.
I get their sizes and they show up.
So do you have 800 racks of stuff, then?
Are you a Jedi?
Uh-huh! …You know what? It’s either going to work or it isn’t, and I kind of knew her size, and her coloring. I knew what I had found that was good quality, and of the correct period. So, come on in, let’s try some stuff on! Let’s see how it goes! It’s very organic like that. I knew she had a finite amount of changes, that’s why I had to make the thing for Arizona. There was nothing really that special in the period stuff. This was going to be a “new outfit” for the occasion of the new book – so it was good that we made it. Also we found nothing of good quality in the color we needed. The garment I copied was in great condition, and in great fabric, but it would have made her all one color – it was like, beige – so she would just be beige lady, and that wasn’t going to work dramatically. That’s why we made it.
(Re: not talking with actors first) Actors like that are very hard to reach. I’d just as soon we all be one-on-one, and try the stuff on. You know, talking about clothes doesn’t really work; you have to try the stuff on. It’s just quicker. Like, Come on in!!!
On The Artist, when I would have fittings with people – extras or day players – there would be like one or two choices.
Right. I’m the same way.
I mean, you know what you want.
It’s just the hallmark of someone having a vision for something.
Yeah! And with Philip Seymour Hoffman’s clothes…
You’ve worked with him how many times now?
Hard Eight, Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love, and this one…
Five times; that’s a lot! That’s a lot of time to spend with an actor, so you know his, sort of, proclivities, and needs –
Yeah – but he’s always changing, and then the roles change, too. We knew this was going to be suits. He’s never really had to wear suits before. I knew it was going to be tough to find stuff off the rack for him, that we would have to go custom made. I’m not exactly sure where that funny green suit came from… I think it seemed like when I was looking for suits, there would often be very unusual colors in the period, and I used it for the first time we see him, because I wanted Freddie to notice him – like there’s something special about a guy who wears a green suit… which we never really saw, you know, except dancing on the yacht…
Doesn’t he wear it at the end, when they’re having dinner?
He wears it at the dinner, yes, covered with a napkin. I love it when the actors cover up their costume! But they’re going to do what they do; I just facilitate. You guys, take it from there. Take it away. That was a really funny dinner scene.
I sensed an overall palette for the film – or maybe a bunch of little palettes you created that were complimentary to each other.
There were different palettes for each location. There was a palette for New York and Philly, there was a different palette for the yacht, there was a different palette for Arizona… Because they move around so much, I think it helped to clarify, in a really subtle way, where we were at any given time.
It bled into each other. It really did. It helps me when choosing things to have a palette – it hangs together so much better, visually. I was really happy with how the wine colors photographed, the sherbet-ness of the yacht, sort of resort-y. And the wedding dress, did you see that wedding dress?! It was really pretty and simple and it fit her really well. I loved that wedding dress. You didn’t see really much of it, but it was there! It was re-embroidered organdy, which is really unusual.
So tell me about fitting Joaquin –
That’s when I had a lot of clothes. I had a lot of clothes for him – he had a lot of changes.
He must have had forty or fifty changes, did he not?
Probably when we were shooting, yeah. We probably had two stuffed racks for his first fitting, and then you find out what works and figure out what you didn’t have, and so the second fitting was a re-fit. We had two more racks, something like that? I mean, if an actor walks in and sees six racks of clothes, it’s going to turn him off. The first time I met Joaquin, he was just starting the diet that he was on to get so thin, and it was really sapping his energy. We got a lot done, but it was just exhausting for him. He was really apologetic, but my feeling was, “Hey, I got a lot of work done today, don’t worry about it at all. Let’s just come back and revisit.”
I can’t imagine being an actor and walking in and seeing six racks of clothes, especially when you don’t even want to be there in the first place? Joaquin was really into it. Paul Thomas Anderson came for both of those fittings. He would come and sit there and we would try stuff on. He kind of did that with Daniel Day Lewis on There Will Be Blood, too – at least his first fitting.
Is that uncomfortable?
Not for me and Paul, not at all, because Paul just sort of sits there, taking it all in, and probably imagining the scenes and things.
But I mean, is it uncomfortable maybe for the actor, who’s like, in their underpants and changing?
No, because they’re guys. They’ve been hanging out already, working on the script, talking about the character and so on. It helps me – we can kind of cut to the chase. We can all just discuss it together and if it’s not going to work, it’s not going to work.
What we do so much of the time is to listen between the lines, so to speak. Even an inflection in somebody’s voice has meaning. You can kind of get the hint that they don’t love a costume by a change in their voice. It just makes it so much easier to have Paul there. Paul wrote it, so he’s the best man to give me an answer on whether it’s going to work or not. He really respects what I bring to the table. And I respect that it is or isn’t going to be what he imagined.
And you’ve done what, six, seven movies together?
Six movies; all of his movies.
That’s an amazing collaborative relationship.
It is, and you look at the movies, too – they are very different. I am so lucky that I’ve worked with him right from the beginning and for both of us to have been able to do what we’ve been able to do, through our collaboration and otherwise.
But I have to ask, about Joaquin – when did he develop that posture? Did you know about the posture in the fittings, or did that come about later?
I think it came about a little later. I was looking at his fitting photos today, and there’s a tiny, tiny hint of it in (his fitting photos). I think it became more pronounced later and I don’t know whether that was through development of his character? Or if Paul liked it, and they both were on board with it? I don’t know where it came from. But there is a little tiny hint of it in his fitting. His fitting photos do not really convey who Freddie was going to be. He was just kind of a mannequin about posing for the pictures. During the fitting, we would discuss costume ideas; it was a real back and forth. He let me present my stuff, he and Paul talked about it. Then I talked about it with both of them, and then we would take a picture of it and move on. There’s a whole lot of mutual respect going on in the fitting room and we’re all just trying to get one thing done.
Regarding Freddie’s clothes and the way they fit him, the droopy, the saggy… how much of that was built into the character, and how much of that was about the fact that Joaquin kept losing weight?
All of it. The other issue was what (costumes) I had available, what I could find. He would just wear anything he could wear. A lot of this stuff was given to him when he was on the ship, because he was a stowaway. He became very small, so what was available in period shirts – you could get a really, really small shirt. I just thought it was right – it was easy for him to inhabit.
How was it, working with him – he seems very “method” in all of this.
As soon as we wrapped picture, he became a different person. We did our work ahead of time, and I just let him alone. I’d go and I’d check and see if he’s okay with dressing for the day, that kind of thing. But once we were done with the movie, he was different.
With so many different sets of background and palettes, how did you strategize your pulling of stock? Was it easy? Were you squeezed for it? How did it come together?
I had many different racks of clothing. We were based on Mare Island, near Vallejo, CA. The racks were marked with palette groupings: “Phoenix only”, with all the sunshine colors, and some cactus colors, then there was “New England”, and so on. When the costumers were doing background fittings, they knew where to go and what to pull from. I knew I was going to need X number of clothes to fit background, and I knew how many scenes they were going to be in. That’s why we have the overlap and the bleed of colors from different palettes. It’s done as a way to keep it from looking too stylized. You throw in an occasional thing that doesn’t go, and it breaks it up the look of the group from appearing too stylized.
I knew I had to pull the clothes anyway. I just did it with better parameters because of those palettes. And then of course, a blouse is a blouse is a blouse – a cream blouse can go with anything, any palette’s skirt, or any suit.
The walkaround model at Capwell’s?
We made the dress because it needed to be rigged, and then we lined that coat, which was a rental, with the same fabric.
I was wondering about the rigging of the dress, because she just kind of pops that off, and I was like, nice work!!
I think we re-shot that actually. I had originally made the dress strapless, and it didn’t quite work. We put those little tiny spaghetti straps on there and it worked fine. You know, with a production schedule you never have enough time to work out all these things; it’s not like back in the day at MGM where you could rehearse with the costume for weeks before they actually shot it. She was pretty good about it. Marilyn Madsen was my cutter-fitter; she made that dress. We got that jewelry set from Palace.
It was nice!! Ooh, that necklace! I wanted to ask you about the stunts, the scuffles, all of it. Watching the movie – it’s the actor, it’s not a stunt guy. How scary is that for you? For me the movie felt like it was kind of flying off the chain, like there was unplanned stuff that made it into the movie… what did you do?
I knew that in the scene where he ends up with the ripped pants (when Lancaster Dodd is arrested in Philadelphia), I knew. I pulled multiples on the shirts, but I didn’t tell anybody except Cookie (the set costumer) that there are multiples of the shirt.
Because you want them to be careful?
No, I just know that we’re making a movie and we’re ultimately going to need it – they need the flexibility to go crazy – I can’t be there standing by Paul saying, “You can’t do THIS – “ I think I probably found three similar period navy pairs of pants… I just go back to the wardrobe office while these things are happening.
Because you can’t watch!!
No, I can’t. I cannot watch. Things happen, and I don’t want to suppress their creativity. I’ll just be like, “Okay, you’ve got three of these, and we’ll find another pair, we’ll make another pair,” There was also the scene when Freddie comes back from jail, and he’s got that ripped leg in his pants, and all of a sudden he and the Master start rolling around on the ground, yeah. There was a grass stain, but I just had another pair of pants made. We had shot that scuffling scene before we shot a big scene where he wears the same suit – where he was addressing people in New York, which never made it into the movie, but I was like “Oh no! We’re going to ruin the suit before his big scene! “ So I just made another pair of pants.
All of that scared me – the actors riding motorcycles, for real, on the dry lakebed –
I had doubles, multiples, for all of that, because you know that’s going to be a stunt double or photo double. But it wasn’t. That’s how Paul works. If Paul can possibly get the actor to really do it, he will. Usually he has these actors completely on board, practiced and ready to do it. He’d rather use the real thing. But then my filmmaking thing clicks in, saying, “I need to have multiples so that we can do anything when we’re out in the middle of the freaking desert. “ Not to be like, “Eugh, there’s only ONE, “ They’d tie you up and leave you out there!
I had a couple of those jackets for Quell. Freddie’s jacket was the real one…
The grey one with the ribbing?
Yes, it’s like two-tone, but then we made one very similar, we had it copied. If you were close enough to see that it wasn’t the real jacket, you’d see that it wasn’t Joaquin. The graphics of it worked. That’s how I like to do it.
It sounds like you shot a lot. How much of what you shot didn’t make it into the movie?
There was an opening night party on the yacht, there was a whole scene in the 1940s, in San Francisco when Freddie jumps off the back of a battleship and then goes to a club in San Francisco and then misses his ship… There was a New York convention. It wasn’t a ton of stuff, but they were biggish set pieces that didn’t end up in there. I don’t really notice that they’re gone. Something has to go, occasionally, and I don’t miss it at all.
When you were shooting this movie, how often were you at the monitor, on set? How do you spend your time while the movie is shooting?
I always go when we’re establishing a scene. Always, always, always, just to make sure that Paul’s cool with everything. But I do that with every director. I don’t just send costumes out there – I might want to tweak it. I want to see how they’re going to shoot it, and I might want to change something… a little bit. Rarely that happens. I may talk with an AD about using one background person over another in the shot. Once they get to it, shooting it, which could be many, many hours, then I go back and do my work. I stick around until they at least commit it to camera. I talk to Paul and make sure everything is cool.
We don’t have a lot of discussions on set – he’s concentrating on the film; he already kinda knows what’s going to happen, and what the costume will look like. But sometimes we have to change things. That’s how I spend my day. I try to set up the day before, the night before, just to make sure we have all the pieces on the setup rack. I talk everybody through it. They’ll set the rooms, I’ll go around – I think it’s my theatrical background – I like to check on everybody. Did they get dressed? Does it look okay? Do you have the belt?
I knock on everybody’s doors, to see how they’re doing. Then I go to the set with them when they all go to set. But you know how that is – some people go to the set on their own, they take half of them for rehearsal, it can be pretty scattered. That’s just movie making. That’s it. I present the costumes, and Paul takes it from there, works his magic on it.
Do you find yourself with a different work methodology when you’re working with somebody other than him?
Everybody’s a little different. I don’t change that much. Paul is the only director that I’ve worked with who comes to fittings, so I think that’s different. But then, he’s busy. He’s got a whole movie to do. Even with this director that I just did the Tom Hanks movie with (Paul Greengrass), I did my fittings alone. I didn’t even really have to show him pictures.
Whuuuh??? How’d that work?
There are directors you don’t have to show pictures to –
Wow, I’d like to meet some of these people! (laughing) I don’t think I’ve met one! I mean, they’re all curious – whether or not they want a lot of input is a different story, but …
I’m trying to think, with Paul Greengrass – certainly the pirates; he was involved with the Somali pirates. The crew… I don’t remember him being really involved with it. He was just very supportive and appreciative that that maybe I have some kind of fantasyland or ideas going on.
Maybe a little Oscar statuette on your mantel has something to do with that.
He’s an English director and a BAFTA winner himself, so maybe there was a certain trust…
So do you find that people perceive you differently now?
I don’t know; I really haven’t experienced it much because I was working with him (Greengrass) before I won, and after I won. So, I think there’s a general good feeling. They were really supportive when all of the Oscar stuff was happening, but I can’t tell how people perceive me. I’m desperate to try to just carry on and do the work like I always did it, and not make anything different about it. Believe me – Oscar or no Oscar, there’s still going to come the day when I’m digging in a box of dirty shoes. (laughs) Okay?
Who are your agents?
Wayne Fitterman and Peter Franciosa at UTA.
How long have you been with them?
Fifteen years. They’re really sweet and supportive. I don’t know that there’s much of a difference with what agency you have –
I think there is a big difference – because my feeling is that your agents represent not just your work, but you as a person, too.
Okay, I can see that. But I like them. I like the way they are.
I think that’s why you stay with somebody for fifteen years – because you “get” each other and because they represent you in a way that makes you feel good about what you’re doing.
Wayne is so smart. He’s a lawyer, and now he heads the Production Department at UTA. He’s a partner now.
But let’s consider the last fifteen years of your career – from Boogie Nights –
That’s when I got them, right after Boogie Nights came out. That was 1997. That was fifteen years ago. I just was talking to them yesterday because there is a little tiny movie that someone is interested in me doing, and I would consider doing it if it was in town.
It doesn’t sound like the projects you’re considering have been altered in any way by the other huge projects you’ve been able to be a part of –
No, because you have to remember that The Artist was the tiniest little thing ever.
What was the overall budget of The Master, like $20M? $25M?
I don’t know. Maybe $25M, yeah, sure – I never know! I never concern myself with it –
You never ask? You should ask!
Because it’s important!
All I care about is my money.
I know, but that’s how you can figure out whether they’ve given you enough money to work with. I mean, we’ve all been in positions where it hasn’t been fair. Find out the overall budget, and you find out if they’re being realistic and fair.
It’s funny – you have to remember, though, that with this particular group, I have been working with these people for seventeen years. And it’s all the same people.
Same Line Producer? Same everything? Wow!
Yeah. So there’s no shenanigans. There might be shenanigans, but not with me. (laughing) There also have been movies with them where I never really knew how much I had – I just kept going – like There Will Be Blood. They would never commit to how much money I had.
The thing is – I didn’t write it. I can completely disengage from it. Go back to the old Jim Tyson saying: “I don’t need those uniforms, YOU need those uniforms.” If they tell me that I’ve got $300K to do the whole movie, I’m not somebody who’s going to spend $500K. You (production) just decided how this movie is going to look, and that’s $300K. I’m not going to turn it into anything other than that. I’m going to do my best within those confines, but that’s what you’re getting. I do feel like keeping the budget within their parameters is part of my job. I feel like it’s kind of irresponsible to just go out willy-nilly, and in this day and age it’s not going to get you very far.
Particularly if it’s a studio, and it’s their money – they’re giving you not just their money, but also their trust. In my opinion, it would be a really bad idea to breach that.
It’s irresponsible. It also makes it look like you don’t know what you’re doing.
Okay, important question: when you did your research about Lancaster Dodd, where did you get your pictures?
There are two things: one is, of course, L. Ron Hubbard, but they didn’t really want to do L. Ron Hubbard – I don’t think he’s a favorite character of anybody. I was doing research and I was trying to find someone who was from that era who had the physicality of Philip Seymour Hoffman. And I came up with Orson Welles. He was a biggish man, but could look quite elegant at times. A lot of the images I used were from Orson Welles in that period, from 1945 – 1950.
In terms of the research for the other people, was it found photos? How did you approach it?
I would do internet research, and find the strangest things, like people would have pictures of their family reunions from 1950, so I would get a look at people to see what “real” looked like. And that always helps, because real is imperfect. I think that’s one of the fun things, to make it work for the character but make it seem real – there’s a level of imperfection. Like, how well did you do it wrong? When I do a fitting, there are people who get really super detailed. Sometimes I will just stop, because it can just look too perfect. There’s gotta be just the right amount of wrong.
About this film, people have been commenting to me about the neckties. But a necktie is right next to your face, and I’m not trying to take away from it, but one of the standout things about menswear at the time was the graphic neckties, in the same way that neckties in the early 1990s were graphic. I tried to be specific about the time period and what these guys would have had with regard to their neckties.
Okay, last question about The Master. The naked lady sequence. That also caused quite a ruffle in the audience where I was – unexpected! So tell me about the prosthetic for the pregnant lady –
It was all makeup. Makeup did the merkins, and the pregnancy piece. They made it all in the makeup trailer when we were on location – they were amazing.
Merkins! No way! I have a question scribbled in my notebook – “Merkins?!” That’s some work. They did a great job on your movie, hair and makeup – great job.
Again, it was a really light touch. You get the suggestion of the period, but it never felt false. I think that’s part of the success of this movie. It’s period, but it is a light touch. It makes it more accessible, right? When you look at real pictures of people from back then, it is a really light touch. It’s not all super-stylized, it’s just people with their lousy home permanents, tying their hair in rags at night, trying to get a side part, things like that.
Can we talk about the Capwell’s departments store portraits? They were breathtaking!!!
That was fun! We did a whole bunch of them, too. You should see the ones we did – we did an elegant black woman, and we did my baby niece Geneva… I found a piece of research – a girl who did a glamour picture and then she did a secretary picture, with glasses – so we did that. It was really fun.
What I thought was so cool about it was that the casting of it was right on the money! The faces were incredible. Hair, makeup, costume, lighting – everything was perfect. Was it a sidebar, shot on a separate day?
We did it on another part of the set when we were at Capwell’s Department Store. We set up a little area; it was kind of like a B-unit type of thing. It was really, super fun!!!
So, looking ahead, what’ya got? Have you had your summer off?
Yeah, but it seems like it’s flying by! Every time I turn around, it’s time to go to bed! I just worked sixteen months straight. I did The Master, then Silver Linings Playbook in Philly, and then went away for another four months on this last one. I was away eight of those months. So I’m spending time with my family, catching up on house stuff.
It’s nice to have time off. And then after a certain amount of time, it’s like ohhh-keedokie.
I’m not sure what’s next. There are a couple of things in the wind. Maybe something small, independent. I just got a script yesterday; haven’t read it yet. It’s a new director. But who knows, maybe I won’t like the script – maybe I won’t get past page ten or something.
Doesn’t it? That’s the test of the script, whether I can get past page 20 or not.
Well after you’ve read 150 million scripts, you kind of know within the first ten pages whether or not it’s going to be something that captures you.
Yeah. And whether there are some possibilities to make it look cool. I think I used to strategize a little bit – there was a point where I was going to kind of possibly be like “the 1970s guy”, but we got out of that by trying to mix it up.
That’s what is tough about doing the same kinds of movies frequently. You have to break away from them now and again in order to have a diverse career and keep going.
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Well, there is no doubt in my mind that Mark Bridges will continue to diversify his amazing career. I can’t wait to see what he does next! Thanks so much to Mark for having breakfast with me and for talking about The Master, his career, and life in general. It was lovely, and I look forward to our next breakfast interview!!!
Congratulations on the beautiful work in The Master, Mark – well done!!