The dazzling style of American Hustle - 13 WTHR Indianapolis

The dazzling style of American Hustle

Michael Wilkinson: Costume Designer - American Hustle Michael Wilkinson: Costume Designer - American Hustle

By Mark Dubec

The new David O. Russell film, American Hustle, is receiving an unprecedented amount of attention for it's style. Bradley Cooper has curls. Christian Bale is nearly unrecognizable, and Jennifer Lawrence is a long way from The Hunger Games. With the film set in the 1970s, costume designer, Michael Wilkinson, had a chance to express the decade's distinctive design through the film's fashion. I talked with Michael about his experience working on the film.

MD: It's not often that the style and look of a film stand out this much prior to it's release, how cool is this for you?

Michael: It's a real thrill. It's a film that I'm so proud of. I'm glad that the energy we brought to the film and the commitment we had to these characters, and the love we had in bringing them to the screen is inspiring people. People are being moved by what we had to say and that just feels great.

MD: Did you set out to make Bradley, Christian, Jeremy look a bit disheveled and have the ladies look amazingly sexy?

Michael: (Laughs) You know as soon as I read the script I was so fascinated by these characters. They are drawn into the script with such love and imagination. The women are definitely using there physicality as part of their hustle, but the men are using their clothes with some power dressing moments to get some attention in the world too. I really like how in this film each of the characters have such a personal and immediate connection with their clothes and I feel like they are using their clothes to dress up as the people they are aspiring to be.

MD: How cooperative are the actors?

Michael: All of the actors checked their ego's at the door. When you sign up for a David O. Russell film you know what you are in for. You read the characters and it's warts and all. Some of the looks are pretty off. They are human beings and we are celebrating the wide spectrum of what it is to be a human being. All of the actors were committed to going very deep into these characters. I'm always fascinated by how each actor has a different approach to their costumes. I was working with some of the most gifted actors, one after another they came into my fitting room so it was really thrilling. Collaborating with them is something I will treasure for the rest of my life. They all had a lot to say about their characters, they are drawn with a lot of details in the script. Most of the time we sat down on the couch and talked about the little quirks and motivations of their characters and what made them who they are. Then we would look through the racks of clothes from the period that we received from all across the nation. We partnered with some interesting designers like Halston, Gucci, and Diane von Furstenburg. It was fascinating to see which clothes the actors were drawn to and how they were transformed when they put on these clothes.

MD: Did you have a few laughs with the actors once they were in full costume?

We weren't playing for laughs. We loved these characters. It was about embracing the flaws as well as the gifts.

MD: The opening sequence with Christian Bale fixing his hair while getting ready is certainly memorable and humorous, the audience really reacted to that scene.

Michael: The interesting thing is, when we were making it, I wasn't thinking of it as a comedy. We were so deep into it, we were really living these characters. I was so excited to see that it plays as a comedy in theaters to audiences. People are immediately engaged with laughter and there is so much warmth there, which I think is rare these days.

MD: I agree, I didn't think of it as a comedy after seeing it either. I think it's hard to pinpoint a genre for David O. Russell films. Did Bale gain weight specifically for this role or was there padding added?

Michael: Yeah, that was all him, absolutely no padding required. Every time Christian came into the fitting room he was heavier and heavier, he put on pounds. It was really great for the clothes. Suddenly this character came to life for us. All the fabrics and costume choices kind of made sense when you teamed it with the incredible physique that he was bringing to the table.

MD: Christian Bale's character touches his glasses a lot throughout the film. I feel like that's one of the most important quirks that really helps define his character. How much thought was put into that?

Michael: We went and looked at different tints, colors and different details to the frames. Christian was interested in adding the plastic nose bridge that gives the glasses an interesting and unusual vintage flair. Yeah, the touching of the glasses is something he felt his character would do, and it certainly becomes a very strong character tick.

MD: Name your favorite vintage piece used in the film.

Michael: Hmmm…I'm really proud of the vintage Halston leather dress that Amy Adams wears. It's a chocolate brown leather dress with a twist front detail and low plummeting neckline. She wears it with such supreme poise, it makes me a very proud costume designer.

MD: Will 70's fashion be making a return anytime soon? If so which element would you like to see crop up now?

Michael: I have such a fondness for 70's clothes. It's an era where ideas were big and people lived large and took risks. So it's not so much about the different pieces, its more about the mood of the period. You are embracing who you are and you are using clothes to express yourself. It's all about the attitude of walking tall and being comfortable in your own skin.

MD: For winter weather, which we have here in Indy - give me three must have fashion accessories for this time of year?

Michael: I would bring a nice, chunky wool plaid overcoat like the one Christian Bale wears in the airport scene when he is greeting the sheik for the first time. A nice three piece velvet suit would keep me nice and cozy, preferably in a nice chocolate brown, burgundy or midnight blue. I would adopt the ascot because it keeps your neck warm and gives you a certain amount of gentlemanly flair.

American Hustle opens this Friday, December 20th.

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