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With nine Academy Award Nominations and two time Academy Award wins, costume designer Colleen Atwood seems the perfect choice for the upcoming period movie The Rum Diary. According to the leading man Johnny Depp, producer Patrick McCormick, and co-producer Peter Kohn, she was the natural choice.
“I’ve done several films with Colleen over the years and she is someone who is obviously very passionate about what she brings to a film,” says McCormick. “Particularly to a film like this. Aside from dressing the lead actors, every extra means something to her. Nothing is throwaway.
Their clothes are carefully selected and they are custom-fitted. When you see those deep wide shots of distant background, you will see how well those extras are dressed.” “I’ve known Johnny since Edward Scissorhands, which was a long time ago,” says Atwood. “We’ve all sort of grown up together.
I have a lot of respect for Johnny and his sister, Christi Dembrowski, one of the producers of the film. We are like a weird, big family, really. Johnny makes you feel that way. He’s somebody that has definitely done it his way and in a unique way and I really love him for that.”
“What Colleen does for me, ultimately, is that she defines characters even before you have a great handle on your character,” says Depp. “She understands it well before you do.” “There was a minimal amount of clothing for the principal actors in the film,” says Atwood. “Kemp, Johnny Depp’s character, basically arrives with a suitcase and lives out of it the whole movie, so we kept his wardrobe very small.
He went shopping a couple of times and picked up a couple of extra t-shirts, but basically he wears a lot of the same things over and over.” The movie follows journalist Paul Kemp as he escapes an Eisenhower America only to fall for rum and a beautiful woman in 1960s Puerto Rico. His rival is the girl’s fiance, businessman Sanderson.
“Sanderson is much more glamorous and we have many more clothes for Aaron Eckhart,” says Atwood. “Every time we see him, he is turned out in a similar look, but definitely a casual, glamorous kind of at-ease-with-with-money person. Chenault is a sort of showpiece for Sanderson and very much his animal.
She is dressed and jeweled by him in the latest European fashions, and the high glamour side of Puerto Rico at the time.” Adds Depp, “Everything that she did for Chenault was textural but at the same time created moods that would give the viewer a certain kind of emotion.”
“Then we have the other characters that Kemp meets in the world of journalism,” Atwood says. “Sala is the quintessential really good guy who is down on his luck and who will never leave. He wears the local Guevara shirt, which is sort of a uniform of the Caribbean. However, he doesn’t iron it as often as he should, or wash it.
He lives with his chickens and has, in his own way, found his world. Sala’s clothes are layered up. More sweat was added every day, some real, some fake. It started to look better the more that it was worn.” “Moberg, played by Giovanni Ribisi, is a man that’s definitely crossed the line,” laughs Atwood. “He’s gone over the edge, and he’s living on the other side.
He is definitely not aware of physical cleanliness or tidiness. His clothes are almost like an artistic uniform for him. He doesn’t really know whether he’s indoors or outdoors.” “For Giovanni’s costume, I just found really old falling-apart clothes and used them,” says Atwood. “Since he wasn’t stunt-doubled or anything, it wasn’t a huge issue.
He basically wore the same thing every day in the movie. We didn’t wash it. It was alive!” she laughs. One of the most labor-intensive scenes for Atwood was the movie’s dazzling Carnival shoot. “We had to pre-fit over 800 costumes,” recalls Atwood. “We were supposed to be in St. Thomas, not in Puerto Rico. So we were trying to get a much more ethnic island feel to it.
We had a mixture of white tourists, local people with a Spanish background, and Caribbean people of African descent.” “The Caribbean costumes were really a mixture of a lot of things,” says Atwood. “We based our research on the real Carnival they have on St. Thomas. However, we made it more cinematic, created our own masks and added more characters.
Bruce wanted stilt walkers and a few things like that, so we made them up as we went. It was a bit nerve-wracking. It’s not designed in my normal style of working. But it was supposed to look very homemade and I think that we succeeded in making it that way.”
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