Academy Award Nominee Danny Glicker (‘Milk,’ ‘The Whale’) returns to TV with the HBO/A24 buzzy mini-series ‘The Sympathizer,’ an adaptation of Viet Thanh Nguyen’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name. Directed and co-created by the visionary filmmaker Park Chan-Wook (‘Oldboy’, ‘The Handmaiden’) and starring Hoa Xuande and Robert Downey Jr., the historical spy thriller and dark comedy series is set in the mid-1970s and begins during the final days of the Vietnam War, also known as the American War in Vietnam.

“I worked very closely with director Park through his storyboarding,” shared Glicker. “It was a really wonderful process where every detail was lovingly discussed and explored.”

The Emmy-nominated costume designer was deeply aware of providing enough quiet space to listen and let the actors experience the clothes. The series focuses on characters in incredibly complicated situations that confront generational trauma, so Glicker made sure fitting rooms were comfortable, warm, and safe.

“On this project, more than any others, we spent an enormous amount of time making sure that the fitting rooms themselves were actually incredibly beautiful and comfortable spaces because I wanted to make sure that the actors understood that we were in no rush, that this fitting could take as long as possible,” explains the costume designer.

Glicker spoke to Awards Focus about creating the wardrobe for the communist spy “The Captain,” finding inspiration in Brian De Palma’s and Martin Scorsese’s jackets and the photo he kept above his desk throughout production.

The Sympathizer

Awards Focus: The book is told from the perspective of The Captain (Hoa Xuande), I am curious if this carried over to how you approached these characters. Is there such a thing as POV in costuming?

Danny Glicker: Whenever I’m designing anything, the question always is, whose eyes are we seeing this through? In this case, it’s very much the perspective of The Captain, so much so that in the series, we have all sorts of conceits and flourishes, such as rewinding scenes. Not to the point that we kind of distort the visual information, but in that everything is seen through The Captain’s eyes, and therefore, it’s reflective of how he sees things. I think the most dramatic example, of course, would be Robert Downey Jr. portraying so many of the adversaries throughout the show.

They are very much a reflection of this kind of challenge that The Captain keeps meeting on his journey. No matter how they present themselves to him, I think The Captain always sees them as essentially a version of the same person. We also really reflected The Captain’s perspective through the use of color, a lot of that was very much a personal vision of director Park [Chan-wook] but also it was a creative idea to create an immersive world that looks right but also feels deeply specific to The Captain’s journey.

AF: Let’s talk about The Captain’s wardrobe, especially in terms of the color blue and these gridline patterns that keep showing up on his shirts as the story progresses.

Glicker: There’s a functional element to it, which is we see how The Captain lives, and he’s not living in a very fancy way, so we had to create a closet for him that is able to comfortably reflect that he’s living modestly. He has to instill trust in everybody that he meets, so he has to dress in a way that feels safe and comfortable for everybody, and so the blue, of course, was the sort of foundation for that. It would give access to all different environments without expressing any sort of alliances. It was also a deeply emotional color for director Park.

Then, the introduction of pattern, I mean, on the one hand, it’s an important tool just to express the passage of time, and on the other, I love that it also expresses the appearance of order. When you see these deeply structured patterns that he’s wearing or the grids, they suggest that this is a person who is able to project order and efficiency and accuracy and dependability, much like a grid. When, in fact, that’s not entirely true to how he’s living his life and the journey that he’s going on.

So, a lot of it is deeply performative, and it’s true as the piece goes on, we start seeing deviations in color, and director Park’s color theory is so beautifully imagined and something that I worked closely with him. I don’t want to reveal too much; I want the audience to experience it.

AF: One of the biggest themes in the show is identity, and obviously, clothes inform so much of that; how do you approach costuming in the case of characters who are refugees and don’t really have much to their name? How do you then still instill that type of identity?

Glicker: I was really informed by my research many of the characters who are refugees arrive from extraordinary backgrounds with exquisite and refined tastes, and they come to the United States, and they are given second-hand clothes, but there’s also a very quick evolution, and you really see it, especially with The General [Toan Le] and Madame [Nguyen Cao Ky Duyen]. She is the first to say, “We need to project success in order to accomplish success,” so you see Madame very quickly step up her game, which is very much based on the research.

I really love the evolution of Bon [Fred Nguyen Khan] because at first, we see him as this guy who’s really fun and tough who then experiences unimaginable tragedy and is in mourning. We see him in a lot of white, which is a color of mourning in the Vietnamese culture. Bon experiences this tragedy, and we see his whole identity go blank, almost like a walking ghost and then eventually, we see him feel recharged, starting with his adventures on the film set, going through the ritual of recreating death over and over again, which gives him some level of emotional resources.

AF: I would like to talk about the fitting rooms, especially as for a lot of the actors, this story is so personal; it actually happened to them or their parents or someone they know. Could you talk a little bit about those fitting room experiences?

Glicker: I value my time in the fitting room, and I really worked very hard to make sure that, above all else, they are a deeply safe environment. My job, especially on a show like this, is to make sure I can provide the research, I can provide the historical context, and I can provide an understanding of the clothes and the shapes of the clothes, but then it’s my responsibility to empower the actor to allow themselves to discover the characters. I can be there as a guide and help them, of course, with the right clothes, with the right shapes, with the footwear that’s going to change their posture and bring them closer to realizing this person they are portraying.

Ultimately, I think that the best costume is going to be the costume that’s going to allow these deeply talented actors to find something in their soul that they might not have been safe enough or secure enough to reach towards before. But once they get the clothes on, they feel a little bit more comforted that they can go that much deeper and find something in their knowledge that brings them closer to the character.

I understood that we were dealing with these characters that, of course, are coming to life from this beautiful novel, but we’re also dealing with characters that reflect an incredibly complicated situation that deals with generational trauma, that deals with people who have an incredibly complicated relationship with this very history that we’re now depicting, and so the fittings were really amazing and some of them took a really long time, some were surprisingly fast, but it was about constantly making sure that we were always listening as opposed to just overwhelming.

AF: Could you please talk a little bit about the inspiration behind Robert Downey Jr.’s costume for the character of Nicos Damianos? The auteur in the safari jacket.

Glicker: I reimagined the safari jacket by combining, believe it or not, Brian De Palma’s details with some of Martin Scorsese’s details. I was marrying a couple of details from their actual jackets in the research and instead of doing it in the traditional khaki, I reimagined it in this army green linen because the idea is there’s the ultimate paradox of the auteur ostensibly making an anti-war movie but of course deeply glamorizing war and fetishizing war. I think that Nicos was doing dress up in a deeply kind of entitled way.

AF: Is there a scene or a sequence you’re especially proud of or perhaps a favorite memory you have from this production?

Glicker: I actually kept a photo above my desk every day to remind me of what this show is about. It’s the family photo that’s taken at the longevity ceremony [in episode 3], and the photographer in that scene is our wonderful author, Viet Thanh Nguyen, who wrote the novel ’The Sympathizer’.

I loved looking at that family photo and, on the one hand, it’s a deeply morbid photo because it’s taken right before a lot of bad things were about to happen to several of those characters but on the other hand, I was also not just looking at the characters, but I am looking at all the wonderful actors and the background performers who really were like a family too. They were portraying the community, and we got to see them every day. I would look at that photo every day, and it made me smile.

I would say, “This is our family,” and every day at my desk in the trailer I had that photo at my eye line, and it reminded me that there are so many factors in play, there’s these beautiful characters but then there’s these beautiful actors who are playing the characters. It was sort of like a little talisman that I kept returning to that gave me a little juice when I felt like maybe my gas was a little low.