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Quasi Costume Designer Kelly Kwon on Historical Accuracy and Using Crazy Life Hacks to Solve Wardrobe Malfunctions

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Upon hearing Succession actor Brian Cox utter the voice-over introduction, “In fact, he’s quite f**ked!” for Quasi, the Searchlight film streaming on Hulu, you know you are in for something completely different.

In this profanity-infused comedic adaptation of the classic Quasimodo, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the Broken Lizard team of Jay Chandrasekhar, Kevin Heffernan, and Steve Lemme have taken extreme creative liberties with the story. In their tale, Quasi (Lemme) wins the lottery and is summoned by the King of France (Chandrasekhar), who, after plying him with succulent oysters, orders him to kill the Pope, who is “a danger to France and a total a-hole.”

The saucy dialogue may serve the ornery silliness and satire, but the costumes are the real thing by costume designer Kelly Kwon, who did a deep historical dive through museums, art galleries, and paintings to fashion the characters in 13th-century garb. It wasn’t always a serious pursuit for Kwon, who happens to be a member of the Heffernan family and well-versed in the language of Broken Lizard. Her husband is Associate Producer Patrick Heffernan, younger brother to Director Kevin Heffernan, so ideas were sometimes hashed out over the dinner table.

Below the Line spoke with Kelly Kwon via Zoom video from her home in Los Angeles. Wearing an Iron Maiden T-shirt, which, for a costume designer, made her even more endearing. Leaning into the camera to stress a crazy story, she delightedly discussed the tremendous amount of research she did to clothe the Pope, the King of France, the Queen, Duchamp (Quasi’s hutmate, also played by Kevin Heffernan), and the townspeople to ensure period accuracy.

She also talked about her travels far and wide in search of materials, specifically for the Pope’s costume to receive the exact religious clothing fabric used in the 13th century. Kwon’s creativity took on another layer, having a lightbulb moment for the hunch on Quasi’s back and recounting with glee the life hacks she used to make her 13th-century designs work after torturing Steve Lemme with a heavy prosthetic design.

Kelly Kwon
Kelly Kwon image via Patrick Heffernan

Below the Line: Where did your interest in period costumes begin?

Kelly Kwon: The reason why I became a costume designer… I think I was a freshman in college, and after I watched 1996’s Romeo and Juliet with Leonardo DiCaprio, I was like, ‘Oh my God, who did these costumes? I want to be that costume designer.’ I really didn’t know at the time if this was a job. I guess I always had a heart for period films. So this was pretty much my dream come true.

BTL: How did you get involved with designing the costumes for Quasi?

Kwon: So the director (Kevin Heffernan) is my brother-in-law. It was my first time working with family, so it was interesting. My husband (Patrick Heffernan) was our Associate Producer and Key Grip, and he put the crew together so we all knew each other. I think that’s why it was more special. Kevin is my husband’s older brother. We have a lot of family and do weekend dinners together in L.A.

Then randomly, Kevin says, ‘Maybe if Super Troopers 3 doesn’t work out, we have a script.’ I didn’t think much of it, and then when their other film didn’t happen, they kept mentioning it might be fun to do a period piece. I really didn’t think this was going to come [together] this quickly, and all of a sudden, within two to three months, they announced it.

BTL: This film might be very silly, but the costumes look quite authentic, so what kind of historical research did you do in that limited amount of prep time?

Kwon: It only took me, maybe, two weeks. Every time Kevin talked about the script at our dinner table or randomly joked with my husband, like, “This would be funny…” I had a kind of clear vision of each character. So everything that came in the right place at the right time fit together, like a puzzle. I know it’s a fantasy [and] I’m creating a fantasy character, but I still want to stay within a structure. I mean, it’s a comedy, but there’s a fine line. I could go in many different directions, but still, I want to stay within true realism.

Quasi movie
Erik Stolhanske, Kevin Heffernan, and Steve Lemme in Quasi/Kevin Estrada/Searchlight Pictures

BTL: Take me through the actual research that you did for the period designs.

Kwon: We started doing Google searches, looking at books, and referencing movies. There aren’t a lot of reference movies about the late Middle Ages in England, Italy, and all these different countries. There are a lot of French references for our characters, but there isn’t that much where you’re like, “Oh, that’s France. Oh, that’s England.” I had to go back to the real paintings. I actually went through the encyclopedia at the library, and it was quite fun because I took one of my nieces while I was researching, and she was like, “What’s an encyclopedia?!”

It was really fun, actually, going back to the art galleries and museums to look at the 13th century or even earlier. This era is kind of very dark and simple, and it’s not that decorative. Everything became better in the 15th century and after. I liked certain painters from the 14th century, like Jean Malouel, who made paintings about how they tortured people and the executions that happened back in the day.

BTL: Yes, during that time there were a lot of executions by the King, which also happen in Quasi.

Kwon: That actually helped me with the kings watching on the side [in terms of] what they wore — the executioner, the prisoner, or what the background peasant people were wearing. It was a painting, so I had to come up with real outfits.

BTL: Let’s talk about your inspirations for some of the costumes, starting with the King of France, played by Jay Chandrasekhar.

Kwon: [smiling] His costume was one of my favorites. First of all, for [the] King, I wanted to make it clear that he’s not the nicest of kings. He’s a little douchey and very selfish. I wanted to use French colors, like a royal blue, a French blue, a gold, and a lot of rich red, which was like a burgundy wine. I tried to follow the real colors. At the same time, I wanted to throw in a lot of rich gold, rusted gold, and a heavy navy dark.

I also had met the DP, Joe Collins, who shot Super Troopers, so we had developed a relationship where I could ask a lot of questions ahead of time, like, ‘What kind of lights are you going to use? What’s your mood light going to be?’ He told me what the torture chamber will look like, or what the King’s Chamber looks like, so it was easier for me to pick out all the fabric, all the texture or metal pieces, or the kind of jewelry — what color it has to be, and how it will reflect the light.

I used more fancy decoratives, like jakar fabric on a pattern; I had to actually add a little jewel design in it so that it reflected the light and made it pop better. And he takes a lot of things from poorer people, so I add a lot of fur and more gold. I wanted to make it clear that this guy is rich, he loves all the jewelry, and he really cares how he looks. Every finger had a ring on it.

Quasi movie
Adrianne Palicki in Quasi/Kevin Estrada/Searchlight Pictures

BTL: What about designs for the Queen, played by Adrianne Palicki?

Kwon: Back then, you weren’t supposed to show skin, but I do a lot of low-cut, and it’s very form-fitting. At one point, we don’t show it, but I actually slit the middle of the opening like the Angelina Jolie two-slits in the front dress. So there’s a certain way we thought it might be a little too much, and it came off as a little too kinky. Showing the stockings, we’re like, ‘for a period piece, it might be a little too much,’ so I kind of closed it a little bit so that it shows less. But she pulled it off…

BTL: I understand that designing the Pope’s costume required even more of a deep dive in order to find the right materials.

Kwon: I’m not religious, but my grandparents were very Roman Catholic, as was my husband’s family; it’s a very devoted Roman Catholic family, so I knew some history. I had to learn a completely new language for the Pope’s hat, his robe, etc. My Assistant Designer, Sean, used to work for the San Francisco Art Center as the costume design professor, and he also owns a little costume rental shop called Valentino’s Costume Group. He actually studied the history of costumes, so I felt like I was in a classroom again, learning what each garment was called. I didn’t want to offend anybody, but can I say [that] the Pope is flamboyant? [laughs] This Pope is not a “normal” Pope. He’s not the nicest, and he’s hiding a lot of things, so I wanted to give him a more flashy look. I know Popes don’t change too much unless they go to a giant mass where they dress up.

Our set outside is very, very dark, but I wanted him, the King, and the Queen to just pop wherever they were so that we could notice them. Resourcing his fabric, there’s [none] to be found out here, so we found somebody in Ukraine from the online shop Etsy. This was before the war, and he had the materials to make the sash and his zucchetto (skullcap). Then he was like, ‘I’m moving to Turkey, but I’m going to make it there and then ship it to you.’ So I was like, ‘Can I trust this person?’

My best friend lives in Spain, so I had her research him in Europe, and we found that he actually owned a fabric shop, a mom-and-pop kind of thing, in Croatia, but he does a lot of online selling. My instinct said to trust him, and it showed up in two and a half weeks, and we used that fabric for his sash and the outer garments. I added all the trims, which I had to ship from Greece. Europe was perfect, and there’s no way I have time to go out there to shop, so I pretty much took my chance, and it was like [playing the] lottery. It was so crazy.

Quasi movie
Paul Soter in Quasi/Searchlight Pictures

BTL: How did your idea for Quasi’s hunchback come about?

Kwon: [laughs) I made his hunchback with beanbag stuffing. I have a crazy story. We had an expensive, form-fitting prosthetic hump, but it didn’t work. We made three of them. When we had to show his skin, we needed that. But the prosthetic didn’t really work with our costume because when it went under it, it just disappeared. I was torturing Steve [Lemme] every day. You don’t see it, but the hump was about four or five inches thick, but it just disappeared on a close-up, or sometimes when he stands up straight or turns to the side, he just looks normal, unless he deforms his shoulders. So the director wanted to double it. So we had a second one, but I was torturing Steve with that double prosthetic. It weighs about 15 pounds, plus my costume weighed about 10 pounds because it was thick wool and we had to layer him a lot. Plus, shooting in Santa Clarita is in the desert, up to the 90s during the day.

By the second day of shooting, he had cramps and couldn’t move his shoulder. and the pain traveled down to his back and to his hips because he had to walk in a hunched-back way. So I need to figure this out overnight, within a couple of hours. I always have two beanbags in my office so that I can take a power nap. So my seamstress and I used beanbag filler inside this really light cotton fabric. I actually added some rice in there because that absorbs moisture. I learned that from my grandma, like the salt trick, you know? So we made little air freshener packets that kind of weighted them on the bottom, which leads me to another story. Steve loved it, and you could actually see the hump more because we made it really thick and high and it was light. We just put a strap on it so that it doesn’t move.

BTL: What was the issue with the salt packets?

Kwon: Steve was like, ‘Oh my God, this is, like, a savior.’ But after two days, it was disgusting because they were sweating a lot. That rice packet idea actually worked for absorbing the moisture, but not that much! So I had to take it out. I thought it would be fine just by taking out the rice and then washing it. We got a call from set the next day after we washed it saying that they had a sound issue. We found out that when you wash those beanbag balls, they start rubbing together, and it makes a squeaky sound that the mic picks up! So every time he moved, there was a squeak.

Quasi movie
Jay Chandrasekhar and Kevin Heffernan in Quasi/Searchlight Pictures

BTL: How do you know so much about life hacks?

Kwon: [laughs] I did a reality show where they teach you how to do life hacks. It’s called Hack My Life. I learned a lot of hacks from there [that have been] helpful. It really comes in handy when you’re working because you never know what they will throw at you.

BTL: “Crazy” seems to be the theme of this film, so what other crazy things happened on the set with your designs?

Kwon: I’m just having so much fun with you, Robin, so I want to share this last story, even though it’s a bit racy. There is a scene when Duchamp (Kevin) gets his scrotum nailed to the wood. So we were having an issue where some parts ripped, and then the special effects couldn’t help me. So I took everything with the jock strap, and when I got home, I was so hungry. I was trying to eat something, and I dropped my stuff off, and his scrotum was gone! I thought I had lost it.

I went back to my office, tracked [people] down, and nobody saw it. I was freaking out. Guess where it was? I have two beautiful cats, and one cat took it from my guest room corner and was chewing on it! [laughs] I actually took a photo of him with it. Ever since, everybody has taken a photo with the scrotum hanging on their shoulder. Right before the premiere, all my actors wanted to post photos. So all the cast asked me, ‘Hey, Kelly, can you send me a photo with Kevin’s scrotum hanging on my shoulder?!’ So we had a lot of those jokes on set.

Quasi is now streaming on Hulu.

Robin Milling
Robin Milling
Robin Milling is an Entertainment Reporter and Producer based in New York. Robin has a wealth of experience as an Entertainment Reporter covering film, theater, television, and music. Her style is conversational and candid, discussing personal issues as well as professional topics with celebrities. She is a writer/producer and host of the podcast Milling About™ with Robin Milling, which can be heard on Amazon Music, Apple podcasts, and seen on YouTube, featuring her provocative conversations with the hottest names in Hollywood.
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