Actress’ out­fits help drive the story

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - By Tre’vell An­der­son

Writer-direc­tor Paul Feig al­ways wanted to make a spy film, but he said he knew no one was go­ing to let him make a James Bond or Ja­son Bourne movie. So he wrote his own.

“I didn’t want to make it a spoof or a par­ody,” he ex­plained. “So I thought to my­self, ‘How do you make “Casino Royale” funny?’”

Feig found the an­swer to his ques­tion in cast­ing Melissa McCarthy as the lead of “Spy,” which opens Fri­day. She al­lowed him to pull off what he calls “the com­edy of be­ing un­der­val­ued,” at the cen­ter of which are mul­ti­ple dis­guises for her char­ac­ter, all keyed to witty and sur­pris­ing cos­tumes de­signed by Christine Bieselin Clark.

Ap­pear­ances in spy movies are mostly meant to de­ceive. But in “Spy,” McCarthy’s dis­guises serve mul­ti­ple pur­poses and are meant to make you think about her char-


McCarthy plays Su­san Cooper, a woman one wouldn’t peg as a se­cret agent. Rel­e­gated be­hind a desk, her sim­ple at­tire and self-dep­re­cat­ing at­ti­tude give the per­cep­tion that desk work is what best suits her. Much of the film’s com­edy cen­ters around th­ese looks — and Cooper’s dis­taste for most of them.

“Movie spies are go­ing to be glam­orous, but in real life you have to be in­vis­i­ble,” Feig said. “It was fun go­ing with this dumpy per­son and [fig­ur­ing out] how far can we take the dumpi­ness.”

When Cooper gets the chance to go in the field, the quirky iden­ti­ties she takes on prove her worth. At the cen­ter of th­ese per­sonas are the en­sem­bles McCarthy dons to drive the point home. Bieselin Clark, who also worked on “En­der’s Game,” “300” and “Watch­men,” said the looks were in­te­gral to bring­ing Feig ’s words to life.

“In the be­gin­ning, it is a com­edy and fun to read, but for me it was al­ways about who are th­ese char­ac­ters, their in­ten­tions and how do we con­vey them as real peo­ple,” Bieselin Clark said. “Then we pushed things as far in the op­po­site di­rec­tion as we could.”

In col­lab­o­ra­tion with McCarthy, and us­ing “bread crumbs” Feig left in the script, Bieselin Clark (along with Linda Flow­ers, who did the wigs) fash­ioned four dis­tinct looks that in turn prompted Feig and the cast to add a num­ber of comedic barbs through­out the film.

The base cos­tume for McCarthy’s char­ac­ter is the start­ing point of a drab-to­fab trans­for­ma­tion. “She had to be kind of sim­ple, but we didn’t want her to seem unattrac­tive and dowdy,” Bieselin Clark said.

That changed on Cooper’s first field as­sign­ment when she went un­der­cover as Carol Jenk­ins, a mom who pairs suede Na­tive Amer­i­can vests with gaudy skirts. McCarthy was ea­ger to “go as far as we can in mak­ing things look aw­ful,” Bieselin Clark said.

“She’s not afraid and the com­edy of it is that it’s so bad you can’t pos­si­bly be­lieve they’ve done that [to her],” she con­tin­ued.

Penny Mor­gan, McCarthy’s sec­ond per­sona, was per­haps the fun­ni­est, and eas­i­est, look to put to­gether. A “Mid­dle Amer­ica, older gal who dresses for com­fort,” likes de­coupage and owns 10 cats, Mor­gan wore a bright pink sweat­suit and cat- faced sweater (which Feig had orig­i­nally writ­ten into the script).

Bieselin Clark de­signed McCarthy’s fi­nal looks, in which Cooper sexes it up a bit and dons cloth­ing one would ex­pect of a CIA agent. Bieselin Clark worked hard to bal­ance an edgy and ath­letic look with a clas­sic spy feel in­spired by 1950s cig­a­rette pants, she said.

Wigs were also im­por­tant to con­vey­ing the in­tended mes­sages. In fact, Bieselin Clark said, many of the wigs in­spired en­tire looks.

The over­all goal of wardrobe was to stay au­then­tic to the spy movie genre.

“We had to fig­ure out how do you raise the bar and keep the stan­dard,” Bieselin Clark said. “This is our 007. It just hap­pens to be funny.”

Feig hopes that through Bieselin Clark’s re­al­is­tic cos­tumes, the char­ac­ters he’s writ­ten and the comedic prow­ess of the pow­er­house cast, au­di­ences will re­spond in a dif­fer­ent way than they usu­ally do to a spy movie.

“They’re so much like a spec­ta­cle,” he said. “We put a real per­son in the mid­dle of this sit­u­a­tion. I want you to have a com­pletely be­liev­able ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Pho­tog raphs by Larry Hor­ricks 20th Cen­tur y Fox

SU­SAN COOPER, played by Melissa McCarthy, is given four dis­tinct looks when she goes un­der­cover in the new com­edy “Spy.”

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