Semiotics of the costumes

Costumes have to tell you a lot about the characters in a movie before they ever commit an action or open their mouths. No Evil had no budget for costumes, so we had to source everyone’s clothes from what we already owned between us. On reading the screenplay, a number of issues instantly struck me.

Morgan as Luke

Morgan as Luke

* Luke, the central character in the film, is in a dark place when it begins, and must follow a character arc to a more hopeful situation at the end. His clothing therefore had to mirror this. Since he is a townie child, I wanted his clothing to look out of place – to be too urban, too dark and too flimsy for country life. We asked the actor, Morgan, to source a dark teeshirt with an aggressive logo, a hoodie with a full-length zip and a hood wide enough to slip earphones on and off, and dark trousers – preferably combats. Morgan’s mother, Justine, was able to find a teeshirt with a skull on it, which was perfect for the role, a black hoodie and black sports trousers, which look far too urban for the countryside.

Luke transforms, too a degree, in the last scene and Steve, the director, was keen that he should wear a warm colour for his teeshirt or nightwear. Since no-one appeared to own a teeshirt or pyjamas in a warm colour, this was the one item of clothing that we needed to buy, so we settled on a cheap teeshirt from a local mall shop, oversized, as if Luke has borrowed it from Keith, and Morgan supplied his own pyjama trousers.

* Janice, the lead female character, wants to be nurturing but is quite bad at it and is playing at being a French housewife. I wanted to make her clothes a little frumpy and felt that a tender colour palette would suit her character, with shades of pink, soft blue and peach, and plentiful florals. Her skirts should be long and full – quite womanly.
Between myself and the actress playing the part, Ruth James, we found a number of garments that would work well – a full pink skirt and a denim one; a flowered dress, a floral Cath Kidston apron, and a number of flowery tops. We decided on flat heels for day and very slight heels for evening, and natural ‘English rose’ makeup. We debated having Ruth’s hair dyed a darker shade, but this proved impractical in the end, partly due to time constraints. We even put aside my favourite eau-de-nil coloured colander for the scene at the kitchen table. (Ruth won’t be shooting until next week, so no pictures yet…)

Mandy as Helen - during a costume test and before makeup

Mandy as Helen – during a costume test and before makeup

* The character of Helen struck me as a very different sort of woman – quite cold and judgemental. I felt it would be wise to show this in her clothes by making them rather too formal for her circumstances – and by using block, cold colours. I looked out tailored items in black and silver-grey for our actress Mandy Fenwick, and she sourced gold jewellery that was heavy enough to have a presence on screen (the earrings are in fact her daughter’s). The earrings were a bit of an issue, as Mandy doesn’t normally wear them, and we had trouble getting them through the (old) holes in her ears.

We also made her up in quite a formal manner, with a glamorous eye makeup and red lips, and slicked her hair back in a severe manner. We did two makeup tests and opted for Smashbox skin primer topped with Clinique Redness Solutions in Calming Ivory, with a peach cream blush. Mandy is a smallholder and gardener, with very short, practical nails so we are therefore considering stick-on red nails as being more glamorous for the character. Mandy managed to find some moderately high heels, which we wanted even if they weren’t in shot, in order to make her posture more erect.

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Carl as Keith

* Keith, Janice’s husband, is a bland character, and the writer, Clare LeMay, particularly felt that he should be quite a buttoned-up man, with perfectly clean bleu de travail (French workman’s overalls) and that he should wear rather townie clothes under these. I felt they should also be slightly cheap-looking – the kind of shirts that sales reps are issued with as part of their uniform.

For Keith we therefore chose a blue long-sleeved shirt with long sleeves and a button-down collar, and a lemon short-sleeved polycotton shirt that had turned up in a clothing swap. Both these items are quite featureless, which was something I really wanted to aim at. The bleu de travail were sourced from Mandy’s partner, and the actor, Carl Mason, wore his own trousers from an old suit.

* Jean-Claude, Helen’s husband, struck me as a man who seemed comfortable in his own skin, so we opted for a bright Hawaiian shirt and casual trousers (JMI’s own). I wanted Jean-Claude to wear pattern as a subliminal message, and so that we could shoot a later scene without seeing the actors’ faces – a glimpse of their clothing would be enough. JMI could not find the right kind of shirt among his own clothes, but Steve, the director, owns many Hawaiian shirts, and among them we found a perfect shirt, with pink flamingoes on a blue background. (JMi is also yet to start shooting…)

Ollie as Elliot

Ollie as Elliot

* The last character, Elliott, is only a bit part, but he’s meant to be a tad younger than Luke. Olly, the actor, is 12 and we needed to make him look closer in age to the character’s 11, so I asked him to find country clothing in soft colours such as green and brown, and soft textures such as moleskin, corduroy and also possibly a sweater, which would make him look younger than a fleece (we all carry memories of Enid Blyton-style children from the 1950s in our heads, who are usually dressed in shirts, sweaters and shorts). He found a green polo shirt and brown trousers that zipped off at the knees to make shorts, and putting him in shorts took years off him – he suddenly looked about nine years old.

We also opted for crumpled-down socks as being more relaxed, which also had the effect of making him look coltish and young. With his short sleeves and short trousers, he makes a marked contrast to Luke, who is dressed in black from head to toe.

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