Dark Shadows Costume Designer Colleen Atwood On Working With Johnny Depp, Eva Green And Chloe Moretz

23 October 2012

INTERVIEW >> Colleen Atwood on working with Hollywood's hottest stars

You may not have heard Colleen Atwood's name before, but you'll certainly know her work. The three-time Oscar winner (and nine-time nominee) is a costume designer whose designs have featured in films from Edward Scissorhands (1990) to Alice in Wonderland (2010). She regularly collaborates with director Tim Burton and actor Johnny Depp so who better to spill the beans on their magical, gothic world...

Grazia Daily: Why is it that you’ve gone into costume design rather than fashion design?

Colleen: I liked the style of working in costumes and the opportunities to create whole worlds appealed to me in a different way to fashion.

Grazia Daily:  Might it be that fashion is more limited or subject to trends?

Colleen: No, I think there are limitations in every way – designers limit themselves, I don’t think the nature of the business necessarily limits people. I just like the idea of making movies and being part of that process.

Grazia Daily: So it’s the magic of making cinema?

Colleen: Yeah, I just liked it and I liked working with the actors and directors – it’s a different sort of thing.

Grazia Daily:  And are there any fashion designers who inspire you with your costume design?

Colleen: Continually, I mean there are so many great fashion designers in the world today and in the past. So it’s a very long list! I think Azzedine Alaia is an inspirational designer, I think that Gaultier – especially his couture – it’s beautiful and inspirational. I think that the new stuff that Balmain’s doing is spectacular. I think that Galliano, on a good day – there’s been no one like him. So many people!

Grazia Daily: You’ve worked with Tim Burton a lot. What is it about his particular unique, gothic vision that meshes well with the way that you design?

Colleen: Well, I think that first of all Tim’s label is having a gothic vision, but he’s actually got a very contemporary eye. And I think that he and I both embrace similar things – we’re minimalists, we don’t have a ton of stuff on everything, his movies are never overly decorated, they’re quite minimalist in style. We have a similar sense of humour, and we get along and understand each other’s artistic taste in a good way, and I think that’s what makes it work.

Grazia Daily: You’ve worked on a lot of movies with a lot of actors. Is there anyone who’s been your particular favourite to dress?

Colleen: I’ve probably dressed Jonny Depp more than anybody. And it’s a continual joy to see him and to have him come in. So many of the ladies are fun in different ways – Helena Bonham Carter’s really fun because she’s so funny. And it was great to dress Michelle Pfeiffer twenty years apart in the industry.

Grazia Daily: What was it like when you first met Johnny?

Colleen: It was one of my early films and really one of his early films. He’d done work before and music and stuff, but – we just met each other and it’s a family deal with all of us because we’ve known each other so long, and it’s comfortable being around each other. And Jonny’s always been a very polite, decent human being to work with.

Grazia Daily: So you met him near to the beginning of his career – how has he changed since then?

Colleen: Well, he’s become a man. He was a very young man then and I’ve watched him evolve into one of the most amazing actors of his generation. And really successful, but he’s always been somebody who’s made his own choices and has his own way of wanting to do things, and stuck to it. And it rings true with people the same way that Tim’s films do. Those two are originals.

Grazia Daily: How would you describe Jonny’s personal style? Is it similar to how you might design for him but adapted to reality?

Colleen: Jonny is influenced by art, influenced by beautiful things, and he travels a lot. He embraces things during different journeys in his life. So I think that how he dresses – he’s always liked interesting clothes, and he’s always like beautiful clothes, and he’s had the experience of wearing antiques and all kinds of clothes mixed with fine designer clothes. So he’s kind of adapted it and made it his own.

Grazia Daily: You’ve worked on so many amazing movies together, is there any particular favourite memories you have from them at all?

Colleen: Just a general over-memory of Jonny and who he is and watching him have his family and his children, and what joy he’s had with them, and how I feel a bit like a proud mother – I’m very thrilled for the life that he’s had.

Grazia Daily: You get to work with actors very closely, and get to know them beyond their celebrity persona – would you say that there is anyone who is not like how they’re portrayed in the media?

Colleen: Probably just about everyone is not like how they’re portrayed in the media, because the media is an interpretation of who that personality is. And I think when you work with people and you collaborate with them you see who they are in their heart. And you see them on all their days and coping with the media for big stars is a very difficult thing. It’s not easy to have someone taking your picture when you’re going to the grocery store – it’d be the last thing I’d want. And after a while you just put on a face for it and get through the day – but I have a huge sympathy for people who are in the public eye so much. The need for privacy is huge in the human soul I think.

Grazia Daily: You worked with Eva Green on Dark Shadows, how would you describe her personal style?

Colleen: I think that Eva Green has a very Parisian feel about her – she’s lived in Paris a lot of her life, and she has that sophistication and low key style that goes with the life in Paris. You see these women there who are chic but you don’t really notice them right off the bat. They don’t have all the latest fashion; they just have a quiet, casual sense of fashion that’s really great.

Grazia Daily: Also Chloe Moretz – what was she like in real life?

Colleen: A very grown up fifteen year old! Very present in knowing what to do with the work and who she was, and very supported by her family, which is good. She said she loved clothes, and she loved all the vintage stuff and the feeling of wearing all those things and really enjoyed that part of the movie process. I think she’s going to have an amazing career.

Dark Shadows is out on Blu-ray and DVD now.

Interview by Stephanie Soh


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