The two-time Academy Award winning costume designer talks about working with Joaquin Phoenix and making Joker sexy.
They say clothes make the man. By the end of Todd Phillips’ Best Picture nominee, Joker, Joaquin Phoenix’s Arthur Fleck is sporting an already iconic look. His clown is colorful but twisted. His maroon suit would normally feel bright, but Phoenix’s portrayal is so dark that even the clothes feel more sinister. Mark Bridges was tasked to create a completely new look for the famous clown, and he took to the script for inspiration.
The Joker has been brought to life by many brilliant actors, but his costume has always been a source of inspiration for fans of Batman and villains alike. Since this is the story of Arthur’s transformation, Bridges had more freedom to create the Joker’s wardrobe without worrying whether he would reference any other version of the character. When Arthur is dancing down that now-infamous staircase, the items of clothing on his body are a part of him. They are actually much more grounded and connected to the character of Arthur than any other version we’ve seen before.
Bridges previously won Oscars for The Artist and Phantom Thread, and while those wins were for more decadent costumes, there’s brilliance in how Bridges manages to bring forth the Joker’s madness through the clothes on his body. They are flashy and over-the-top, but they indicate just how far Arthur is willing to go to get his message across.
Awards Daily: Joker scares the crap out of me, so thank you for taking the time to talk to me.
Mark Bridges: Well, good. Don’t go to sleep, Joey, don’t go to sleep.
AD: How much of the clothes for Joker were found versus what you had create from the start? I assume the suit at the end was specifically made.
MB: We made all of Joaquin’s clothes from the ground up, even knitting that sort of rust colored sweater. We had that knit, his trousers, all the shirts. Because he had photo doubles and stunt doubles too. There was always a stunt double dressed exactly as he was. All of it. Happy the Clown, at the beginning, his wardrobe, and his Joker outfits were all made — even the clown shoes and the shoes he wore as the Joker. His stuff and the clown stuff were made, but found stuff was really used for Frances Conroy and Zazie [Beetz]. Most of the rest of it was found, but Joker across the board was all made because there were always two of them. We didn’t know when his stunt double would have to step in.
AD: Ah, that makes sense. He does get beaten up quite a bit throughout the movie.
MB: He does, yeah. Plus there’s extensive running or sometimes Joaquin worked 18 hours and they needed a double for a wide shot. It was just safer to give the production flexibility with however they wanted to do it. We had to make everything but then have it all broken down so it looked good. That’s cool that you didn’t know it was all made. I found all that polyester fabric for the pants, and all his trousers are actually the same cut but done in different fabrics. They were all polyester and synthetic materials because Joaquin is a vegan, so it was perfect for the period and the character and the mindset.
AD: I hadn’t heard about that. That’s so cool.
MB: Yeah, it is.
AD: The final look is already iconic. When you have a character that is so prevalent in so many different iterations, is there anything that you particularly wanted to avoid? How do you infuse that character with originality?
MB: Since it’s a standalone picture, it doesn’t have to connect with the original cartoon or anything. I went with the story that Todd [Phillips] wrote that Arthur owned a terracotta suit from the early 70’s. I didn’t like the color terracotta — it didn’t seem strong enough to me. I thought that if we started with maroon and progressed through the film, there’s two other versions of it. The waistcoat and the vest come from his Happy the Clown outfit, so he had that as his days as the clown and the suit in his wardrobe. I had this green shirt that I really thought was fun and I loved it. I thought it would be cool with the waistcoat and the suit, so I just copied the fabric and made a bunch of shirts from that green shirt. Then I found those shoes and had them made in linen and patent vinyl for him. I thought they looked like something he would come by at the clown agency. I didn’t think it would’ve been a far stretch.
AD: Yeah, that all makes perfect sense.
MB: Yeah. So things were coming from the script and from the character, from what the character had access to and how he used the clothes that we established in the film. We recombined them to make this character. It turned out to be iconic and rather unusual, but it came about from the script rather than the other way around. This was the look, and we had to fit it in. Men having purple in their wardrobe is not something that is organic. But in the 70’s, men would have something that’s maroon.
AD: When I re-watched it, I noticed that the maroon pants pop up earlier in the film than I remember. I think it’s the scene where Joaquin and Zazie are walking on the street.
MB: Yes, it’s the two pieces of the three piece suit.
AD: It feels like we are seeing the character slowly growing out of him through his clothes.
AD: You just mentioned that men wouldn’t have purple in their wardrobe, but I think there are a lot of pieces in there that people would love to get their hands on. I personally dig that red, white, and blue checkered jacket that he wears at the beginning as he’s dancing around. If I saw that, I would buy that immediately.
AD: Patterns are so big and colors are so vibrant. Can you tell me what you personally respond to from this time period?
MB: What I do like is the shape of the suits, you know? In the early 70’s, there was a French line, most notably from Saint Laurent where the jackets were slim and longer. It’s very elegant if you look at Yves Saint Laurent, where the French people have this longer cut. I tried to do that to make Joker a little sexier. I love the body consciousness of the 70’s. Pants with no back pockets for men so you could show off your behind. Women’s dresses that could be removed with the pull of a tie. The sexiness of the 70’s is there, and it’s there with Joaquin when I fit him. We went for a fitting in the Joker suit, and he started to move differently and he really appreciated the longer jacket. His daytime clothes are kind of awkward and adolescent so it became a player’s outfit, and I think it helped him move a certain way when he became that part of the character.
AD: The plastic mask that everyone is wearing towards the end of the film is probably a good source of some of my nightmares.
MB: I’m sure it is.
AD: The colors are very similar with what he wears on his face towards the end. Did you consult with the makeup team and decide that together?
MB: We were all working together, but that came from the art department. That came from our production designer, Mark Friedberg, with his working with Todd, because it was going to be so much the look of the film as opposed to a costume. They had started earlier working on that. I work with Kay [Georgiou] and Nicki [Ledermann] in the makeup department, but the mask had been dealt with Mark and Todd together. It was very exciting, and I was grateful that the production designer had a vision for that.
AD: Speaking about Joaquin, we always hear when an actor or performer works with the same director, and you’ve dressed him a few times. You’ve also worked with Paul Thomas Anderson a lot. Can you talk about your working relationship has evolved in any way?
MB: What’s interesting about him is that when we get together to prepare for a role, we’re starting from scratch with who this person is. We’re working with a blank page and deciding what’s appropriate for time and place and the situations. How does he stand? How does he walk? If you look at him in The Master, that’s the 1950’s and the way he wears those pants is very different from the detective Doc Sportello from Inherent Vice and different from Arthur Fleck. I bring things to the table and he decides what works and what doesn’t. I respect his process, too, about what he brings to the table to create whatever person he’s creating from the page. We’re just more familiar with each other. It’s more like family at this point.
Joker is available to rent and purchase.