Costume designer Rhona Meyers revels in I Am the Night‘s Old Hollywood glamour.
Old Hollywood glamour must be catnip for costume designers, but I Am the Night has a dark edge to it. Underneath all of the glitz and the sheen is something sinister and dangerous, and that translates to the clothes in the TNT limited series. Costume designer Rhona Meyers takes us through a discovery of identify for India Eisley’s Fauna Hodel, and she manages to be the only costume designer I’ve ever seen to make hunky Chris Pine look disheveled.
Not only did Meyers get to design some stunning duds (Connie Nielsen’s wardrobe alone is worth a rewatch of the series), but costuming for this particular moment in American history was a task that she was more than eager to tackle. I Am the Night consistently refers to the avant garde art movement, so she was able to flex some muscles when it came to creating some odd, artsy garb, and she gets to touch on The Civil Rights era when Fauna is first staying in Los Angeles.
Watching Fauna’s transformation through her wardrobe is rather stunning throughout I Am the Night. You can witness her confidence build as she carves out her own individuality while the darkness of her family history threatens to destroy everything. People sometimes underestimate the character development that costume designers bring to the table, but Meyers standout work should not go unnoticed this awards season.
You do have some television credits to your resume, but none of them have been to this scale before. We’re you intimidated to dive into something so…huge?
Was I intimidated? I would say that it was quite sizey and hectic.
Of course we have everything in 1965, but we get to play in a few other periods in that timeframe. We did Sparks in a 1950’s vibe and the Hodel clan in 1940’s glam. But it was good. It’s good to stretch!
If I may talk about a few specific characters?
Was there a particular reason why you put Fauna in that red coat in the beginning? Was she trying to stand out without knowing it?
No. I found that coat and I thought that it was perfect. I kept picking it up and putting it down. For some reason, I had to have this coat, and I had no idea why. Much later, after we decided to go with it, Fauna’s daughters came to set and Yvette told me this story about how when she was 3 years old and living in Sparks with Jimmie Lee. Jimmie was drunk and started yelling at her, and she said, ‘I grabbed my red jacket and I felt like Little Red Riding Hood and I had no idea where I was going.’ She told me she was walking and walking and, somehow, her godmother spotted her because she was wearing that red coat. And I asked her if she knew that Fauna’s main staple was a red coat and she told me no.
Oh my god…
A lot of weird things happened regarding wardrobe.
What other things happened?
At one point, I decided that since George was so ritualistic in the way he did things with the bull’s head and cutting up of Elizabeth Short’s body. And those S&M sex parties. I decided he was a mason. I tried to check it out and nobody knew–not even Yvette or Masha. He’s so protected by the police and so in with the Hollywood scene, I decided he was a mason. I looked for some accoutrement—like cuff links and things like that—and I found this old box. It had jewelry…men’s accessories essentially. It had H initials on it with Masonic jewelry.
It was almost like something was giving us a heads up.
Some of the more glamorous costumes are worn by Connie Nielsen. Every time she came on screen, it took my breath away.
Isn’t it great?
I want that robe she wears when we first see her! Was she your favorite character to design for?
Absolutely. She was like my muse. Connie is just so gorgeous and she knows how to wear clothes. Everything we put on her looked great on her. She knew how to work it because she looked so amazing.
Did it kill you during The Happening scenes when other people were slicing up that magenta dress? When I realized what was going on, I almost yelled, ‘Stop it! It’s so beautiful!’
We had to make 4 of those dresses for the cutting. It was expensive. It was hombre dyed and beaded on the shoulders and it had a long train and there she was…
Is there something about this particular time period that is catnip for you? Is there something about the 1960’s that made you want to sink your teeth into it?
I love the 60’s. There was such a cross section of what I had to design in the period. The research we did included all this background of art and artists. A lot of avant garde, The Civil Rights era, and the WASP community.
With the art and the artists, the The Happening scenes were so cool because Fauna sees those performers in the black and white bodysuits. Was that pulled from a specific place?
Vic was the director of those episodes and she basically wanted them in unitards. She was my inspiration for that. Vic wanted the cubist unitard people and the half man half woman costumes, which led me to do more of a cubist/ avant garde costume for the white and black unitard people. It was about art so I wanted to add shapes. It’s about surrealism, so I wanted to incorporate that.
In those scenes, I was trying to really spy on the people in the background because you see a lot of different walks of life there. You get a lot of the story from just seeing the costumes.
It’s true. I feel like as costume designers are concerned, we have to tell a visual story. We want to tell their story emotionally and psychologically before they even say a word. Clothes are so important that they have to speak their own language.
Near the end of the season, we get to totally change gears when Jay and Fauna go to try and find Tamar in Hawaii. How was that change to a completely different area of the country?
It was another cross section of the diversity in the 60’s. It’s funny because one day Sam came to me and said that Fauna should go buy a new dress. She’s going to meet her mom and she should have a new dress that she might have purchased in the airport. I looked at the schedule and I was like…this works tomorrow. We researched any kind of place that might have vintage Hawaiian fabrics and there was nothing we could get a yard in. We needed a couple of them. Most of the Hawaiian fabrics were decorative fabrics with like a big print on it and I didn’t know how we were going to do this. I started hoarding fabrics while I was working. I found this fabric that wasn’t exactly Hawaiian but I thought it would work better than a print dress. I was able to do it in about 24 hours.
By the time we see Fauna in those bright colors, we really get the sense of her journey. She’s nearing the end of her self-discovery of the series.
Exactly. Her first change is after she goes to the parties. She’s very inspired by the Black Power movement and she sees the girls with the naturals and the turtlenecks. That’s very cool to her being from the sort of 1950’s Sparks. And she starts adopting that look. The stronger she gets the more her clothes change.
Moving from Fauna to Jay, I believe you are the only costume designer that has achieved making Chris Pine look rumpled. Can you talk about dressing him?
He started as a star reporter with a lot of promise. He came across this story of the Black Dahlia, and that sort of blacklisted him. From then, he joined the Marines and he did a lot of things that he probably shouldn’t have done. That really sent him on a downward spiral and he became a hack and a junkie. The idea was that he’d be a 50’s/60’s blend. My inspiration for him were outsiders like James Dean, Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, Eastwood. He’d have a 50’s blazer but pair it with 60’s pants that were a little bit short with the white socks. A couple good pieces that he might have from the 50’s that are very well worn. With his lifestyle—living in a hovel—his clothes are wrinkly and crinkly. Jay’s priority isn’t going to the cleaners. He probably hasn’t done that in a very long time. That was the idea for him. He’s down and out but starting to regain his identity as a reporter.
What piece would you want to steal from the set?
Oh my God…several? Obviously, I personally love everything on Connie. The court outfit was a favorite.
With the hat and the brooch? That’s a breathtaking look!
Yes. And the dress for The Happening. I love the 60’s beat poet Chanel boxy jacket and the tuxedo pant. I would’ve stolen everything from her.