Rosamund Pike delivers a ferocious, unflinching performance as Marla Grayson in J Blakeson’s I Care a Lot, but she also looks incredible. Marla is a woman who is always two steps ahead of her prey–she’s a fucking lioness after all. Not only does she con you and take you loved one’s savings, she looks fantastic doing it, and costume designer Deb Newhall is in on the job.
Marla Grayson wears power dresses and suits. They are almost always a solid color and they fit her like a glove. In a scene in the office, she is wearing a bodycon dress with a slit up the thigh but then she dons a sunshine yellow pantsuit for business meetings and out in the field. Newhall’s attention to color and its meaning stretches back to her theater days, and she knows the importance of what it means to both the actor and the audience.
Contemporary costume design is shamefully overlooked when it comes to the big awards every year, but Newhall should be commended for how she infuses so much character into Marla. Newhall assists Pike in making Marla bold.
Awards Daily: I always like to ask designers of contemporary films if they think that audience assume that costuming for a contemporary film is just styling.
Deb Newhall: That’s a really interesting question. I came out of theater where I had to solve a lot of visual situations over and over again. No two shows are the same whether they are modern or period. It’s a different physical effort to get them done but no less thinking of it’s contemporary. There are a lot of choices you could make for a contemporary show. With period you don’t have options or go to Macy’s and pick something new or bring options. You have to plan and do sketches if you’re building it. You have to shop fabric and get it made and approved. There’s a similar process for contemporary work and you have to work the story and the color arc in the setting and how it suits the character. You’re either hiding things by the way they’re dressed or you’re revealing things by how they’re dressed. Also, everybody in the audience has something to say about those clothes. ‘Oh, that sweater’ or ‘That works with that hair.’ You have more people jumping in to talk about things when it’s contemporary clothing. The color and the clothes on I Care a Lot are there to help the story. It’s very specific.
AD: The first time we see her, the camera sees her from behind, and she’s wearing a very bold red. The entire look is severe with her haircut. I thought devil or stop from a stop sign. Why was that color the best choice?
DN: You’re having a great reaction. The first look I have on her had to pop. That color you can’t ignore it. It’s not receding or fading away–it’s very particular. When you see her in the courtroom, there’s all those red seats behind her. The color in her dress vibrates and really glows, so it gives her more power. Color is such an important element on this film because it can shape the audience’s connection to a character to a story. Every color means something. I’m big into color and went to art school and took color theory, so I know the psychology of what color can do. With so many years of theater, there is a lot of impact with one character crossing the stage in one color or how they fade into the background. It’s complicated. Every show or movie has its own formula to make the color work but not take over. The red pops but you’re still focused on what she’s saying and you focus on her face.
AD: You never lose what she’s saying and it never pulls away from how bold she is.
AD: Are there two yellow outfits?
DN: There are.
AD: That’s what I thought! Earlier in the film, it’s this sunshine-y, bright yellow and later she gets into that horrible car accident and it’s paler or more faded. Kind of like her control is lost. Tell me about the difference.
DN: The first we call the daffodil yellow suit and the other is a buttercream. When she’s got brighter colors on, she’s dealing with work. She can be trusted in that color. For the other, I worked backwards from the water scene but I needed something on her that would show up in the dark. She couldn’t be in a dress and I didn’t want anything dark. I wanted her to glow because she rises up and beats it. Earlier in the day, she is talking to the jeweler, so she needs to blend in. She’s not trying to take over and she’s just shopping. By looking at her, you don’t expect that any trouble is on the way. It’s a similar silhouette yet it’s a more realistic version of the color of someone just walking down the street. And then she puts on that ridiculous, red sweatshirt.
AD: Even after she puts that sweatshirt on, her posture reflects how she’s down in that moment. Obviously, she’s just been in that horrific car accident and she should’ve died (laughs).
DN: Yes (laughs).
AD: Why did you have Marla wear monochromatic colors?
DN: When I first read the script, it was a very dark and severe story. I thought she would be in dark colors with specific silhouettes. She had to wear a uniform as a work look. Keep it simple and dependable. No fuss with the collar or a ruffle or didn’t have to unbutton anything. I wanted everything clean and businesslike and play within the colors of her two silhouettes. One is very slim, bodycon dresses and the other is a trim, fitted suit. You could see her movement one way or the other. The only softness, if you could call it that, would be the trench coat.
AD: I love the trench coat.
DN: We wanted that to fill the space.
AD: The way it billows behind her.
DN: Yes. It’s softer but unusual and not something you see down the street every day. Clean simple lines suit her. In court, she lines up the suit with her pen.
AD: The trench coat kind of reminded me a superhero cape floating as she walked. I guess Marla is her own superhero.
DN: But really she’s a robber.
AD: How did you want to make Chris Messina a sleaze? In his first scene, he has that purple tie with the gold chain and then the white suit he wears in court is just amazing.
DN: He thinks he looks smart and fabulous and everything would be made for him. There was a third outfit that didn’t make the film which was my favorite. He had pretty particular ideas of what he wanted to look like. I remember having a conversation with him in the car and he was animated about what he wanted his character to be. Hs is kind of a caricature but there are people that look like him. We talked about Anthony Scaramucci.
AD: Oh, god, I love that.
DN: He was an inspiration so I tried to mimic a three thousand suit in the feeling so we knew who he was when we see him. He had that flash of color and his shoes were all fabulous even though you don’t get to see them. When Chris saw the costumes, he got a big smile on his face. He loved them. It was real with a little bit of a push.
AD: The last time we see Marla Grayson, she is dressed in all white, and her hair is slicked back.
DN: White for Marla is a real power color. You see her in the white dress in the ICU when Peter Dinklage’s character is there. It’s almost like a nurse dress but it’s not when you see the zipper down the back. That was a vintage Victoria Beckham piece that I found. That was the beginning of her flip and her transition to when they link forces to start their billion dollar enterprise of Grayson Industries. It’s even whiter when she’s on television at the end and she has those asymmetrical diamonds. The color was there but now she’s above it all. She’s not boots on the ground anymore and she’s running a worldwide operation. Marla doesn’t touch it anymore.
AD: What piece would you steal from the set for your own closet?
DN: I like her disguise coat. That leopard, two-tone coat. It found me when I was shopping for it. I wanted to keep the silhouette but twist it a little bit. I’m not one to hang onto things because I know they are doing work. If I kept one, it would change its live. There’s something about leaving them there and not letting them walk around in a normal world that I like to think about.