Mark Bridges is an Oscar-winning Costume Designer whose crafted fashions from all eras for films such as “8 Mile,” “The Italian Job,” “There Will Be Blood,” “The Fighter,” “The Artist,” “Jason Bourne” and “Phantom Thread,” which landed him his second Academy Award. Despite that impressive resume, he’s never been responsible for outfitting a character as iconic as Batman’s longtime nemesis, the Joker. A figure that has been depicted in multiple films, TV shows and print publications for almost 80 years. That all changed with Todd Phillips‘ blockbuster “Joker” which may find Bridges earning a return engagement to the Academy’s Dolby Theater.
The longtime Paul Thomas Anderson, David O. Russell and Paul Greengrass collaborator jumped on the phone earlier this month to talk about coming up with his unique take on the killer clown, working with Joaquin Phoenix to bring Arthur Fleck to life and his contributions to another awards contender, Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story.”
The Playlist: You’ve done costumes for Oscar-winning best pictures, for big action movies, for beloved art house, Paul Thomas Anderson films. But have you ever done a movie where you saw so much of your work recreated on Halloween?
Mark Bridges: No, I haven’t. And you know, I can only characterize it as imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, really. I mean, I am really proud to have been part of this show and am constantly amazed that, somehow, my work has captured this many people’s imagination.
I was at the West Hollywood Carnival last month on Halloween and I cannot tell you how many Jokers I saw in your style as I walked down the street. It was sort of amazing.
I’m so glad to hear that because I’m shooting in Santa Fe, and if I’d have been here, I’d have gone to just be a fly on the wall and see how many Jokers there were. So, thank you for telling me. That makes me very proud and very proud to have been involved with the project, of course.
As for the movie itself, I don’t believe you’d worked with Todd before. How did you get involved?
Todd wrote me an email out of the blue on my personal email, just saying he was a fan of my work, and wanted to know if I would collaborate with him on this show. And I’d worked with Joaquin two other times, so of course, and I knew Todd’s reputation, and I said, “I’d love to read your script. Let’s meet up, let’s talk about it.” And he was very passionate about the project and so, he didn’t take much to convince me that this would be a really worthwhile, fun, interesting, different projects for me.
Do you remember having any particular thought about where you would want to take the Joker at all? Or are you the sort of person who’s like, “Listen, until I sit down with someone, I’m not even going to fantasize about where I would go”?
It was more the latter. It was like, “Let’s see what Joaquin wants to do. Let’s see what the look of the picture is going to be. Of course, I grew up with Cesar Romero as the Joker on Batman TV. And then, I looked at what is the original Joker from the cartoon, what was his outfit? And just really thought, “What should we do?” But actually, the answer kind of came out of what Todd’s story was about, and who Arthur Fleck was, and the world that he lives in. And how could we create the Joker outfit out of that real world? What would he have access to? That’s why I used part of his clown outfits for the waistcoat for the Joker. You want to see where it came from. And so I would not have had that answer that early in the game.
The coat is in many ways the biggest difference from what people “traditionally” think of the Joker. Usually, he has a purple jacket. This sort of orange brownish, depending on how the light hits it. What prompted that decision?
If you read any earlier versions of the script, in Arthur’s closet is this terracotta suit that he’d had for many years. So, thought terracotta’s a little too typical of the 70s, but another color that maybe has more energy was a maroon suit. So, he has a three-piece maroon suit. He wears two of the pieces when he does his comedy standup act. And then there had been a middle suit. I was increasing the color as we went on, as his emotions changed. And so we landed on the hottest suit. Sadly, the middle color suit ended up on the cutting room floor, we still have it that it’s kind of based on something that he had in his closet. And then the yellow waistcoat comes from his clown outfit, when he’s Happy the Clown, working on the street. I just thought that the shoes were cool and I thought that the shirt was cool. So, I put it all together, and there you have an iconic thing and it was very accidental, organic, coming from the story or what might have been in Arthur’s closet.
One of the aspects I really appreciate about the film and your work in it is that for a film that’s supposed to be set in the late ’70s or an alternate ’70s, but the clothes are not what we think of as stereotypical for the time. Were there certain items that prompted a, “Oh, we can’t have this. This is too on the nose” reaction? Do you sort of think that way when doing a period movie?
I do. And actually, Todd wanted to set it at one of these transition times, like ’80, ’81, and so I love transition periods. When I did “The Master” that was 1950. When I did “Inherent Vice” 1970. So, if this was 1980, I love it because you can have a little bit of seventies and a little bit of ’80s, and so I just kept it down to iconic things that would have been at that moment. Like a lot of ads and women just the trench coat and boots look for women, and the men, there was a lot of leather for men. There’s also a color palette from that period that I tried to stick with. You know the sort of maroons, tan, some blues. If you look at that period, there’s kind of a real narrow palette that speaks to the ’70s, but also sort of harken the ’80s. And so we tried to do that, and I was really happy with it because none of it feels too groovy or too ’80s.
Besides the iconic work you’ve done in this new look for the Joker is there any particular look or scene in an outfit that you are sort of most proud of or you were really happy with?
Yeah, I think there’s this moment. When I saw the film, I’d kind of forgotten about it, but there’s this moment when Arthur had been talking to Zazie [Beetz] in the doorway and we pull back and he’s wearing his mother’s pajama bottoms. And I thought, “This is what I was trying to do. It’s like he’s so odd and strange and would anybody notice that those are his mother’s pajama bottoms? Or would anybody notice that his mother and he wear the same socks?” I was really happy with that because it sort of spoke to how close they were, the kind of life they live and how freaky this situation really is. And, of course, I love the way that the suit works, that Todd used the suit on the stairs, which is him dancing and you get to see the two-tone shoes that we created. You just get the full effect in such a magical, iconic moment. I was really proud of that, the way Todd used the suit at that moment.
The other suit that really sort of pops, because you could’ve gone in so many different directions with it, is the first clown suit he wears at the beginning of the movie, when he’s out on the street, making money as a clown. What was the inspiration for that?
You know, it’s always okay. What would Arthur have access to? We got some vintage 70s fabric. We had to make several of them for practical filmmaking purposes. So, we got the fabric. The shape is reminiscent of the Charlie Chaplin, sort of “The Tramp” look, with the bigger feet and the larger pants and the smaller torso because some of the choreography that Joaquin was working on was reminiscent of Chaplin. But then, bottom line, maybe [he] gave another clown who was getting out of the business $15 for those pants and the shoes. And then, the top we’d got at a thrift store and the necktie was something from his closet. You know, just tried to make it where would he get this stuff, but still what looks interesting and still what would work with the characterization that Joaquin was creating.
I know that some actors are very particular, especially when they’re in a role like this, about what their costume or wardrobe is going to be. I don’t know if Joaquin is that sort of actor, but what was important to him?
Well, the only thing I really remember getting a comment from him was about he really wanted to show how thin Arthur was. You know, Joaquin was doing all this work, becoming that character physically. And so, we didn’t want to hide it under any oversized clothes or anything which is completely understandable since that’s part of the outer shell of what he’s creating on the inside. I think someone who’s sort of malnourished like that or worried himself sick or has problems and is a chain smoker and stuff, of course, they would be that thin. So, it was important to him not to hide his physique. But other than that, we just worked in our usual way. You have to remember, this is our third collaboration where we’re like, “Who’s the guy? What are we trying to say? What are we trying to communicate to our audience on the outside of what’s going on in the inside?” So, it’s always really interesting to him. But I think his only request to me was that we really saw the physique and used that to explain Arthur’s state of mind.
You also did the costumes on “Marriage Story.” As a. Los Angelino, I wanted to know what was the inspiration for Laura Dern’s look in particular? Because I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a lawyer dress like that.
Well, let me just say, through our research, there are in fact lawyers in L.A. Who dress like that. [Laughs.]
Is it personal research from anyone in particular?
I would not say.
But it is, in fact, a couple of real people who are, in fact, on Google in outfits like that. So, it is based on reality.
“Joker” is now playing nationwide. “Marriage Story” is currently in limited release.