Byline: Marcy Medina
BURBANK, CA — It’s a hot and humid morning in the ramshackle costume warehouse at Universal Studios. John Bloomfield, the costume designer for “The Mummy” series, is fretting that the broken air conditioner will delay his crew of 12 in completing the dyeing, sewing, beading and distressing of the costumes for a scene that’s being shot that afternoon for “The Scorpion King,” the series’ third installment and, technically, the prequel.
Piles of fabric, skeins of yarn, and boxes of beads — all remains from “The Mummy Returns” which opened this weekend — still litter the workshop. Bloomfield designed every costume in the film from scratch, with looks that spanned eras from 3000 B.C. to the 20th century.
“I’d say there were about 2000 costumes we custom-made for the film,” he says. “But I never do anything less.”
Bloomfield has made a career in bygone eras. He worked on both “Conan the Barbarian” and “Waterworld.” “People always ask, ‘What’s your favorite period?’ and the truth is, your favorite period is the one you’re working on,” he said.
After coming on board with “The Mummy,” Bloomfield headed to the British Museum, where he pored over mummies in glass cases and stone tablets inscribed with Egyptian characters. That came in handy when chatting with his leading lady, Rachel Weisz. “Rachel’s a deep thinker so it’s always a discussion with her,” he laughed. “She’s also a natural camel rider.”
For his other female star, Patricia Velasquez, the costuming was more straightforward. “Her gold costume, which everyone thought was a dress, was actually painted on. It took eight hours, and she went to sleep on me,” he laughs.
His innovative sketches are a collaborative effort with his wife, an illustrator he met nearly 40 years ago on a London theater set. “I’m an artist, but not a painter,” he says. “The difference between a painter and a designer is that I need something to set me going. I read a script and the characters start coming alive. To just sit in the garden and paint — no.”
For Velasquez’s incarnation as a London glamour girl in the film, Bloomfield relied on a classic film for inspiration. “I looked at a picture of Marlene Dietrich in ‘Shanghai Express’ or something, and she had the black veil and flat cock feathers and she looked so stunning,” he recalls.
While Weisz and Velasquez only had 10 costume changes between them, each ensemble — which can be as complex as a Lacroix wedding gown — must be duplicated up to six times. “You need two for the star, two for the stunt double, and you’ve got to have at least one in reserve, and then maybe another if it’s supposed to get ripped during a scene,” he explains.
But not all of Weisz’s wardrobe are anchored in the past. After all, this is a movie where lots of things blow up, Bloomfield said.
“I’m not trying to do a museum re-creation from 1936,” he notes. “I’m trying to do an action adventure for now.”