For a long time he was known only as Deep Throat, the anonymous informant who provided vital information to the Washington Post during the Watergate scandal. Not until 2005 was Deep Throat finally revealed to be Mark Felt, former FBI Associate Director. Now in a timely new film, Liam Neeson plays the man who helped Woodward and Bernstein break their story in Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House.
For costume designer Lorraine Calvert, her challenge began by studying hundreds of photographs to create suits from the 1970s to create the looks for individual characters she dressed in the film. Calvert had to create looks as diverse as the dapper and elegant Felt to the not so dapper John Mitchell. Working with costume houses around the country she recreated the look of Washington D.C. men in this pivotal era.
I talked to Calvert about dressing Liam Neeson in Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House.
Mark Felt The Man Who Brought Down The White House. He’s a real-life person, so where do you begin as a costume designer on this?
With this film, which is based on a true life person, we did a lot of picture research for Mark Felt as for the other men. We started with a ton of photos so that we could pull from the different costume houses to see what would work for each.
There was more research for Mark Felt, L. Patrick Gray, and there was a lot for John Dean because they were both on trial for many days. Mark Felt was a very elegant man with those big glasses, he had beautiful dark suits and you just had to make that true to the period which was a wider lapel. He always wore white shirts and pretty much always wore solid colored ties. To make him different and to make him stand out from the rest of the cast — and you have to do that because he’s your leading man — I stuck to forty ties for him. Thirty eight were solid colors and he’d pick one out every day. He didn’t wear the printed ties of that period that say the field agents would.
If you look at Angelo Lano who arrested Mark Felt, he wore those polyester pants with the polyester jackets that were mistmatched and those ties that were garish. That was fun to make and less elegant looking.
We set Mark apart by making him much more beautifully dressed and elegant. He was someone who stood tall and had that elegant demeanor.
He wasn’t flashy but he was dapper. What materials did you use to get that across because his costume spoke volumes about who he was?
There was a suit made to spec for him at Western Costume. I took that suit and had an initial fitting made from a blue wool. I took it to him, did an initial fitting and sent it back. They sent it back and forth because I was in NY. Then I went to LA and did some fittings and pullings from costume houses. I also went to Be Black which also had some beautiful woolens. I picked the most beautiful fabrics that I could make stand out on screen. I’d pick out grey pinstripes, beautiful blue pinstripes because a pinstripe has always been the most elegant suits that you can do.
I also had to get a black suit for Hoover’s funeral. In total, I made eleven suits and he had forty changes. I repeated the suits but always a white shirt and I’d switch the ties.
I’d go between the gray and navy and picked the wools and added a beautiful drape to them.
The shoes are a part of the character because we see them a lot.
They had to not have any rubber on the bottoms like we do now. I wanted it to either be a capped toe or wing tipped so I gave that choice to Liam. I bought a beautiful shoe and I wanted him to be comfortable and let me know what worked for him. He only had that one shoe he wore to work. We ended up with the cap toe.
You also have the scene where the field agents have their feet up on the desks.
I was particular about that as those could not have rubber soles. They put their feet up on the desk. You have to see that heel and you can’t see a heel or sole that’s untimely.
The accuracy is so important.
It really is.
What conversations did you have with Peter about creating the individualized looks?
I would bring swatches to him and he would tell me what he liked. Ties were a particular choice for him. Again, I’d pick ties for him and if he didn’t like it, I’d bring some to set and we’d pick another tie. As far as the other men, we looked a lot at research and say, “John Dean always wore a signet ring. He’d always wear white and a collar bar. He always wore light suits.” So, we’d find suits that matched a lot of those photos and we could make him look different than Mark Felt because he was in light suits and Mark wasn’t.
John Mitchell wore bland, almost ’60s suits, he had narrow lapels. He was stodgier and didn’t really go into the ’70s. So, looking at the research was fantastic and then create their own worlds.
Charlie Bates looked great in these three-piece suits and we thought that was helpful and great because we had someone in pinstripes, someone in navy, and someone in a light suit. We got them from a rental place in New York. Once we hit on it, we decided he could mix and match and that was Josh Lucas who was a lot of fun to dress.
The trench coat was important too. Liam’s one was somewhere between blue and olive green and the green had a tinge of blue in it. It was this unusual color that fit him beautifully. The same with the others, each guy had a different trench.
What did you want the women’s outfits to say because her character was in prints a lot?
[For Felt’s wife] Just to be very vivid because she was full of life. She had a lot of unrealized passion in her life, it was deeply troubled but beautiful. Her whole life was his career. His home life was different to his work life. Deb Macguire started the Audrey Felt fittings and she pulled a lot from Palace and Western. We did a lot of vintage shopping to get the different and unusual pieces. The tango outfit was from a vintage store that we changed around so Diane Lane could dance in it. It had short underneath it. She would be in fittings for over four hours. We tried to make that a more passionate and colorful person.
Is there an outfit you’re particularly proud of?
That’s such a good question. I saw it on Friday night. I think I love the look of Liam in the elevator with the FBI seal in the background.
I like the scene of him in the trench coat and when they come out after the funeral in their sunglasses.
That was a slick scene.
It was so slick because he’s so tall and he’s in control.