B. C. NOMINEE: Dr. Parnassus costume designer Monique Prudhomme prepares for the big day
Monique Prudhomme has been to Los Angeles so many times over the last couple of months she must feel like it’s a second home.
On Dec. 20, the Vancouverite sauntered into the Intercontinental Hotel in Century City to pick up a Satellite Award from the International Press Academy for her costume design on the Terry Gilliam film The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.
On Feb. 25, her work on Doctor Parnassus earned her a trip to the Beverly Hills Hilton, where she won the award for Excellence in Fantasy Film at the 12th annual Costume Designers Guild Awards.
Now she’s jetting south to try and make it a trifecta at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, where she is nominated for an Academy Award.
On Sunday night Prudhomme’s work in Doctor Parnassus goes up against the costume designers for The Young Victoria, Nine, Coco Before Chanel, and Bright Star.
“ It feels pretty good,” she said of being nominated.
“ It’s the luck of the draw. This year there were a lot of beautifully made movies. The most spectacular ones are period, and we are the dark horse. Doctor Parnassus is a mix of everything, a shameless mix of periods and countries. It’s a great honour to be nominated by my peers, by the film industry.”
The Oscar nomination caps a three-decade long career in film, including costume design in movies like Juno and Best in Show.
Prudhomme got into film in her native Montreal. She set out to be an art teacher, “ hated it with a passion,” and took a job as an intern on a Jean Beaudin movie called Cordelia.
“ From there people asked me if I could do this or do that,” she recounts.
“ I learned my trade doing it, in the trenches. [ Then] I was hired to work on a French movie they were shooting in the Rockies. There was a crew from Quebec, a crew from France and a crew from Vancouver, and I fell in love with a guy from Vancouver who offered me the moon: ‘ Come and live on my sailboat.’
“ So I moved to Vancouver, and it was fantastic. I fell in love with Vancouver, I fell in love with the water, and we built a houseboat in Ladner.”
She’s no longer with the sailor, and left the water for a lovely arts and crafts house in east Vancouver in the early 1990s. But her film career grew with the local industry. Her recent success has landed her some pretty good gigs: two days after the Oscars she starts work on A Big Year, a comedy about birdwatchers featuring Steve Martin, Owen Wilson and Jack Black.
Working with the legendary Gilliam on Doctor Parnassus “ was fantastic.” Gilliam “ is the only master of his ship,” so she didn’t have to go through a lot of people to make decisions. Plus the subject matter was interesting.
“ It is a costume designer’s dream to work with him,” she said.
“ He gave me two phrases. First of all Doctor Parnassus is an immortal, he’s travelled around the world and he’s done stage all through the ages. So there are big bins in the wagon full of discarded pieces of costumes that cover countries, ages and styles.
“ He said ‘ For the stage, inspire yourself from the 17th-18th century imagery, of drawings ... beauty, wisdom, battle, love.’ And of course Greek mythology with Mercury.
“ And then he said, ‘ They live in London in 2009 and they’re poor, they live the life of Gypsies.’ Go with this, bye-bye.”
Her role as a costume designer varies from project to project. She had a great time on Christopher Guest’s satire of dog shows Best in Show.
“ With Christopher Guest it’s all improvised,” she said.
She finds her costumes all over the place. She likes to use Burnaby tailor Pat Cocco (“ He’s done suits for me for Robin Williams, Donald Sutherland, and for Heath [ Ledger] and Johnny [ Depp] for Doctor Parnassus.”), but also does a lot of shopping. “ It’s kind of a hunt and gather process.
“ You have ideas, you go to Value Village, you go to Salvation Army, you go to Holt-Renfrew, you go to costume houses, you buy fabric, you design. It’s composition.”
Monique Prudhomme, pictured at her home in Vancouver, is nominated for an Academy Award for her work as costume designer on the Vancouver-shot movie The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus.