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Interview: ‘Wednesday’ Costume Designer Colleen Atwood On Creating A New World and Perception of The Addams

Wednesday. (L to R) Catherine Zeta-Jones as Morticia Adams, Jenna Ortega as Wednesday Addams, Luis Guzma?n as Gomez Addams, Issac Ordonez as Pugsley Addams in Wednesday. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022

When you stepping into the world of Wednesday Addams, Tim Burton decided to work with his longtime collaborator for the costume design. With good reason, Colleen Atwood has worked with Burton over a dozen times, starting with her incredibly memorable work on Edward Scissorhands.

Since then they have worked on films that crossed the Tim Burton-verse; Mars Attacks!, Sleep Hollow, Big Eyes, and Alice In Wonderland – a film for which she won one of her four Academy Awards. When taking on the Wednesday, Burton’s first live-action television series, teaming up with Atwood was a natural first step.

Awards Radar spoke with Atwood about her work on the ultra-popular series discussing working with Burton, her process, goals, challenges with individual characters’ costumes and much more.

Steven Prusakowski
First of all, hello and congrats on the stunning work that you did on this series. It’s thank you. So my first question is, Where did costume design begin for you? Was it inspired by a family member or something you watched growing up?

Colleen Atwood
Well, it sort of was a circuitous route. For me, I studied art in school, I wanted to be a painte and then I had a child really young, when I was 17. I had to make a living and ended up working, selling designer clothes in the 70s. So I always embrace fashion and art and stuff. I did that for a decade. Then, when my daughter was older, I moved to New York and started my career in costume design. I got a job by, by happenstance, in New York as an assistant on a film and then just kept doing that. So, I sort of learned on the street.

Steven Prusakowski
I’m forever curious where it all begins because there are so many origin stories. Some people work their butts off, and then one day, get that break. That one break led to this amazing filmography and project after project of visually stunning work. You have worked a lot with Tim Burton, with beautiful results. What was it like collaborating with him again? And why do you keep coming back to do so?

Colleen Atwood
Well, who wouldn’t want to work with him? He is so much fun to work with as an artist. Tim’s one of a kind. He’s an originator. He and I have a great shorthand. It’s just great in the room when we kind of collaborate and get excited about what we’re doing together.

Steven Prusakowski
And how does that process begin?

Colleen Atwood
We sort of talk about it for a minute and then I go out and get materials and images and sort of bring things to Tim – my ideas, my thoughts, textiles, things like that, just to see his reaction to different things in different colors. Then I just sort of go off and do it have a fitting. In Wednesday we have a fitted he and I together with Jenna (Ortega) and a hair and makeup person and we sort of designed kind of her overall look for the series. Then I fly with it from there. There’s a lot of trust between Tim and I. He lets me just kind of have a thing. If he doesn’t like something, then I don’t go into a tailspin, I just keep moving.

Wednesday. Jenna Ortega as Wednesday Addams in episode 108 of Wednesday. Cr. Vlad Cioplea/Netflix © 2022

Steven Prusakowski
That’s a great partnership to truly be to have that faith in each other. At this point you must know what his tastes are, and at the same time he knows all that you bring to the project too. So he can kind of focus on his work, and you focus on yours.

Colleen Atwood
That’s kind of a great thing. I’ve collaborated with other directors a lot. It’s always, when you collaborate with somebody, you always challenge yourself in a different way to do something you haven’t done before. That’s always an additional layer of artistry in design with it for costume designers.

Steven Prusakowski
It’s gotta be great to just tap in and just let your your imagination go wild. When you’re first approached for the series like Wednesday? What was your initial reaction? And what did you start seeing what were the creative sparks started flying?

Colleen Atwood
Well, I guess the first thing I saw was, was the world that Wednesday was in that was a different world than what we’d seen before. She was in a world, the school and then the world outside the school where she was in civilian clothes. So it gave me a chance to develop the character that was Wednesday Addams, – it’s kind of a mysteriously iconic character. But at the same time, it’s somebody that was contemporary, and was today that you could believe she was a real pe rson. That was the fun part of it for me.

Steven Prusakowski
From beginning to end, how long before you actually touch any fabric ? Are you sketching or designing them all on paper before you start actually create a more tangible version? What’s the process like?

Wednesday. (L to R) Moosa Mostafa as Eugene Otinger, Jenna Ortega as Wednesday Addams, Naomi j Ogawa as Yoko Tanaka, Joy Sunday as Bianca Barclay in episode 103 of Wednesday. Cr. © 2022

Colleen Atwood
The process is a combination actually, in today’s world, the prep times are so truncated. I’m out watching out for fabric for the costumes for the characters early on. So it sort of happens all at one time. I don’t like sit there and sketch for two weeks and then ‘Tada, go get the stuff.’ We knew Wednesday was going to have us a stripe suit at the school, which was our starting point, really, For her I started with this sketch of how I wanted the stripes to be but I couldn’t find it. So we printed the fabric ourselves to get the right kind of variation of stripes and proportion. So, when the skirt moved with the pleats, it had different nuances than anything I could find off the rack.

The color we want for the rest of the school wasn’t out there. So we approached a mill in London, and they helped us in both the fabric forests for the school uniforms and the color that we wanted. That kind of stuff is a long lead. You start with this stuff, because it’s gonna take more time. And also that you have to manufacture like a uniform times 100 or 200. Then you back into the little details of things and, you know, you’re looking at vintage stuff, you’re looking on the high street, you get a character like Gwendolyn Christie and you start in on her look. I’m looking for fabrics that are sort of inspired by the 60s, each thing is a different branch of the tree that creates the world that you’re that you’re depicting.

Wednesday. Gwendoline Christie as Larissa Weems in episode 101 of Wednesday. Cr. Vlad Cioplea/Netflix © 2022

Steven Prusakowski
The amount of the amount of work and thought put into it is really incredible, down to having someone create the fabrics for you.

Colleen Atwood
For this, it’s very specific. The was the main looks are all made. Christina Ricci’s look sort of being the exception, because we made some of hers, but it just, she was sort of had this botanical theme. I just found some really great vintage stuff with those themes, and got lucky with that I was able to find them in rental houses and thrift stores and stuff. So she was a little bit different in in that how the character came together, but the, the rest of them were all bespoke.

Steven Prusakowski
You’re dealing with an established property and you get to work with some of the classic styles. But as you’re saying, with Wednesday, you’re doing your own take. So how do you find that balance? I guess I want to talk about both – working with your Gomez, Morticia and Uncle Fester, and then connecting that to this world at Nevermore.

Colleen Atwood
First of all, it all goes back to Charles Addams’ cartoon – or his depiction of these characters, which is kind of the starting point. This sort of hourglass silhouette of Morticia (Catherine Zeta Jones), the sort of stripes of Gomez (Luis Guzmán,) Pugsley’s (Issac Ordonez) little striped sweater, Wednesday’s dressed with a little pointy collar – all are fairly familiar ground for Addams Family expectations. I, sort of, gave all that a nod, but then reinvented it in different ways with contemporary materials and different styles of hats of clothing.

For instance, Pugsley sweater was hand knit, but it was I didn’t want the usual bumblebee kind of stripe. I wanted the stripes to look like somebody drawn them, like they were kind of crooked sort of lines and stuff. So I had a to knit them so they were all like uneven stripes instead of just totally symmetrical stripes, which gave him a little bit of a new kind of take on the classical Pugs.

Wednesday. (L to R) Issac Ordonez as Pugsley Addams, George Burcea as Lurch in episode 105 of Wednesday. Cr. Vlad Cioplea/Netflix © 2022

Wednesday, luckily, the script took us out of the expectation quickly because we gave a nod to the dress in the public school, you know, against the backdrop of American pastels and her sort of dark thing. But the minute that she went to the school (Nevermore), she was in a different world and her clothing could become something other than what everybody thinks Wednesday Addams is.

For Morticia’s dress was was I’ve tried it two or three different fabrics before I landed on what I did it in – which was a crepe jersey. But that dress I had a breakthrough because I added the little shape things at the waist that are sort of metallic and, and black together just to sort of give it some life on camera. That way it wasn’t just a totally black dress. I think that was the simplicity of that, the sort of modern neckline of it made it feel like a new take on the Morticia dress. With Gomez I played with his shape a lot because he’s very round. I wanted the stripes to go straight up and down. So we had to miter in all kinds of pieces to keep the stripes really vertical and not have them full sideways on his costume.

Wednesday. (L to R) Catherine Zeta-Jones as Morticia Addams, Luis Guzmán as Gomez Addams in Wednesday. Cr. Matthias Clamer/Netflix © 2022

I guess on a certain level I was looking for kind of the art in the fabric; which I always like to do with Tim is sort of make it an element of drawing actually in the materials that I create the costumes with. Fester was the same silhouette, basically. I had this idea that it would be great if his reveal was the half which he kind of appears from under because you don’t really know it’s him, in his intro. So I think if, by taking all those things and adding to a great thing that already existed, you create a new world and a new perception of The Addams Family.

Steven Prusakowski
It’s amazing. The amount of the artistry, thought, care and storytelling that you’re delivering through the costumes for these characters, is something that’s under appreciated. One last question. Again with Wednesday and her roommate, Enid (Emma Meyers). There’s this amazing contrast between them, this kind of like a yin and yang. It’s my favorite part of this series. Anytime they’re together it’s like almost like an opposite mirror, but yet, they’re still connected. Can you tell me a little bit about how you approach that juxtaposition?

Wednesday. (L to R) Emma Myers as Enid Sinclair, Jenna Ortega as Wednesday Addams in episode 101 of Wednesday. Cr. Vlad Cioplea/Netflix © 2022

Colleen Atwood
It’s interesting, the first fitting that I had in the first sort of concepting thing we did them in tandem. So they were both there. What happened with me is, I kind of wanted it to balance Wednesday, and I used graphics to do it. Rather than having her just be like this frilly cupcake kind of character, which you could have done, I took and I factored in her wolf quality with using like kind of mohair and things like that. I really wanted to go for strong graphics and sort of medium range pastels as opposed to really pale colors. I think her graphics in her world and Wednesday’s graphics in her black and white are what create that balance between the two of them and their two worlds. The girls together – I really think they’re great.

Steven Prusakowski
I think that they’re the heart of the show. Every time they’re on screen, I’m just interested to see how well they play off each other.

Colleen Atwood
Yeah, it was a great, great casting the two of them.

Steven Prusakowski
Thank you so much for your time and congratulations on the series.

(Interview edited for clarity.)

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Written by Steven Prusakowski

Steven Prusakowski has been a cinephile as far back as he can remember, literally. At the age of ten, while other kids his age were sleeping, he was up into the late hours of the night watching the Oscars. Since then, his passion for film, television, and awards has only grown. For over a decade he has reviewed and written about entertainment through publications including Awards Circuit and Screen Radar. He has conducted interviews with some of the best in the business - learning more about them, their projects and their crafts. He is a graduate of the RIT film program. You can find him on Twitter and Letterboxd as @FilmSnork – we don’t know why the name, but he seems to be sticking to it.
Email: filmsnork@gmail.com

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