Costume Designer Mary Zophres on How the Right Clothes Can Get Actors Into Character

The Academy Award-nominated designer also talks recreating the flight suits in 'First Man' and where she found inspiration for 'The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.'

“I think my magic hour is in the morning,” costume designer Mary Zophres told The Hollywood Reporter. “I think that’s the best time for me. Early in the morning, without distractions, without everybody asking questions, and it’s when I get my best ideas.”

The Academy Award nominee has designed wardrobe for such films as First Man, La La Land, True Grit, Catch Me If You Can and The Big Lebowski, but she has had a knack for design since she was 7 years old. “My mother was the first one to point out, ‘You’ve been designing for people since you were a little kid,’” said Zophres.

After finding her passion for costume design while working as a PA and sorting through piles of clothes from the 1960s and ‘70s on the set of Born on the Fourth of July, she has gone on to work with some of the most recognizable names in the industry, including Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, Frances McDormand, George Clooney, Jeff Bridges and Tom Hanks.

When working on a new project, research is the first step in Zophres’ process, turning to paintings and photographs, as she did for The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and First Man, to accurately recreate styles, which she says can help actors get into their character.

Speaking about a particular moment with John Turturro on the set of O Brother, Where Art Thou?, she explained what happened after the actor put on his costume: “He started walking up and down his trailer, and the walk that he has for his character [Pete Hogwallop] in O Brother happened right in front of my eyes. I always like to think it gave him the idea of Pete. It gave him his walk, it gave him his talk, it gave him his look, so you get goosebumps,” Zophres said. “That’s the best part of my job — that part right there.”

Magic Hour, "Mary Zophres"
Directed by: Jennifer Laski
Featuring: Mary Zophres
Executive Producers: Jennifer Laski, Matthew Belloni
Producer: Stephanie Fischette
Co-Producer: Victoria McKillop
Director of Photography: Vince Patrick
Camera Operator: Erin Hughes
Editor: Pablo Teyssier-Verger
Assistant Editor: Xiaodan Yang