‘I Am the Night’: Costume Designer Rhona Meyers on Creating the Looks & Working With Patty Jenkins
The series, which was produced (and directed for two episodes) by Wonder Woman‘s Patty Jenkins, harkens back to the noir films of Hollywood’s past with a dark true-story twist. TV Insider spoke with the show’s costume designer, Rhona Meyers, who created each look for the stylized series.
Below, Meyers sheds some light on what inspired the looks seen on screen, what it was like working with Jenkins and what sets this project apart from others she’s worked on in the past.
There are so many different looks in the show; which was one of your favorites to create?
Rhona Meyers: I loved so many looks for various reasons. But I think my very favorite to create were all of Corrina’s (Connie Nielsen) looks. She is so stunning that anything you put on her looks amazing. But her character was very interesting, artistic and eccentric, and very, very fabulous. We got away with a lot for Corrina, and she wore it all so well.
However, all of my cast was amazing, and I loved all the characters we created and collaborated on. As well as the periods, as we blended ’40s, ’50s and ’60s – prim and proper to avant garde, urban rawness to Hollywood Elite glamour. It was all so exciting.
What’s the challenge of approaching a project set in the past? Did you do a lot of research on the time period?
There are many aspects to approaching a project that is a period piece … I first researched Fauna [Hodel], and read her memoirs to get an idea who she was. Then I researched the time period the show was taking place in, which was 1965. In the background, the show is about art and artists — we have chosen to keep them in the 1940s, as that was the highlight of their life and they are still living that glamorous 1940s lifestyle. Part of that art crowd that George Hodel (Jefferson Mays) kept company with was Man Ray, Dali, and John Huston. He was part of the Hollywood Elite, so that was all researched.
When Fauna was in Sparks, Nevada, she was prim and proper, so we gave the town a 1950s vibe, so when she came to Los Angeles we could see her character arc as she took on the new looks of the 1960s after going with her cousins to a party in Watts. It was just the beginning of the black power movement and just pre-Black Panther movement. All of the little facets were researched. It was such a big cross-section and such a dichotomy. It was wildly exciting and creative to design.
What was the collaborative process like with the showrunner, producers and actors?
Patty Jenkins is such a visionary and a great director. We collaborated a lot in the beginning to get the looks right. Patty has a special magic that she pulls the most amazing people together, and she brings out their very best work. Her excitement is contagious. She had specific ideas of how she wanted the specific periods to play and where; for instance, keeping Sparks looking 1950s, so when Fauna gets to Los Angeles we see a visible difference. Also, keeping the inner circle of the Hodel crowd in the 1940s was important.
We discussed the looks of all the characters, and I did extensive boards to show her. We discussed what she liked and what she wanted to see. During the fittings, the actors would also have ideas that we would collaborate on and incorporate into their costumes. Sam Sheridan and Patty worked with all of the departments to bring in the elements they wanted to see to bring the story to life.
What should viewers know about a costume designer’s role on a show like this that they might not have known before?
It is hard to describe the amount of work that went into the costumes and the pace of the show. We did back-to-back different scenes and different eras so that by the time we were supposed to be prepping for the next set of episodes, we were still fitting and putting together the episode we were on.
The amount of clothes that were made-to-order for this show because of needing multiples happened at such a fast pace there was barely time to think. We literally had 3-4 days to create most of our lead characters’ clothes for the following episodes. We needed to gather fabric and trims for sometimes up to 5 people, making sets of 5 multiples of suits, shirts, ties, gowns, with beading and ombre dying, dresses, and coats.
Then get all of this to the tailors by the following day and hope and pray that everything would come out perfect and on time because sometimes we did not have the luxury of time to do big fittings and changes to the costumes before they worked. After that we would start shopping and pulling clothes for the rest of the cast, day players and background and start those fittings. It was an intense schedule. There was a lot of praying that it all worked out perfectly and on time.
What sets this show apart from past projects for you?
While this was a television limited series, it was shot on film. Film, not only is more beautiful, it has a very dreamy and much softer quality than video. This show was made with so much love. Patty was friends with Fauna Hodel, the woman whose story this was about. Fauna passed away from breast cancer two weeks before we started shooting. It was very important for all of us to push ourselves to do our very best work and make her dream become a reality.
Is a job like this more or less daunting since many of the characters are based on real-life people?
Both. Although it was based on real-life people and we wanted to get that across and use the realness of who they were in their characters and their stories, we did some unconventional things, as we used different eras to reflect them. So, we created them in different time periods, although the show takes place in 1965.
The show has a strong old Hollywood/noir film feel. When creating your designs was there anything you drew on for specific inspiration?
Absolutely. When creating my costume designs for my characters I looked at old noir films for Corinna and George. I married Dorothy Huston Hodel (the actual woman who was Fauna’s stepmother) with Veronica Lake, Grace Kelly, Anna May Wong, Audrey Hepburn and Jackie Kennedy Onassis.
I drew from French New Wave for Fauna. For Chris Pine‘s character I looked at outsiders such as James Dean, Paul Newman, Steve McQueen and Bob Dylan. The detectives and Sepp’s character were straight out of noir but with a ’50s and ’60s vibe. George Hodel was 1940s noir with some very specific quirks.
I Am the Night, Series Finale, Monday, March 4, 9/8c, TNT