We haven't talked Costume Design much this year -- course correct, course correct! -- so let's talk about two time Oscar nominee Julie Weiss and her work on Hitchcock. Hitchcock met with rather cool reception from critics and the public when it debuted last month. Part of that was, I think, due to its all encompassing title. While not a great picture, it self-sabotaged by allowing expectations of a factual and expansive biopic of the Master of Suspense when it actually only had plans on taking a lightly comic snapshot of one year in a famous Hollywood marriage.
Though inside showbiz pictures are rarely big hits, movie buffs and those who are actually inside showbiz tend to like them -- go figure! Julie Weiss is no exception. We spoke on the phone but I could swear her eyes were lighting up each time she talked about the honor she felt recreating Old Hollywood.
"That's what we want!" she told me emphatically. "We want the visitation rights to all of these worlds."
I wondered if she felt the need to let loose creatively in the non-Psycho scenes since she wouldn't have felt as restricted by previously established conography but her passionate response surprised me. She didn't feel hemmed in by Psycho at all.
"Fidelity is an interesting word when memory comes into view," she said explaining that exactitude wasn't the pressure at all. We certainly know Hitchcock but recreating the look of Psycho she reminds me was only part of her job. Especially since the legendary film was shot in black and white and this look back is in color. Color is a key factor in many costuming decisions and we spoke at length about the scene where Alma (Helen Mirren) and Janet (Scarlett Johannson) first meet, with Alma in her usual red and Janet in the palest of pinks.
"When the costume becomes clothing you know it's the actor becoming the character," Julie explained, describing fittings as crucial to her desire to help the actors transform. "I'm far more interested in watching an actor becoming a character than have a gown stand by itself."
"Scarlett Johansson playing Janet Leigh playing Marion Crane," in particular she describes poetically as a "prism that turned three times." Hitchcock proved a difficult assignment since it encompassed famous film costumes, movie premiere glamour, and everyday period wear in Hollywood and beyond (the Ed Gein sequences). She had to accomplish it all with with little prep time. "So difficult but worth it."
The only time Weiss seemed disappointed in her latest costuming gig was when the conversation turned briefly to the shower scene.
As a costume designer, I wished she were wearing something."
Weiss previously performed these old showbiz tricks with Hollywoodland (2006), the lower rent story of the mysterious death of past his prime Superman actor George Reeves played by Ben Affleck. But up until now Julie Weiss's most famous work came from three very different assignments: the dystopian hobo rags and space suits of Twelve Monkeys (1995, Oscar nomination) the pinata-colorful gowns of the art biopic Frida (2002, Oscar nomination) and the uniforms of suburban dysfunction within American Beauty.
I told her that my favorite costume from American Beauty was the navy sheath dress on Annette Bening that made her blend in with her prized vertical striped sofa.
"I'm so glad you noticed that. It means a lot when people notice," she said and shared that she was also made sure The Bening's gray dress matched the metallic of the gun. But before our chat spun into endless 'love your work' back-patting she poked at herself endearingly.
I still worry I should have put more dirt on her apron!"
This last comment was funny and telling. Julie Weiss was surprisingly self-effacing in the end. Despite a celebrated career with these unmissable peaks, she's really just there to help us win visitation rights to these other worlds.
"I love just standing back and watching that universe come to life. What you really want as a costume designer is that when the person walks out of the theater that they don't remember the costume against a white piece of paper but that they remember the scene and the world."