“We Had to Be Careful Not to Infringe on Other Clowns.” Two Time Oscar Winning Costumer Designer Mark Bridges Shares the Challenges in Creating DC’s Billon Dollar ‘Joker,’ Both Creative and Legal.
Two-time Academy Award winner and four-time nominee, Mark Bridges, is considered a master of his craft, receiving accolades for his work in period films. It should come as no surprise that he received his fourth nomination for the gritty 1970s aesthetic that director Todd Phillips wanted for Warner Bros. Joker.
Joker, up for eleven Academy Awards, follows destitute and mentally ill clown performer Arthur Fleck as he takes care of his ailing mother and dreams of a career in standup comedy. Fleck survives the cruelties of 1970s Gotham and ultimately becomes the symbol of an anarchist movement that leads to the creation of the Batman mythology.
Bridges spoke with Awards Focus to discuss the intricacies in crafting Joker’s look, collaborating with makeup artist Nicki Ledermann and director Todd Phillips, and dressing large mobs of people for the film’s anarchist climax.
Awards Focus: With Arthur Fleck, he’s a man that’s living at home with his mother and they are quite destitute. Given those parameters, how did build his wardrobe?
Bridges: In my mind, Arthur’s probably had these clothes for quite a while. They all look like they’ve been badly laundered over the years and they’re hard wearing fabrics like polyester pants. It would be like Arthur just stuffed all the laundry in the same wash, and all the whites all become dingy. There’s also the idea that he’s outgrown his clothes somewhat, none of it is really well fitting.
AF: Was all that apparent in the script, or did it come from discussions with director Todd Phillips?
Bridges: I remember Todd saying he doesn’t have a lot of clothes, and actually he keeps all his clothes is sort of a pile in the corner of the living room. There’s a funny scene where he asked Sophie to go to see his stand-up show and the camera pulls back inside the apartment, and he’s wearing his mother’s pajama bottoms. He’s like a kid living at home with his mom. And you know, he’s clearly a man of forty.
AF: Joaquin Phoenix lost fifty pounds to achieve his emaciated appearance. How did you accentuate that with the wardrobe, and how many adjustments were made during the process?
Bridges: I met him for the first time in July 2018 and he still had about 30 pounds to go, so it was more of a conversation at that point. I waited until we got to New York for him to do a fitting, and any time I would see him he would be a little smaller.
At a certain point we stopped taking in the pants and clothing, which is why everything hangs off him, Joaquin wanted to show the emaciated physique of Arthur.
AF: And I’m sure there were stunt people that did his stunts, especially towards the end of the film. Was it difficult to find a stunt person with that sort of look?
Bridges: Joaquin had an amazing stuntman. Everything I designed for Arthur Fleck, including the Joker suit, had to make it twice. The stuntman would be running a lot of the time, getting beat up, and things like that. He handled all the really violent physical stuff.
Joaquin does a lot of his own stunts, but for practical reasons we had to have a guy, and he was the right height, right physical shape.
AF: Was there any experimenting with the clown makeup? Or was that settled fairly early once the costume was supplied?
Bridges: As far as the makeup, we’re all working shoulder to shoulder on that. You know, I think there were some parameters that Nicki [Ledermann] had to follow, because a lot of clown looks are copyrighted.
Bridges: Yes, absolutely. Each clown registers their look, so you had to be careful not to step on any toes of other clowns. So it’s very, very, detailed process of trying to make something unique, simple, something that Arthur would be able to do but didn’t look like any other real clowns. So I think Nikki was genius about it and getting it cleared and making it part of the iconic look of the whole.
AF: So did they have to do illustrations of the makeup and costumes to get clearance on the designs?
Bridges: Yeah, absolutely. Sending renderings in to the legal department to make sure that we weren’t being derivative, or stepping on any toes that would create problems in the future. There’s always some clearance issues that studios want to make sure they won’t have problems with down the road. We submitted dutifully to the clearance department as we went along, and it was quite early in the stages that we set on something that everyone could agree on, and thought was our own.
AF: Talk about dealing with wardrobe for like the mob scene, that has to be a nightmare when you have that many people on set. How do you go about staging that from your perspective?
Bridges: We were working weeks in advance on that and just never really had enough clothes, we kept buying clothes the entire time. The clothes were fine as long as they were in a parameter of color range as we did prefits. Casting would send us, for example, a gentleman 65 year old, and we would dress him like a businessman. They would send up some long haired guy and he would be a rock guitarist.
We would dress the actors based on their features, which allowed for a great variety within those crowds and the type of people who would be protesting.
AF: The last question I wanted to ask is, what was your favorite moment in the film and did you keep anything from the set?
Bridges: I have a I have a couple of them, obviously the most iconic one is him on the stairs. The way Todd presented the music, the choreography, everything about that moment is just very satisfying for me.
And as far as souvenirs, I have a pocket square that was made from Arthur Fleck’s Joker suit. I wore that square in my suit jacket pocket at the premiere of the film.