As director Tim Burton’s go-to costume designer, Colleen Atwood has earned the equivalent of a master’s degree in “twisted” and “creepy.”
The three-time Academy Award winner has worked on 10 Burton films, dark fantasies about misunderstood men and women who live on the periphery of society. More often than not, his men have been played by Johnny Depp (the women often by Burton’s wife, Helena Bonham Carter) and it’s been up to Atwood to devise the costumes of Edward Scissorhands, Barnabas Collins in “Dark Shadows,” and Sweeney Todd.
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Atwood reunited with Depp for “Into the Woods,” the much-buzzed-about Rob Marshall musical opening in December about the inner lives of your favorite fairy-tale characters. Depp plays the Wolf from “Little Red Riding Hood;” Meryl Streep plays a witch trying to teach all the characters life lessons.
“Johnny is my all-time favorite actor because I’ve worked with him so many times over the span of so many years,” said Atwood recently, calling from Virginia, where she picked up the award for distinguished costume designer at the Middleburg Film Festival. Atwood conjured up a fitting costume for Depp in “Woods,” the seductive wolf in men’s clothing — a furry Zoot suit and fedora. “The wolf to me, is jazzed up, almost like a late Thirties or early Forties swing version,” Atwood said. “I took a lot of elements from the costumes and music of that period.”
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Searching for a common element to tie the “Woods” costumes together and make them “of a world,” Atwood found what she was looking for, literally in the woods. “That’s where the characters always end up,” she said.
Using textiles and thin leather cording that was twisted and turned until it had the texture of bark, Atwood assigned varying degrees of wood to the characters, depending on how much time they spent in the forest. “Emily’s [costume] is sort of like little tiny pieces of fabric sewn together with the texture of moss-covered trees,” Atwood said, referring to Emily Blunt, who plays the baker’s wife. Her husband, played by James Corden, has wood texture on his trousers. The costume of Chris Pine, Cinderella’s prince, only has bark trim because he spends more time out of the woods than in them.
Atwood is back with Depp in the just-wrapped “Alice in Wonderland: Through the Looking Glass,” where he plays (again) the Mad Hatter, Bonham Carter plays the Red Queen and Anne Hathaway is the White Queen. But she said she’s not at liberty to reveal details about the 2016 release. “‘Alice’ has a lot of fun stuff in it,” she said. “I got to design some very interesting and complicated costumes. I think you guys in the fashion industry will enjoy it.”
Atwood also reunited with Burton on “Big Eyes,” his new film due in December about the painter Margaret Keane. “I challenge myself to new things,” Atwood said. “‘Big Eyes’ is stylized, but the acting is quite realistic.”
After that, she’ll be working with the director again on “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children,” an adaptation of the children’s novel by Ransom Riggs. “It’s always exciting to see what Tim chooses,” she said. “He’s going from ‘Big Eyes,’ a very realistic movie, which is a whole other thing, to this.”