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Interview: Julie Weiss on Visitation Rights to "Hitchcock"s World

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.

Peggy (Toni Collette), Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) and Alma Hitchcock (Helen Mirren) in 1960s Hollywood

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."

Julie Weiss attends a Hitchcock screeningI 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."

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Reader Comments (9)

Another great interview! The hits keep coming! An interesting person to hear from, too.

(Am I allowed to take credit for pointing out that Bening's dress turns her into one of the couch stripes?)

December 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNick Davis

You know, I totally hated Hitchcock, but I sure do think the costumes (and art direction) were perfect, and it's great to read about the costume design of American Beauty, which is one of that movie's many strengths.
It's also nice to see that photo of Scarlet in the shower scene, which was one of the scenes that I thought really worked. (Sorry, Janet. Everyone else in that scene seemed appropriately dressed. And kudos for 12 Monkeys, that must have been fun.)

December 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMike in Canada

First of all, I enjoy this series of interviews so much!

I believe I'm going to love her clothes in Hitchock. From her recent work, it's true that American Beauty stands out. Suburban life perfectly depicted. Frida was quite stunning too. I assume working with Taymor must be kind of tough for a designer, don't you think?

Looking at her IMDB page, I couldn't help sighing. She worked in a few marvelous TV-movies from my childhood Little Gloria, The Dollmaker, Evergreen ... those were good!

December 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

My problem with Hitchcock was that it didn't go far enough with the comedic suspense conceit. It swung earnest too often when everyone involved was clearly living for the more exaggerated comedy and melodramatic elements. It was a really funny suspense film about creating a horror film that tried too hard to be serious.

The costumes were fantastic, though. The swimsuits, the accessories on Hitch when forced to work in the yard, the premiere-wear: loved it all. I think my favorite combination has to be the one you mentioned: Mirren in Red, Johansson in Pink, and Hitch in his standard suit at the first meeting. Hitch's lifeblood, Hitch's passion, and Hitch's reputation all in jeopardy because of one questionable film.

December 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRobert G

Mike -- she mentioned twelve monkeys but i couldn't work it into the movie. she was really proud of that one.

Peggy Sue -- thank you. I know i should have spaced them out more throughout the season but I did what I could do!

Robert G -- i think you hit the nail on the head there. Confused intentions and that troubled title did the film in with a lot of people but I still think the film was better than people say. Everyone just took it so seriously when from the very first scene the movie announces that it's not a factual drama.

December 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

I want to know where she got the dress she's wearing in that photo. Awesome!

December 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterChristine

I LOVED Hitchcock. I hope Weiss gets an Oscar nod, she really deserves it.

December 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterHannibal Lester

Christine -- perfect event dress for the costume designer, right?
Nick -- YES YOU ARE. You are brilliant

December 31, 2012 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Saw Hitchcock and thought it was enjoyable movie .. that's it! Helen Mirren was good but not for an Oscar nom!!!!!

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterrick

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