Steven Knight’s Serenity is a daringly original, sexy, stylised thriller about a fishing boat captain (Matthew McConaughey) on a tropical island whose life is shattered when his ex-wife (Anne Hathaway) tracks him down with a desperate plea for help to save her from her new, violent husband (Jason Clarke).
Costume designer Danny Glicker (The Front Runner, Milk, Mother!) gave us fascinating insight into Serenity’s incredible outfits ahead of the film’s US release on Friday (25 January).
Q: ‘Serenity’ gave you the chance to work with Anne Hathaway, Matthew McConaughey and Jason Clarke. Not to forget an idyllic Caribbean backdrop. Does it get much better for you as a costume designer?
A: What I loved about the tropical location was playing with how it would inform the looks of the film — so much of the story of Serenity is expressed in the visual ideas around what’s going on with these beautiful people in this mysterious tropical setting, and how that backdrop contrasted with the characters true intentions — so much of the tension of the film is how the relaxed appearance of this tropical paradise plays off the increasing internal conflict of the characters. I knew that the tropical setting would be a great visual foundation to the serene, crisp, watery and sandy colors I was able to use as the baseline of the look of the costumes.
Q: Director Steven Knight’s last film, ‘Locke’, was set entirely in a car, so I imagine he didn’t have to worry too much about costume design on that occasion. Was he hands-on with styling in ‘Serenity’?
A: Steven Knight is incredibly intelligent and thoughtful in every decision. I really responded to his nuanced script and how he so intelligently wove themes from classic Film Noir into a modern sensibility. There’s a playfulness to the way that Steven imagines these classic Noir setups with a very post-modern take. It was exciting to work closely with Steven referencing images from classic films, such as To Have And Have Not, to create a language that felt referential to the legacy of classic film Noir, but with a twist that was truthful to the world of Plymouth.
Q: You worked with Matthew McConaughey a year or two ago on ‘Gold. I imagine he was happy to have a full head of hair and be in white t-shirts for most of this shoot. Was that the case?
A: I’ve worked with Matthew on quite a few films, and the thing that I always value is his total commitment to character no matter their overall vibe. With Matthew, the look is always born of deeper questions, the heartbeat of every character he plays comes from a place of truth, and that always makes for a very satisfying design process.
In the case of Serenity, his character skewed toward the classic male archetypes very much in the mode of Bogart, but there is always a reason for even the simplest choice, such as the crisp white shirt, and Matthew is so intelligent and invested in that discovery process, and how those seemingly simple pieces express a piece of the larger truth.
Q: Anne Hathaway and Jason Clarke, on the other hand, are in high end fashion that contrasts with the dressed-down Plymouth locals. Can you talk about putting together looks for Jason and Anne, particularly some of Anne’s delightful hats?
A: They were both so much fun to create looks for. There’s a real visual story behind the upscale resort looks that they have, and it’s hard to go too deep into it without spoiler territory, but in the case of Anne’s character, Karen, there is a tension being created around the question of who Karen is, in how she presents herself.
When Karen first appears, it’s almost as if she materializes like a spectre from the past, looking like an angel or a ghost, glowing in pure white. As the story moves forward, there’s a complicated central question about why she is always so put-together. There’s something almost doll-like about her appearance when she is seen with her husband, as opposed to her more relaxed and sensual look when we first meet her on her own.
The hats Karen wears have a playful quality, a loving homage to Bergman and the classic women of Noir, but they also reference her need to be somewhat obscured due to her circumstances… there’s a practical quality to her hats — the very question of “who is this woman, and what is she hiding?”
Jason Clarke was really fun to dress as well, pretty much everything he wears in the film is bespoke, and not entirely appropriate for the more relaxed vibe of Plymouth Island. Under the hyper-civility of his upscale clothes there are little flashes of violence — the blood red rocket square resting in the pale cream sport coat, the fact that all his leathers are from exotic skins like lizard, snake, crocodile, all predators… There’s a studied civilized vulgarity to the way he looks, the meaning of which is revealed as the film plays out, but to say more would ruin the fun.
Q: I also have mention Diane Lane, who we often see in robes. How much fun did you have dressing Diane?
A: I loved working with Diane, she has a lot of different looks in the film, but there something very sensual and alluring about the silk robes. I worked with silks that have beautiful watercolors washes, almost in the palate of the painter Paul Gauguin, suggesting the story of an ex-pat sensualist, much like Gauguin. Those touches of color and texture hopefully communicate this sensuous woman, once worldly and wealthy, and beg the question, why has she chosen a life secluded in Plymouth.
There’s the sense in the pieces that Diane wears that have soft and classic silhouettes of Hollywood glamour, but somehow the colors and shimmer feel like they are bleeding away and washing into the watercolors, and as the story progresses, the watercolors turn darker, less vibrant, more desaturated, somewhat sinister. It’s all very connected to the overall look of Plymouth and what it does to the people who live there.
Q: Is there a particular outfit audiences should keep a close eye out for in ‘Serenity’?
A: I really loved working with Steven to express the subtle nods to classic Film Noir. One of the more fun classic Noir touches is the nautical striped top that Karen wears. Of course it’s classic resort wear, which is fitting to her in this tropical environment, but it’s also a nod to the way we’ve seen femme fatales in films of the past, often lit within the shadows of blinds. So with Karen’s horizontal stripes, hopefully that image draws a connection that makes one, even subconsciously question, who’s side is Karen on?
Q: I’ve loved some of your recent work on ‘Bad Times At The El Royale, ‘The Front Runner’ and now ‘Serenity’. But with the recent 40th anniversary of Harvey Milk’s murder, I would be grateful to hear your reflections from working on Gus Van Sant’s incredible 2008 biopic.
A: Working in San Francisco with Gus Van Sant to recreate that extraordinary movement was truly a dream job. The thing I most value from my experience working on Milk was getting to know so many people directly involved in the legacy of Harvey Milk. The people who were Harvey’s closest confidants are still world class activists and advocates, people like Cleve Jones, Daniel Nicoletta, and Anne Kronenberg. I worked very closely with them when we made the film in my quest to recreate the look of the events as accurately as possible, and they became extremely generous collaborators and friends.
Getting to work with them so closely let me have a genuine connection to that moment in time and movement that has only grown in importance.
Serenity opens in US theatres on 25 January