The first time costume designer Danny Glicker read the script for the film “Bad Times at the El Royale,” he was moved by the era in which it took place — the Sixties. It was a decade of tumult: assassinations, war and an incredible amount of political unrest and dissatisfaction. Culturally speaking, an enormous shift rumbled as well. The old guard gave way to a new generation. Glicker found the narrative of the movie centered around archetypes — the hippie cult leader, played by Chris Hemsworth; the good-old-boy role filled by Jon Hamm — that, as the story goes on, are subsequently dismantled.
“For a costume designer, those are all very exciting places to begin thinking about a project,” Glicker said.
Glicker got to work fleshing out what the characters looked like, as he envisioned them emerging from the page into fully fledged people. He saw the struggling girl-group soul singer Darlene Sweet, performed by Cynthia Erivo, in a beehive hairdo typical of Sixties Motown singers, while Hamm would don a plaid sport jacket and horn-rimmed glasses, and Hemsworth would rock a white button-down with artful embroidery on the back.
Glicker, who got his start shopping for the fabric in Broadway shows, approaches his craft with an intensity bordering on obsession — and it makes him a busy guy. (This year alone, he designed the outfits for “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot,” “The Front Runner” and “Serenity.”) When he agrees to take on a project, he reads the script a minimum of four times. Then he creates books of research for each character, which not only include outfit ideas, but contain the breakdowns and story arcs of the film. Glicker calls himself a “research fanatic,” tapping information from all sources: he scours the Internet for historical context, is a big proponent for libraries and the books that give him information the web cannot, and amasses clothing from the era to study the zipper pulls, buttons and stitching styles.
“But I’m not just thinking about one character when I’m considering how he or she is dressed,” Glicker said. “I’m thinking about the whole world they’re coming from. The thing that I always like to ask myself is, ‘What is the character trying to project to the world, and what is it that they’re trying not to project?’”
Hemsworth, in the role of Billy Lee, is the villainous leader of a group of transient young hippies. To prepare for Lee, Glicker took a look at the cults of the Sixties, and those who lived communally, creating his own substory for Hemsworth’s outfit as he went along.
“The thing that I saw with the cults was that all of these groups of people started out with incredible optimism,” he said. “In the case of Chris’ character, that helped me because I wasn’t only thinking of him, I was also thinking of the people around him — and that then informed his outfit. In my imagination, I saw several people in his community who were embroidering little designs onto his shirt.”
Each film comes with its own set of challenges. For “El Royale,” the main costumes worn by each actor — called his or her “hero look” — had to withstand stunts, different weather conditions and environments, and variant lighting. To prepare for this hurdle, Glicker worked alongside the film’s production designer, Martin Whist, and cinematographer, Seamus McGarvey, to screen-test every piece of fabric and garment featured on-screen.
“We would have samples of different wallpapers and different wall colors, because we had to be in love with it — once [the actors] were in them, they were locked in their outfits. And we would find with the color palette and the lighting conditions, there was always going to be a surprise on camera.”
And, like the challenges, every project he takes on has its own unique time in history — a political and cultural backdrop upon which Glicker paints his own picture. Out of all the decades he’s worked on, which one’s his favorite?
“I have to say, the era that I most love to design for is usually the era that I’m designing at any given moment,” he said. “I feel like it’s my job to fall in love and become an advocate for the integrity of whatever world it is that I’m presenting.
“It’s always about the truth of each world.”
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