Awards Radar spoke with Tere Duncan, the costume designer of Zach Braff’s latest film, A Good Person which can be seen in theaters March 24, 2023 (reviewed quite fondly here by Joey, who also spoke to Braff here). Duncan discusses the vision she had for the film in collaboration with Braff, Florence Pugh, Morgan Freeman, and other departments including hair and makeup and production design.
Before the conversation about A Good Person, Duncan detailed her interest in costume design as she described her fashion school experience paired with wanting to see her work in a story. Her first opportunity was with Wes Anderson’s Bottle Rocket where she worked in the wardrobe department and still sees the lineage of his interests in costumes today despite the changes in style and scope that his films have undergone.
Regarding A Good Person, Duncan speaks to the effort of reflecting Allison’s (Florence Pugh) mental and emotional state during her journey in the film through her costumes and the obstacles to costume design for contemporary-set films.
Hi Tere! I’m Danny Jarabek with Awards Radar. Thank you for taking time today to speak about your work on A Good Person.
Tere: Of course, thank you for speaking with me.
So I just want to start with A Good Person and talk about your interest in the film and how you started to develop a vision for the costumes that would be a part of the production?
Tere: I talked with Zach about all the different characters, and he had some ideas. For example, he wanted Morgan to be a retired policeman, a retired detective, so we kept him pretty buttoned up. He definitely didn’t want him to be sloppy, so that it’s almost like he’s still in a uniform. He’s wearing sport coats, and I could have just put a tie on him and he would look like he did when he was a detective. It’s almost like his armor and how he keeps it together, keeping it on the straight and narrow. Then with Florence, it was quite fun because Zach really didn’t want her to be super down in color or just in gray sweats and gray flannel. He didn’t like that idea for a movie, which often happens in an addiction movie or a recovery movie. He suggested that they always almost look like they went shopping for their drugged outfit. Instead, we wanted to keep it to things that she would have worn before in a more haphazard way and sloppier, but there’s still color and there’s a lot of pattern and mixed patterns. I kept things haphazard and disjointed to reflect her confusion and being out of it. She does still have a home, so she’s not completely down.
Yeah, absolutely. And something that, I think, shines through, especially in the costumes and with Florence’s character, Allison, is I felt like a lot of her costumes and how what she’s wearing changes throughout the movie and reflects a lot of where she is in her journey with addiction and her mental and emotional state that comes with that. And so how did you start to just build out how the costumes were going to maybe reflect where she’s at in her journey and how she is changing? There’s even one that really stood out to me with when she goes and meets with her friend for breakfast, and she’s wearing this more professional look, even though that’s counterpoint to where she’s at mentally. How did you just shape that reflection with her?
Tere: Well, she’s using a suit that she had worn to work before because she works in pharmaceutical sales. And so, in the beginning, I kept her in cleaner lines and kept her very put together and professional. When she wears that, she’s putting that on so that she can try to look like she’s still keeping it together. She’s friends with this woman she’s meeting, but also business associates, so that’s why she’s trying to act like she’s still a part of the working world, still part of the world, and she’s not. In some cases, she got dressed thinking that she was going to work out that day, but never did. Sometimes she doesn’t get dressed at all, so there’s a lot of PJ pants with her favorite sweatshirt or her favorite sweater and it’s all very much thrown altogether. We didn’t want anything to look like an outfit during that section of it. When she’s in recovery and during the very last few scenes, I calmed down the color, and went to more neutrals where she’s in a calmer place and acting more like a blank slate because you don’t know what her next thing is going to be. But that mayhem is over, hopefully, for her.
Cool. Yeah, that’s amazing. I love just seeing how she evolves and how her costumes evolve with this very difficult journey that she’s on and this very difficult place that she’s in. Another moment that really stood out to me is when she goes to the concert with Ryan and she’s wearing I think it’s a Nick Cave cut off T-shirt.
Tere: I actually found that at a thrift store.
Tere: Yeah, and I wasn’t sure they would be into it, so, I asked both Zach and Florence. Because she does have this interest in music. She plays a piano, and she writes songs. She’s actually a much more artistic person, a much more creative person than her previous job. That was just a job to her. She was a success, but I felt that she was really more of an artist. I suggested, what do you think about Nick Cave? They liked it. So luckily, our clearance people, I suppose Nick Cave’s people said okay and we got to use it. But essentially that was a $10 thrift store find. This was an indie and we didn’t really have the luxury of having multiples. A few things we did that we needed multiples on, but I couldn’t do that for everything.
Yeah. The reason I ask about the Nick Cave shirt in particular is when you’re reading a script, do you think about some of these other characteristics or aspects about a character that kind of makes them who they are and how that might be reflected in what they wear? Florence Pugh being musical in this, she even sings original songs on this. So that’s clearly something that’s integral to understanding her. Is that something that you pick up on when you’re reading the script and where that might go with how the costumes develop for that character as well.
Tere: Of course. You want to make them a well-rounded person. I think putting in details like that that aren’t directly commented on, Nick Cave saying it right there is a little more obvious, but doing details like that serve to make the person. The character looks like a full person, not just one-dimensional clothes off a rack. You show who you are by what you’re wearing, and so you want to try to do that with film characters as well.
I love that. I also wanted to ask, is there any degree of collaboration when you’re building the vision for these characters with, say, other departments, something like hair and makeup, which is also something that’s very integral to understanding and reflecting Allison’s journey throughout the movie as well.
Tere: Yeah, of course you do. I talk to the production designer to make sure I’m matching color schemes, and they’ve usually started before me, so they oftentimes have some ideas. Even the look of her bedroom or the look of all the locations, you want to make sure you’re making the same movie. So, Daniel (Morgan Freeman) looks like he lives there. This looks like it’s, Diane, Molly, Shannon’s character. This looks like her house, so I need to dress her that way. You collaborate with the actors and with hair and makeup. For this, it’s funny because she cut her hair on camera. That was real. And we hadn’t shot the wreck yet where they’re in the car. I was nervous because Zach was saying we’re going to need a hat. I said, oh, no, because if hair is short and you’re covering up every piece of hair, they look ill. You need to have some hair peeking out or something and this was such a drastic cut. She cut off feet of her hair. Robert Lugo, the hair department head, said don’t worry about it, I’ve got this wig. It wasn’t a full wig, but it was a really great match and all we needed to do was put the hat on and that immediately made the look. Thank God for that wig! So, to answer your question, yes, I’m talking to other departments all the time and usually I send them mood boards after I’ve spoken with the actor and the director that show the look. If it’s a specific thing, such as her engagement party dress, I’ll share that so they can coordinate and know more to make it easier for them when they’re doing their part.
That’s super interesting. I mean, that moment, too, sent a shiver down my spine just watching it, of Allison cutting the hair. And in my head, I’m thinking, like, oh, my God. Florence Pugh’s other scheduled roles. Where is her hair?
Tere: It was funny. She wanted to do it and was excited about it. It was Zach who was the one that was more nervous because we can’t go back if they don’t get that shot. That was one take.
Yeah, I was wondering, too. I was like, she must have cut a wig or something. That’s crazy.
Tere: It was her and it was funny. A friend of mine had said mentioned Florence working in a movie and she said, ‘Oh, she just cut her hair recently’ because she had seen some picture of her out and about. I just said ‘Yeah, she did.’ But, I’d actually seen her do it. But either way, she looks great, so even though it’s the worst hair, it’s a do-it-yourself haircut, she still sells it, of course.
To the dismay of her mom in that moment.
One question that I’m super interested to hear your insight on is what you think of some of the motive or interest behind how you design or how you go about costumes in a contemporary set film. Because a lot of people, like general audience might think about when they think costume design. You might go straight to period pieces or something where the appearances of the actors and characters are much more extreme versus something that they’re familiar with, something that you might dress day to day in yourself. And so what are any obstacles or just how you shape costume design in a contemporary sense versus those more extreme types of examples of costume design?
Tere: Yes, people can tend to think that. They also usually ask if I sew. I hesitate to answer, because in that movie they refer to that’s all contemporary. But one thing that makes it maybe a little bit more difficult is you get a lot more opinions. If it’s a period thing, it can be very much, well, this is what they wore and people don’t know, so they trust you and you’ve done your job. Yes, I know they’re well dressed, but it can sometimes be more difficult because people have stronger opinions about what they think a suburbanite looks like or a rich person or whatever it is. That can be the hard thing is coming to a definitive of this is where we want to be with this person. That’s one of the surprising things that people don’t consider because they think it must be easy to just go shopping and it’s not that easy. They’ll say it’s just a T shirt and you’re thinking, ‘Do you know how much we went through to get that T shirt?’ It’s fun. I don’t mean to say that in any bad way, but that’s just one where the opinions can be an obstacle.
Yeah, for sure. No, it’s super interesting because like I said, the general audience may not associate quite as much of the extreme of costume design with a contemporary setting, but in a way, it feels like you probably have even more options to decipher through in how you’re trying to build the character through the costumes. But just to wrap up, are there any insights on this movie in particular? Any challenge or obstacle or just any good story with anything that happened with the costumes?
Tere: I think the obstacles with this one would definitely have to be about the budget. The day players, they really couldn’t pay for them to come in a day before just for a fitting. That meant I would have the fitting and send pictures to Zach’s assistant while he’s on set setting up the first shot, and he would have to pick something right then because they were going to hair and makeup and then they were going to be on set in a half an hour, an hour. That can be scary in that everything has to be in this trailer because there’s no time to go out and shop more or tweak anything. It’s happening now, and you’ve not met the actor anyway. When you’re doing an indie, you just have to realize that’s going to be the way. Zach was great about it. Some directors can be a bit prickly and want to only focus on what they’re focusing on. He was very good about knowing that I was either a few days ahead or he had to answer now if he wanted them to come to set on time. That’s just an obstacle of every indie film. You say to yourself, I hope everything goes right and cross your fingers a lot.
Yeah, the joy of working on indie movies.
Well, Tere, thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate the insight on A Good Person. And congratulations again on the film.
Tere: Thank you! Bye.
Great interview! It was really interesting to hear about the collaboration between different departments and how you created the costumes to reflect Allison’s mental and emotional journey. My question is, how do you approach costume design for characters who have limited screentime, such as the day players you mentioned for this indie film? Do you still try to give them a distinct look and backstory through their costumes or focus mainly on practicality?