Oscar-nominated ‘Into the Woods’ costume designer says bondage was right for Rapunzel

01.26.15 2 years ago 7 Comments

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Over the past two decades, and the last 15 years in particular, Colleen Atwood has cemented herself as one of Hollywood's leading costume designers. She's earned three Oscars and is continually sought after by many leading directors to design threads for a variety of time periods and genres. With “Into the Woods,” she has once again reunited with Rob Marshall for an inimitable blend of period and fantasy.

HitFix recently spoke the Atwood, who picked up her 11th Oscar nomination for the film earlier this month. Read through the back and forth below.

“Into the Woods” is now playing in theaters.

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HitFix: You clearly had to create many iconic characters for this film. Is that intimidating at all?

Colleen Atwood: It was totally intimidating and not only creating them but creating them together in the same movie! Like, everybody is iconic, but it sort of flowed once I started. I started with the witch. We knew Meryl was cast in that role (the other parts were not cast yet) so I started with the witch and what I was going to do with her, and as that evolved, then Rapunzel evolved (her daughter, her child) – each [character] has their own world and they're all in the world together. It went from there.

Is it fair to say that the color palette is darker than how these characters have traditionally been portrayed?

No. Everyone thinks of a traditional portrayal as from the '50s and '60s and their color pastels. In some of the old fairytale illustrations, in the back of the Grimm fairy tales, there's a lot of woodland darkness.

So do you feel like you're going back more to the original Grimm aesthetic?

Yeah, I am. I'm embracing the early fairytale. Cinderella's early costume had gold shoes. She wasn't in this blue dress [as portrayed by Disney].

I'd like to talk about Cinderella. Here is a character that is not as glamorous as portrayed in popular culture. I for one was really struck by the brown (even in the pre-transformation stage). How did you come up with that color and look in particular?

I took the palette for her more earth-bound role. She's kind of a kook and grounded in a strange way. Sondheim told Anna Kendrick, “You do talk to the birds!”

Rapunzel is another character with an interesting aesthetic. She's almost chained. How did you come up with that?

I kind of went with a bondage theme there. She's trapped in a tower, trapped in a world. I took satin ribbons and ties because there's no exit there. For her prince, I wanted a mother's nightmare: black-leather clad, motorcycle dude, but with a good heart.

What about the witch who goes through a transformation. What inspired you there?

I think that the tortured quality of her life came through. [I wanted to] make it look crusty, like it had been scabbed over the years, pre-transformation. Then she transforms into this “American suburban” idea of what she thinks her daughter would love her to be. A huge, statuesque, iconic blue witch was her idea of the perfect witch and the witch she once was. Meryl loved it and we had great fun. I hadn't before worked with Meryl Streep in a big role (I worked with her very briefly on “Lemony Snicket” years ago). To work with someone of that talent in a big role was a treat.

Were you worried about not working with the “woods” that the art department was conjuring?

No, because I knew what they were going to look like and I knew what the lighting was going to be like. I knew what Dennis [Gassner, the Oscar-nominated production designer] and Dion [Beebe, the cinematographer] were going to do.

What's it like to be in the Oscar race yet again?

It's just kind of a gigantic party that's kind of nerve-racking, but it's great to be honored and it's an internationally acknowledged award. I'm working in Europe and people are so excited that I'm nominated for an Oscar.

Does it change now that you have three wins and over 10 nominations to your name? It's always so random. You never know when you're going to get nominated and for which projects.

You think sometimes you have a chance and nothing happens and then other times, like this year, where I really wasn't sure I was going to get nominated. It's exciting.

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