Mayes C. Rubeo has been at the forefront of science fiction costuming for two decades, earning her first Oscar nomination for her work in Jojo Rabbit in 2020. Rubeo’s name has also appeared in the credits of monster hits like Avatar, Apocalypto, Thor: Ragnarok, and others. It’s Rubeo’s constant hunt for a challenge and penchant for fantastical worlds that has drawn her to such unique projects. Although, in some ways, WandaVision marks a return home as Rubeo drew on her childhood memories, growing up in Mexico, and watching classic sitcoms for designing the Disney+ series.
In Rubeo’s words, there is a ‘chemistry’ to costume design, and that is evident in the strategic colors and fabrics Rubeo selects for Elizabeth Olson’s Wanda and the rest of her cast. She joins Awards Daily from the set of the upcoming Thor: Love and Thunder to take us through her WandaVision design choices, highlights from her career, and explains what it’s like working in the MCU. And what keeps her coming back.
Read more from Mayes C. Rubeo below:
Awards Daily: First, tell me about your research for WandaVision. I imagine it was quite extensive.
Mayes C. Rubeo: My research was extensive, yes, but also very easy because I grew up with all these sitcoms: Bewitched, The Dick Van Dyke Show, I Love Lucy, I grew up with all of those sitcoms. They were televised in Mexico, where I am from, and we watched them in Spanish. I was always so curious to see how it sounded in the original language. When I moved to the United States in the 80s, there were still reruns of I Love Lucy, Bewitched; it was part of the TV Guide list.
The research we had to do is more about, ‘How can we be on the same page for this show?’ The production design [Mark Worthington], cinematography [Jess Hall], the director [Matt Shakman], the writer [Jac Schaeffer], and me, we had so many brainstorm sessions. Everybody was super enthusiastic about the project. What I brought to the table was my nostalgia. It’s the same nostalgia that Wanda used to create this parallel, private world out of the grief she has. This show is about grief and how love transcends into our grief and how the mind creates worlds to get through it. I find it very profound. It may sound like the MCU can be superficial, but I didn’t find it that way at all. WandaVision is very philosophical.
I was very attracted to this show because of the content and what you can find behind the script; it was worlds, it was fantastic. If you want to see me happy, I have to have variety in the designs. I have to have a lot of challenges. I like challenges. ‘How to make a better design? What colors will be better for black and white? What’s the most technical formula?’ Some colors correspond to certain shades of gray, and you learn this through buying fabrics. My team was very young and very fascinated by working on black and white. It was very experimental and very nice.
AD: How did you reflect Wanda’s mental state, her grief in your costume design, in your color choices and color palettes?
MCR: I didn’t want to hit the audience in the head with it too much. The 50s were wonderful because she was so happy; dream home, dream husband, dream neighborhood, dream couple. I have a collection of vintage fabrics that I always offer to my projects, and I was able to bring that to the table along with a wonderful textile locator. She finds the most interesting, wonderful fabrics. Her name is Susan Anderson. She is an expert in textiles, and she really helped so much. I would say, ‘For the second episode, I would like these wonderful, abstract flowers for her dress so that when it comes in color, I would like those flowers to be these deep reds and crimson.’ And it worked! I think it worked really well.
AD: In your collaboration with Marvel, How much space and freedom do you have to be creative vs. saying, ‘I have to make something that fits into a larger universe?’
MCR: I did both. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is something that already exists, and there are things that we don’t change; we just improve them, we make them better, we adapt them to the era that we are portraying, it might be the 40s, the 50s, the 60s, we adapt them. In the wardrobe department, we say, ‘We have to Marvelize things.’ Give it that Marvel tone, that certain depth, colors, and textures that they have and adapt it to our project. That is what makes it unique. They have a style. Let’s say if you work with a great designer like Gucci and Gucci is bringing this style, this design, their colors throughout every system they make. That is the same thing with Marvel; we just adapt it, we make it better looking. We are constantly searching for cutting-edge technologies or even going back to very old techniques. All that brings a lot to the texture to make a unique movie. There was freedom because they trust me. But also, there was a lot of respect on my part for the MCU.
AD: You have done a lot of sci-fi in your career—John Carter, Avatar, the list goes on and on. What kind of playground does that provide for you as a costume designer? And how is Marvel different?
MCR: Marvel is different because it’s a universe with many worlds, and it offers me that kind of variety that I need, a creative challenge. You know, time-traveling is something I am fascinated with, and that is why I do fashion, costume fashion. We can go to Babylonian times and then fast forward to the year 3000. And different worlds. You can find ancient worlds in outer space on another planet, or you can find advanced civilization within a parallel world on Earth. That is what I like about the MCU. It offers so many worlds in a universe. They are making such interesting movies. It is such an institution. I have to say: I have so much respect for that company because they are really intelligent, kind people. They do projects that are transcendental in the movie world of fantasy and science fiction. All of those science fiction and fantasy are always great to create.
But you can only have so many pirates in your pocket or green Martians in your pocket. Sometimes you run out of those. Like when someone asks you, ‘Can you do a pirate movie?’ I don’t know if I can. Enough has been done with pirates with such excellency in the past. You can only milk pirates so much or green Martians or something like that. [Laughs] When I am tired of making so many of something once, then I move on. With Marvel, it is different because they have all these worlds. They have that to offer. It is fantastic.
AD: Is there a type of project that you haven’t done yet that you would like to do?
MCR: I think I would like to do more anthropological projects. I had a great time with Apocalypto. That was a movie that I worked literally 24/7. I was also designing in my sleep. I was in a creative trance, I was unstoppable. It was such an amazing opportunity; I wasn’t going to let go.
I like new techniques, new colors, and new textures. That is my thing. But, I also love period stuff. I am quite knowledgeable about it. I have a good, practical, and academic sense of it. I like to do period, just like Jojo Rabbit. Then you can add a twist of magic. It is good to have that little twist to things. It is not about me. It is what I can bring to the movie. And what the movie brings to me is an opportunity. I make a strategy for designing a film because I see all the elements and I see all the colors that it could be. You know how a person has an aura, Like a color. That is how I see a movie, a chromatic aura. What kind of colors will be good for this movie? What colors are going to transmit that sentiment that we are trying to tell with the story? All of that is like cooking; it’s like dying clothes. You have to measure with gram scales. It is like, ‘Don’t put too much of that blue. Don’t put too much of that violet.’ Everything in what we do involves chemistry.
AD: For WandaVision, what was the aura? What was the chemistry?
MCR: It was definitely red. That was the color of Wanda, but it was also black because these two colors combine so well. Wanda’s crimson red, a very, very strong red, almost like a black cherry red, and that went into her tops, into some colors of the 70s and 60s. Her lipstick. Halloween. Everything. Then the mystery of the black, It sounds so cliché. But It was also an opportunity to portray Agatha Harkness. When we did the 1950s show, the first time that we see Agatha. If you see this scheme of colors, it is all very beautiful, blended nicely, soft. Suddenly, that knock on the door. Bomb. Really strong— really, really precise blacks. Black and white. You see it. You see her black hair. A strike of contrast is right there. It’s ominous.
AD: Do you have a favorite costume from WandaVision?
MCR: Lets see. I like all the period stuff. I like the pregnancy dress. That is like an original costume design. Then I was thinking, “Why we don’t see enough of this design?” It is such a simple but brilliant design—the empire waist. It was also there to be discreet about pregnancy. ‘Cinta’ is the ribbon you put under your breast in the empire dress and the pregnancy dress. In Spanish, when someone is pregnant, they call it ‘en cinta.’ That ribbon is there to be discreet, and you can hide the pregnancy longer. The same thing happened to Wanda. I found this wonderful, groovy fabric through my textile locator, Susan Anderson. She said, ‘Look what I found.’ I said, ‘That is going to be the dress!’ When I saw the lines, I already decided in my head how that dress was going to be. Underneath there is a neat kind of dress, as the tummy keeps growing, and it grows very fast, it’s like a tunic. I thought it was an ingenious design, a simple, smart design. It worked so well for Wanda’s pregnancy time, a very short time. [Laughs]
WandaVision streams exclusively on Disney+. Read more of Awards Daily’s WandaVision coverage here.