Costume Designer Michael Wilkinson on AMERICAN HUSTLE and BATMAN VS SUPERMAN

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Dressing 70s con men and superheroes is all in a days work for costume designer Michael Wilkinson. Responsible for the scene-stealing fashion in AMERICAN HUSTLE, the costumer is also the tasked with re-imagining the Batman and Wonder Woman costume for the upcoming match up in Batman vs. Superman.

The Australia-born costume designer, whose work includes Tron: Legacy, Terminator Salvation, Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 1 and 2 and most of Zack Snyder’s films such as 300, Watchmen, Man of Steel and the upcoming Batman vs Superman, designed the impressive retro fashion of David O. Russell’s critic darling AMERICAN HUSTLE.

With the film set in the 1970s, the AMERICAN HUSTLE director gave Michael Wilkinson specific instructions on dressing the characters played by Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, and Jeremy Renner. In AMERICAN HUSTLE, con man Irving Rosenfeld (Bale) and his partner Sydney Prosser (Adams) are forced to work for a wild FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Cooper) to bring down a corrupt New Jersey politician (Renner) in bed with the mob. Jennifer Lawrence is Irving’s off-kilter and manipulating wife who might bring down the whole sting.

To bring these characters to life in a realistic manner, Russell wanted to avoid the cliché fashion of the era, so platform shoes, bellbottom trousers and big colors were out of the question.  Michael Wilkinson tells CineMovie his team went on an endless “hunt” to find appropriate clothing for each of the characters.

“David had created such complex and very imaginative and unusual characters so it made sense to hunt down very unusual idiosyncratic clothes for them.”

They searched “high and low,” according to Wilkinson, for original clothing from prop houses, small boutiques, vintage collectors from around the country, and personally rummaging through clothes at flea markets to find the clothes that fit the “gritty reality” of this world Russell was creating. He found a few treasures, but some of the clothes had to be designed from scratch.

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AMERICAN HUSTLE’s stellar cast also had fun with the wardrobe. Calling them “the most gifted actors on the planet,” Wilkinson says they were a dream to work with especially Amy Adams.

“Working with Amy was an amazing experience for me. She was so much fun exploring this character together. She owned the costumes”

Amy Adams probably had the most fun with the daring low cut dresses she wore with no problem. The AMERICAN HUSTLE costume designer didn’t use any tricks of the trade to keep the dresses in strategic place.  Adams wore the tricky pieces with “real confidence,” sophistication and elegance, according to Wilkinson. Out of all the outfits, he is most proud of the metallic sequence dress worn by Amy Adams in the casino scene, because it informs the audience of her sophistication in contrast to the working class of New Jersey.

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When it comes to transitioning from reality to fantasy films, Wilkinson doesn’t distinguish between genres since the tools of his trade are “quite similar.” Costume designing is about the psychology of the character and how they project themselves through the colors, textures, fabrics and silhouettes, which give insight or clues about the character, he says.

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Speaking of fantasy, Wilkinson is currently working on the follow up to Man of Steel and the pressure is quite high with one of the most anticipated assembly of DC Comic Book characters. He’s tasked with designing a whole new Batsuit for Ben Affleck, the new crusader taking over the role from Christian Bale, and a new look for Wonder Woman played by Gal Gadot.  He tells us that he’s also “tweaking” the Superman outfit.  He lets us in on what stage the costumes are in for the start of the February 2014 shoot in Detroit.

“We are now in the stage where we’re refining our designs with the last series of camera tests and doing our final tweaks in preparation for shooting.”
Wilkinson adds that he pinches himself daily when he comes to work on Batman vs Superman because he feels honored and “tremendously excited” to be involved with a project whose iconic “characters will be seen for the next generation of filmmakers.”

As audience members, we, too, are excited to see what he comes up with for the next phase of Superman and Batman, but given his great work on past films and his current work in American Hustle, the characters should be in good hands.

AMERICAN HUSTLE is now playing in movie theaters.

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