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Ben Wheatley, British Film Institute, High-Rise, J G Ballard, Odile Dicks-Mireaux, Sight & Sound

HIGH-RISE Interviews #7 – Odile Dicks-Mireaux (Costume Designer)

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On the eve of the UK release of Ben Wheatley’s eagerly anticipated filmed adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s novel, HIGH-RISE, I am exclusively posting the entire transcripts of a series of interviews that I conducted with the cast and crew of the film for the British Film Institute film magazine, Sight and Sound. The magazine’s editor, Nick James, has kindly given me permission to post these in full, extracts of which can be found in the April edition of the magazine. The content of all these interviews remains the copyright of Sight & Sound.

Thanks: Nick James at Sight & Sound, Ben Wheatley, Odile Dicks-Mireaux, Zoe Flower, Alaineé Kent at RPC, James Rocarols (co-interviewer), Justine McGlone (for transcribing everything!)

Interview #7 – Odile Dicks-Mireaux

Stats: Recorded 14th August 2014 – Audio recording 17:30 – Behind the scenes at Bangor Leisure Centre, Northern Ireland

S&S: Where did you start with the ideas that you had for the costumes? Was it looking at pictures from that period?

Odile Dicks-Mireaux: It’s a combination of things really. I read the script and absolutely loved it. You want the script to really absorb and get underneath your skin. When you read the script you know that the writer, Amy, has really thought through quite a few things. A particular dress, wasn’t in the book, you look and think where is that and then you go, ah!

We went and had a very good meeting with Amy and Ben, my assistant and I, and really went through quite a lot of the characters. Having already thought through some ideas and thoughts ourselves. My approach, really because Ben had said he didn’t want a parody of the seventies, of American Hustle in a way, so we went into Angels, a very big costume house and said lets choose things that seem appropriate for the characters but that we really like as pieces and that we would be prepared to wear and think are beautiful things. So you go and look for things that are seventies and think oh that’s really stunning.

For instance, that little cape that Sienna’s (Miller) wearing, I sort of found that little chiffon thing and I thought that’s really nice. It’s very beautiful and everything. That sort of went into a collection of things we started to build up. We found some jumpsuit which Keeley (Hawes) wears and we thought wow this is amazing. Because I lived through the period, in a way I remember it all and starts to kind of jog your memory and I remember making a dress kind of slightly sci-fi with a hood on it thinking oh yeah I had a pattern like that.

It was a combination of those things and then the brief too, because we had this whole upper floor, middle floor, lower floor thing going on so we had a bit of a palette there as well. The brief to Hannah was to pick out things you would like to wear rather than very blatantly seventies. And when you’ve got the nice things from a period, any period, that’s a pleasure to put outfits together. Then there’s some very specific things, fun things to do. Like Talbot’s costume at the end, Steele’s necklace and Steele’s example was very much a collaboration with Reece (Shearsmith). I said have you got any ideas and he said well I feel we have to use the little tunic there and as we were doing the fitting it was like oh yeah and if we put the socks up and put this in place and then put some black arm bands gosh yes it’s exactly what we want to say. It’s gone a bit sort of fascist. Which is what we kind of wanted to portray, the subtle things. In that sense it’s been really, really fun to do. James Purefoy was in South Africa and I emailed him and he said look and find some imagery from the doormen of the period. I thought that’s really good so I looked that up and found it. There was this guy in a navy blue suit looking really dapper with a hat. And then he told me that he’d met the guy in the ad. And that’s what made him think about it. It was really good fun. Cosgrove was based very much on SLEUTH (1972) and on Michael Caine. References that Amy and Ben had given me and so you looked at things. Simmons is based a bit on VILLIAN (1971) Richard Burton, so he went a bit more sixties. Cosgrove was a bit more seventies. We tried to balance it all. And then Sienna Guillory very much had an idea of her own and I put some things in the fitting room and together we created it and as the fitting went on we sort of went yeah this and it was very good. Keeley, the same, was straight away milk maid in the 18th century. That sort of became a bit more her theme and then we used the jumpsuit. So when she’s out of her fantasy costume, this was just like her kind of gym wear that she would wear. Because it was cream that kind of helped with the Royal character. Jeremy was in collaboration. He showed me this jacket he really liked and we used that as a basis of his jacket and we made it in different fabrics with some slight alterations. And then he didn’t want to wear the tuxedo in the script, so it has a sci-fiesque feeling but it’s not sci-fi-ish because I don’t think that would have looked as good. It would have been too seventies in a way. It was really great just the combination of the ideas from the actors and the director and writer. I would send pictures to Ben and Amy, and Amy kind of having written it when she saw things would kind of guide you. It’s a real treat to have someone like that.

S&S: As the film progresses, everyone’s costumes deteriorate as things get more disheveled?

OD: Yes, we’ve been very careful. We’ve used products that you can do that to without damaging a genuine period costume.

S&S: I guess people have their looks evolve as the film progresses?

OD: I think what’s quite clever, you see, she put the three guys, Simmons, Cosgrove, and Pangbourne in these tracksuits which look great. So they wear these mad seventies tracksuits and so they stay in these tracksuits to do all the terrible stuff. So that works really well. We have doubles of those so you can then make one really terrible and so that was quite good. Some of the others we had to be a bit more clever and try and get it to work. And then Luke, Wilder’s character has like four outfits but he’s in one of them with blood all over it for such a long time and he chose the denim shirt so he became blue. And Elisabeth was very much that sort of Laura Ashley prairie costume. She’s only got three costumes as well but we made an extra one as you say to make it go. You’re able to give them the opportunity to do exactly what you want them to do. Which has sometimes been a bit surprising.

S&S: Tom said his character had a special relationship with his tie.

OD: Yeah, in fact, Tom was one of the very first people I met and I had decided to base it on the George Lazenby look from 1969 because Ben had said he wanted this narrow tie and not the seventies tie. So I had to do that crossover from sixties to seventies so he has a much longer jacket. It seems to work. He’s got a smaller shirt and smaller tie but still quite a wide lapel and a very long jacket with slight flair. I kind of explained to him what I wanted and he went to the fitting and he had to wear it quite a bit before, just to get used to the whole feel of it. It’s the way he works.

S&S: There’s quite a few cast members that you’re catering for so what sort of time scale did you have prior to the shoot where you had to have everything ready for the shoot basically? How long did you have to prepare yourself?

OD: Six weeks. I wasn’t on the shoot for the first week. I came for a day and left and then I had to come back and leave again. And then I came back and left again. And I still hadn’t finished the cast. I’ve not done that often where you have to leave a location. If it had been based in London it wouldn’t have been an issue so you could have come in the morning.

S&S: Where had you been going back to?

OD: London, because there is no stock here that has seventies period stuff. There’s no costume stock here in Belfast. They’ve got a whole storage of GAME OF THRONES stuff which I’ve been to see. We have bought a couple of bits of vintage. It’s the same, you can go to anywhere in Europe. New York for instance has very little costume stock now.  It’s all gone to LA. It just varies which country you go to. It’s funny, Montreal’s got quite a good stock. Madrid’s got stock.

S&S: You’d sort of expect big fashion places to have lots of things.

OD: I think it’s because they do films though really and they had money and then invested in making things and then investing in buying period things. Or the film has bought stuff and they inherit it. A lot of costume houses will buy a whole film. They get the whole stock which is a really good way of doing it.

S&S: So it must have been quite good in a way to leave and then have a new perspective, totally out of the world and then.

OD: Well, no no no.

S&S: You would prefer to be here?

OD: Yeah, well especially as a lot of it is still in your head and you’ve done a very rushed fitting and so you haven’t quite worked out lots of things. But I have an assistant who I work with who understands my way of thinking and you’d like it to be perfect and all the detail, the little bits of jewellery just the tiny little details in there are so nice. I’ve been quite simple in it. You’ve seen the ladies today, they look great don’t they. Yesterday someone did a costume with a blue shirt and a grey pair of trousers and vest and had to kind of make it look like it was tortured so yesterday she dyed it and darkened it down. And then we were doing Steele’s necklace. This is such a designer’s dream. The variety of things I’ve been asked to do is so nice. We did an 18th century party my second week, which is what I went back to. And that was so nice to do. Even though it’s tough, you just think you don’t actually get many films like this one. This level of variety and the seventies, I really love that period.

S&S: How did you get involved in the project yourself? Did you get a call or something? Or was there?

OD: I worked with Mark Tildesley, the production designer on previous jobs. And Jeremy had asked me to do a project a long time ago so I think he might have known of me. And then my name came up. I actually did get a phone call, very rare. Usually it’s like prep and three days of sweating away putting references down. And you go for the little audition/interview. And you go there thinking I wonder how I did  and so if you really want the project it’s quite hard. The tough side of the job is actually getting the work that you like. So when you get offered this, I just couldn’t resist taking it. Because I was actually in Montreal working on another film.

S&S: I suppose in the British industry it’s nice to do a period piece where the period isn’t 19th century or something like that.

OD: Yeah, I think all periods are nice. And it’s nice to do something that you don’t do very often. The last time I did seventies was THE BANK JOB (2008) with Jason Statham. That was really fun. Have you read the book?

S&S: Yes. Absolutely.

CD: Did you like it?

S&S: Yeah very much so. As disturbing as it is.

CD: I found it quite tough to read.  I think I’m going to go and read Empire of the Sun next.

S&S: That’s a bit lighter. Hahaha. Well, no it isn’t actually.

CD: I’m going to read it again actually. I didn’t want to confuse myself too much by reading the book because they’re quite different. She’s done it differently. There’s certain characters that aren’t there or she’s amalgamated characters so I thought it was better to actually follow the vision of Ben’s film and very much respect that when you bring someone along like Ben Wheatley who has a very particular voice, that you respect that voice. My thing was never to say “You’ve got to do that” because I think there’s something special about his films and I respect that. It’s not like a clear cut period of film. It will be his film. I think people will look at it hopefully and say that. I don’t know. It will be interesting to see.

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