By Astrid Brucker
While I interviewed to be hired as costumedesigner for the film, Joshua, in February, the job offer was clinchedabout three weeks before shooting began. With multiple characters todress including those played by Sam Rockwell, Vera Farmiga and MichaelMcKean, plus two boys’ Little League soccer teams, there was a lot todo in a short amount of time. I took a gulp and dove in.
My officialstart date was on Wednesday, April 26th, 2006, with the first shoot dayof May 15th. First, there was a script meeting with George Ratliff, thewriter and director. That first day flew by with meetings, calling thekey cast members, getting the costume shop set up, interviewing andhiring staff, finding parking for the rental car, and then, at the endof the day, we were all invited for dinner at George’s house. I had ato-do list growing with every breath I took. However, it was such anice, welcoming gesture that gave me the chance to meet the rest of thecrew. I quickly felt like part of the family.
On Thursday, I startedbreaking down the script, with the goals of accomplishing eachcharacter’s costume changes and creating the budget. This project alsoworked its way into Friday and Saturday. Yet there was relief in therealization that George Ratliff and his co-writer, David Gilbert, hadwritten a really amazing script. The costume budget was low butreasonable, and I felt prepared to get creative within the confines ofthe numbers.
With only two weeks left to prepare, everyone was inthe midst of prepping, and I was just beginning. I took everyopportunity to get the director’s take on each of the characters bysitting down with George Ratliff to go through the leads and thesupporting cast. I hadn’t done much purchasing yet, but I wasorganizing a game plan to stick to priorities and follow the directors’vision.
After having my budget approved by the producer, JonathanDorfman, I went shopping. I had items custom-made and requested itemsfrom showrooms that would fit the character arc of each person in thescript, as well as help me stay within the budget. Here is thebreakdown of characters, and how the process worked of developingwardrobe choices and then making them happen:
Joshua, played bynewcomer Jacob Kogan, is a 9-year-old boy who is a piano prodigy andthe brightest student in his class at a top private school inManhattan’s Upper East Side. He understands what adults want to hear,is always dressed perfectly, and likes to wear his school uniform allbuttoned properly.
Even his pajama top is buttoned up high to hisneck. I thought finding pajamas would be no trouble at all, but itturns out that there is much less of a selection of clothes for boysthan for girls. Also, for summer all I found was short-sleeved pajamasets in sporty prints. I decided to go fabric shopping and went to myfavorite tailor where we had five different pajamas made and in recordtime. We also had the soccer and dodge ball team uniforms custom-screenprinted. Joshua’s uniforms look a little big on him on purpose and wedecided to have him be the only one to tuck his T-shirt into his gymshorts to set him apart from the other boys.
Abby, played by VeraFarmiga (The Departed, Manchurian Candidate), is the mother who comesfrom a blue-blood New York family. She is wealthy, artistic, has greattaste, and has an interesting style with a touch of vintage. She’s acollector, in touch with fashion, yet eclectic and also has clothescustom-made. Abby is not your typical Upper East Side mother. She neverlooks like she stepped out of the pages of a fashion magazine.
Lily,Abby’s newborn baby daughter, was played by two babies, meaning we hadall the wardrobe for Lily in triplicate, one outfit per baby and oneextra set for a life-sized baby doll used in scenes where Lily isunseen in the stroller.
Once Lily starts crying, Abby’s outfitsbecome more intricate and somber in color to suggest a bad turn ofevents. As she unravels further, her clothes become softer in color andsilhouette to draw attention to her fragility. This detail evolved inthe wardrobe fittings, and became a mark of her character.
As Ibegan layering a dress with a knit robe, I realized a pattern ofdangling ties began to emerge, so I suggested that as her characterbegins to get more frazzled, she would leave the ties undone,reminiscent of a straitjacket yet a somewhat subliminal visual device.It worked.
Brad Cairn, played by Sam Rockwell (Confessions of aDangerous Mind, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), as the father. Asuccessful stock broker, Brad is from a blue-collar background and isstill slightly uncomfortable in his suits by designers CharlesTyrwhitt, Prada, and Gucci, feeling more at home with no tie and hisshirt sleeves rolled up. He works hard in his Wall Street office, andis a good father and husband. As Brad begins to understand his son, heunravels and becomes sloppier in how he wears his clothes as the storyunfolds.
Hazel Cairn, played by Celia Weston, is Brad’s mom, achurch-going catalog shopper. She definitely stands out in New York dueto her polyester pantsuits and her bright pastel colors and prints. Asa devout Christian, she wears a cross necklace all the time and is oneof those women that still matches her earrings to her necklace. On theother hand, Brad’s father, Joe Cairn, played by Tom Bloom, is a plumberby trade and is understated in the corduroy blazer and no tie.
ChesterJenkins, played by Michael McKean (This Is Spinal Tap), is and looksevery inch like the imposing boss. He is not amused at Brad’sdistractions of family life. His wardrobe reflects his stature andwealth due to the extra flash of gold in the accessories, the HickeyFreeman ties and the freshly pressed handkerchief. He also was the typeto wear a three-piece suit with vest. Due to a late shipment of suits,I fitted Michael in his dressing room at the American Airlines Theaterwhere he was performing in The Pajama Game.
As the shoot began, onMonday, May 15, I was still prepping, and yet somehow things werecompleted all at once. Shooting in the Wall Street area, my wardrobetrailer was surrounded by real businessmen as I created a dozen suitlooks for our leads, Sam Rockwell and Michael McKean, for their officescenes. It was important to keep their colors complementary and yetkeep their individual tastes intact.
A big scene that first week wasa Little League soccer game shot in Central Park, with 22 team members,coaches and extras playing upscale parents. Step by step, final toucheswere added. Joshua sent a chill down my spine, as a thriller and as atremendous challenge. It was a joy to work on and I can’t wait to seeit in theaters.
Astrid Brucker is represented by The Gersh Agency in New York.
Written by Astrid Brucker