‘Phantom Thread’ Costume Designer Mark Bridges Didn’t Keep The Jet Ski

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Phantom Thread is many things: an Oscar-nominated film, a reunion between director Paul Thomas Anderson and actor Daniel Day-Lewis, and a fascinating portrait of a complex man and the woman who learns how to manage him. While it’s difficult to find a truly surprising film these days, Phantom Thread manages to undermine audience expectations with a mix of strange humor and a subtly alarming twist.

That’s to say nothing of the gowns. While they may have been the creations of the fastidious Reynolds Woodcock (Day-Lewis) on screen, off screen they’re the result of the hard work of costume designer Mark Bridges. A veteran in the industry, Bridges won his second Oscar for Phantom Thread, having won his first for The Artist in 2012. Bridges was kind enough to talk to us about his victory, the changes modernity brings to his profession, and that damn jet ski from Oscar night.

So, first of all, congratulations!

Thank you!

And secondly, I wanted to ask what did you do with the jet ski.

Oh, how did I know that was gonna be the first question you were gonna ask me. How did I know?

It’s a fair question!

“She’s gonna talk about the Oscar win, and probably as long we’re on that, you’re gonna talk about that stupid jet ski.” But here we go. Well, I gave it to Motion Picture Television Fund, which is an organization in the film industry that helps people in the industry. I felt that because it was an industry event, I won it on the Oscars, on television, it should be right that they should get the proceeds from it. They’re free to auction it for whatever iconic value it has and be able to do the good work that they’ve been doing for almost 100 years. So, that’s what I did with the jet ski.

Well, that’s a much better answer than taking a literal victory lap up the coast with it, so you probably did the right thing.

For me, that was the right thing, absolutely. It’s very funny, after the win, someone asked me, “Do you have any experience with jet skis?” And my answer was “none good.” So yeah, needed to turn that lemon into lemonade there.

Probably smart. You don’t wanna go out inexperienced on a jet ski. That’s just a recipe for disaster.

Absolutely. But it was a hilarious gag! I certainly had no intention of getting it. I don’t know if anyone timed my last acceptance speech in 2012, but it was probably about that long as well. You know nobody wants to listen to the costume designer yammer on. So I just kept it brief and did what I felt was most important, which of course was thanking my wonderful director and actors and my crew. So yeah, that was it.

So you’ve won two Oscars now. Do you just go back to work the next day? I’ve always been curious about how people follow up such a win.

I absolutely did. I had to be to work at 7:30 the next morning. I had probably 4 hours of sleep. I did what I had to do. I was establishing a look on somebody. I’m there for my director and we’re making a film and I just went in at 7:30, we got shooting, and then I went home for a couple-hour nap and then came back to work.

It’s easy to get distracted and caught up in it and lose sight of what you’re really doing. I was hired to do a job. I was fortunate enough to work with amazing directors and it’s kind of grounding and keeps me focused to be working while all this stuff is going on.

Does that kind of win give you extra confidence for your next project or does it bring on an anxiety to top it?

I think it’s more confidence. Also, at this point in my career, you have a lot to look back on and remember when things seemed really difficult or impossible, and you got through that and you prevailed, so that’s the way I approach things now. Just this week I had something on my job where I was just like, “Okay here we are. We don’t have this, we don’t have that for this week, we don’t have this,” and I was like “You know what, today’s another day,” and by the end of that day we had solved most of the problems. And I just know from experience that it’s gonna happen and you just keep showing up and trying your best and it’s all gonna work out.

It still hasn’t quite sunk in that I have two Oscars now, for a guy from Niagara Falls who dreamed of ever having one as a kid. And now there’s two. It’s kind of mind-blowing, not to mention the second BAFTA as well. It’s like, I’ll touch on it in my mind and be like “Do you believe this?” and then I’ll have to deal with something at work. So maybe — I’m almost done with this film — once I just go home and the dust settles and everything, I’ll just really be able to take it all in and appreciate it. But it’s been a wonderful whirlwind ride and I feel very lucky.

So what’s the next thing you’re working on? What are you working on currently?

Currently, I am on an untitled Noah Baumbach project. Where we shot most of it in L.A. and now we’re in New York. Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson, Laura Dern, Alan Alda. Just a really interesting line up of actors and very contemporary. I’ve worked with Noah before and it’s really fun to be reunited with him and to work on something contemporary. That’s always a challenge, I think.

That’s got to be quite of a shift from all the gowns from Phantom Thread.

Yes, so I like to mix it up. If you look at my resumé, you go from Jason Bourne to Phantom Thread to Noah Baumbach. And Inherent Vice, 50 Shades of Grey. I just really try to mix it up. And The Artist! Just do a lot of different things and try your hand at it. That’s what keeps it really interesting for me.

That reminds me of the line from Phantom Thread where they say “a house that doesn’t change is a dead house.” Do you feel like you apply that to your work? How has the industry changed and how do you keep up with it?

That’s interesting about the industry because I’ve been in it long enough. It’s almost a completely different way of making films now, between the technical aspect of it. Although, all my directors use film. It’s so interesting, but I think with the technology, there’s a younger generation of people working in the office and making schedules and things like that and they have no idea what it was like when we used to make films without a cell phone, without a computer. You had maybe a pager and you pull over and call somebody with a payphone. I’ve been doing it that long. So you just try to adapt or die. You keep learning the new programs.

I still do things kind of the old-fashioned way, where I draw and paint my own sketches. I haven’t gone digital with that because I like to have a little soul and expressionism in my costume sketches. There are some things that I hold on to from the past, but there are things that you have to go forward with and not be kicking and screaming about it. Although I do do a little kicking and screaming about it because I do feel like the crotchety old guy sometimes, like “we used to do a show without a cell phone!” Now, of course, you can’t imagine it. You just can’t. It’s just invaluable, of course.

You can’t really go back once you’ve seen the technology that we have now.

No, not at all, but it has made things seem a little more last minute because there’s not the need to plan ahead. Because you can just tell everybody in a blast at the last minute. As opposed to actually having to think about it, publish it, distribute it, make sure everybody knows. It’s kind of speeded things up and not always for the best, as far as creativity is concerned.

Now, costume design it’s always so essential for setting the stage and tone of a film, but the costumes in Phantom Thread felt particularly intertwined with the plot and the characters. Did that propose any unique challenges for you?

Yeah, I mean what’s wonderful about it is that it’s an extension of the work that I always do, which is trying to tell a story of a character or the inner life or what’s going on in their mind and express that with the clothes. So not only were we expressing that with the clothes that they wear but the clothes that they create, and the world that they create around them.

So I think that’s why it is, I think, that those creations also spoke about that world, who he was, what the society was like at that time, what the bigger picture of fashion was at that time. It was storytelling on a lot more levels than just the one that I usually do, which is to give a shell to a character and facilitate an actor. We were storytelling on several different levels.

Was there a particular outfit or detail that you felt really exemplified the character wearing it?

That is so interesting. It’s a period that there would’ve been a lot of fur used but I didn’t like to use a lot of fur. Paul isn’t that into it and neither am I, really, but I felt strongly about when you see Barbara Rose [Harriet Sansom Harris] coming up the stairs in that big fur coat, you get it immediately, who she is and what the story is because it’s so unique. It’s not like you turn around and there’s a fur coat on every corner.

I used a fur coat twice in that movie. One, on a movie starlet sitting in the front row of a fashion show, with sunglasses and a fur coat. That was actually a Dior fur coat that we hired just for that scene. And then, of course, Barbara Rose’s fur coat. I used it very sparingly and I think because of that, it just speaks volumes of those two characters.

Phantom Thread arrives on Blu-ray and DVD today and is also available for streaming.