Interview: Trayce Gigi Field on Integrating the Locations and Costume Design of ‘Poker Face’ and Creating the Icon of Charlie Cale

POKER FACE -- “Dead Man's Hand” Episode 101 -- Pictured: Natasha Lyonne as Charlie Cale -- (Photo by: Phillip Caruso/Peacock)

Starring Natasha Lyonne and from the vision of creator Rian JohnsonPoker Face is the newest hit series murder-of-the-week detective show from the director who has brought the Benoit Blanc cinematic universe into fashion. The show features Lyonne as Charlie Cale, an unexpected gambler turned detective who has an extraordinary ability to determine when someone is lying. She encounters new places and new crimes while crossing the country and investigating a new cast of criminals each episode. 

An integral part of making the icon that is Charlie Cale and bringing each new location to life is Trayce Gigi Field, the costume designer for the series. Field spoke candidly with me about the challenges of bringing an entirely new world to each episode and her dedication to making each pit stop feel unique, but also part of the overall tone and mood of the show which she describes as “70s meets desert.” She also describes the process behind the iconic horse outfit donned by Cale in a later episode of the series.

You can read my full conversation with Field below who brings a wealth of experience and energy to Poker Face, which is now streaming on Peacock.

This is Danny Jarabek here with Awards Radar, and I am excited to be speaking with Trayce Gigi Field today. She is the costume designer for Poker Face, a series that is currently streaming on Peacock and Trayce, how are you doing today? I’m very excited to be talking today.

Field: I’m great. Very excited to talk to you all about Poker Face.

Yes, of course. And Poker Face is a wonderful show, I’m glad we’re getting a chance to talk about it today. But from your perspective, I would love to hear about just what was your interest in this show and this script from the beginning. What drew you into this story?

Field: What drew me into the story is well, first of all, I grew up on Columbo, right? I used to watch Columbo growing up with my grandmother. Once you start reading these episodes, you’re like, oh, my God, this is so nostalgic and so cool. The characters that are written, I could visualize them so acutely in my mind, and I immediately wanted to help create these characters and help bring the story, the visual storytelling, to life. Also, I’d worked with Natasha [Lyonne] before, and I was excited to do that again. And who wouldn’t want to work with Rian Johnson? So, there you go.

Rian Johnson the creator of the show and Natasha at the front of it, what was that collaboration early with the both of them or anyone else involved early in the process? How did that start to build the vision that you were putting together for this show?

Field: The early process of creating the costume design for Poker Face basically was I created a bunch of mood boards and had a couple of conversations with Natasha about Charlie and then presented those to Rian. We came up with desert meets 70s meets Western and you could totally see that in Charlie’s makeup. As far as the other characters, I just created mood boards. I’m very big on pitching ideas, and I will say the two things about both Natasha and Rian is they’re collaborative. They’re like, oh, yeah, that sounds awesome. Let’s do this. There’s a great energy about wanting to really do something interesting and fun. The other thing is that they are very trusting. They both just let me run with it. As a costume designer, that means so much because I was able to just be my authentic self and bring all the fun and visual storytelling to life.

You described it as 70s, and there’s this retro vibe to it all. That’s something that I was immediately drawn into with the show just from the get go with episode one, because it actually took me a second to realize this is happening in the present day, but also it feels very 70s. What was that pairing between the show set in the contemporary, but also digging into these western 70s retro tones for the costumes and design of the show?

Field: I really think it was organic. You read the scripts and you realize they feel like a throwback, right? That’s the overall feel from the get-go and then we’re starting in Nevada by Vegas, but not in Vegas. So, it’s off the strip, not necessarily right in Vegas. That itself feels a little dated. It feels a little like a period of a past time. Then when you start to bring these people to life, and we’re in this casino that’s been around forever and their uniforms and the whole look of the casino feels older, it feels like it’s in a past time. I think we just built from there. I think also Adrien Brody‘s character that was based off of Casino, and again, Natasha and also Natalie, they live in this small town, and it’s just like a throwback. All of it’s just like a throwback. As you go through each town, it’s not like we’re in these big major cities. We’re in these towns where it’s not necessarily the most fashion forward and not everything is brand new. I think that’s what really comes across. It really comes across as real people, genuineness, just all being authentic, especially with the sinister bad guys. To me, growing up, and like I said on those shows, those mystery shows, it was like you could always tell when somebody was mean or sinister or had some sort of bad vibe. I really wanted to convey that through the clothing, whether it was super chic, and they look rich, like Cherry Jones, who played Laura in episode eight, it’s just that feeling when you get an instant read on the characters.

Something you mentioned was with the structure of this show changing locations frequently, what were some challenges navigating that? I’m sure there’s a ton of challenges, but also, what was that process like for you to build a tone, build a style that’s constantly shifting episode to episode?

Field: Easy, breezy, no problems at all. No, it was a huge challenge. Every episode takes place in a new state and so basically, it’s creating a whole new world. Between myself and Judy [Rhee], the production designer, we really needed to create a world. It was like a mini movie every new episode. The background is so indicative of where you are, so the people in the background really need to set the tone of where you are. After I do that layer of 100 to 200 people, then it’s the actual characters that are speaking and I really wanted to find the feeling of where we are. So for example, when we were in Tennessee, it might have been Texas, I think it was Tennessee. Anyway, it was a very Western forward feel, not over the top Western, but very Western forward. When we’re at the dinner episode or when we’re at the old folks home, it’s setting the tone of where we are based not only in color palette, but the people around you.

You spoke to working with the production designer, is it a very collaborative effort between you and other departments, say, production design, makeup design, just finding the right style and balance for every episode and making sure color palettes are harmonious between these different elements?

Field: I would say across the board, everything was pretty harmonious. We all really liked each other, and we all really cared about the project. Amy [Forsythe], who is Natasha’s makeup artist and heads the makeup department, and Marcel [Dagenais], who is the head of hair, and also Natasha’s hairstylist, and Judy, and our department, and our DP’s, across the board it was constant conversations of where we are, what we’re trying to showcase, color palette, and just really being able to work together in order to create that vision. So, yes, we had very many meetings and we’re shooting and prepping at the same time, and there was a lot of lack of sleep, but I do feel like it all came together.

I totally understand that. I do want to ask because you have worked with Natasha, the brilliant Natasha Lyonne, before, and so what was it like? What was the process with her and balancing her vision for the show, Rian’s vision for the show, and also just turning Natasha’s character, Charlie, into an icon?

Field: I really love working with Natasha, obviously, because I’ve worked with her before, and now I’m doing this. I’ve worked with her as a director initially and I will say my first meeting with her right after COVID was I was meeting for Sarah Cooper’s Netflix special that Natasha directed. Within two minutes, she was like, I love you, if you don’t do this, we’re going to work together. That’s the thing about Natasha. She instantly knows people, places, things and she has a very decisive personality, which I love because I’m super direct as well, but she’s so intelligent, and so when working with someone like that, you really have to bring you’re A-game. I’m such an overachiever, so I think it’s the perfect fit, right? When we came to Poker Face, I created these mood boards of what I thought Charlie was going to be like and we had a conversation and I did a couple of tweaks and some of the things that were on the initial board actually made it into the show like that brown leather jacket. It’s made by YSL. It was one of the things she bought when she was grifting and gambling. I always have back stories, just so you know, so that I can justify all the things as being real, so that’s when she bought that jacket. There’s also some tank tops and another jacket or something that came from a company called Classic Rock Couture and Stone Immaculate that ended up in the show. So, the things that I felt were right on in the beginning ended up being right on. That inherent feeling is so important to me. Also, just in terms of pitching ideas, to have the mood boards, Natasha loves them. Then I go to Rian and Rian loves them and then it just all magically happens. That’s not really how it goes, but that’s the overview. Like I said, they really just let me run with it and they were on board with a lot of my ideas and that’s the collaborative thing that I think makes the show so cool is you really see the authenticity come through. It’s just like working with both of them and them being so involved on every level and constantly the back and forth of ideas, for me personally, it’s an amazing way to work and it produces such a great product, a great show, a great project.

That absolutely comes through in the way that the costumes were presented in this show. I also want to ask, I’m sure you’ve spoken to it before, but there is one costume in particular that is just so over the top and so wild that I have to hear your insight on it. The horse costume in this show. I have to hear how that came to be.

Field: Let’s talk about the horse, shall we? So that’s Natasha’s episode, it’s 108 and before I even read the episode, we’re on set one day and she’s like, I had heard that there were going to be some characters, some creatures coming up. Phil Tippett, amazing creator of sculptures and art, he was going to do all the things, so I said, okay, cool. Then I read the script and there’s this horse and I said, oh, well, Phil Tippett’s going to do the horse, right? I’m on set and Natasha says, ‘Trayce, when are you going to build the horse?’ Not that I haven’t built this stuff, but I just hadn’t thought that I was going to do it this time around, and I agreed to build the horse. I had some illustrations done, which I hope that we can share with you, because if you’re going to put this in place that is visual, you can have the horse illustration and then you’ll see a photo of Natasha next to the horse. It’s pretty interesting wearing the horse head. But when I decided to build it I was in the middle of nowhere, upstate New York, and said let me figure this out. So, I came to LA, I did a show called A League of Their Own. I was in LA for the premiere, and I went to go see one of my favorite builders. I went and saw the builder, and said this is what I want to do, but I can’t have Natasha be overheated. It’s hot where we are. I need it to be lightweight. I need it to be all these things, but I also needed it to look sort of sinister. It’s based off of a movie from 1960, Jean Cocteau’s Testament of Orpheus. Okay, so those are all the elements, no big deal. They make it, I fly back to LA, I put the horse costume on myself to make sure it was fine. I did the whole thing, I sent it to Natasha. She says great and then I brought it back to New York, we did a fitting, and the thing about Natasha is there’s a lot of physical comedy with her. She’s just a physical actor, which I love, so we put the horse head on and we were trying to figure out how to make the jokes work, how to play it with the script, and she ended up putting her head through the armhole, which is how she ended up doing it in the show. It was just so funny. I built a fan in there to keep her cool, it’s made out of this lightweight foam. There’s faux hair on the actual horse head and then the tail is actually made out of plants which we spray painted. So, there were so many interesting little facts, tidbits things that went into making that horsehead come to life and it became such a big part of that episode, her crawling on the floor and being so physical in it. I’m just glad that everyone loves it as much as they do. I’ve had to talk about this horse quite a few times, so I’m so glad you asked.

Yeah, of course. I definitely didn’t want to let you go before getting your insight on that. I’m a builder myself, too, so I was curious, like, how did they do this?

Field: Now, you know, all the things.

Just before we go, I’d love to ask, beyond even the horse, just some of the simpler outfits for Charlie, how do you balance the style, the aesthetic that you’re going for with her and also doing a lot of physical things, as you said, a lot of stunt work, too. She has to be able to be comfortable. She has to be able to move in these things. But you’re also wanting to achieve the aesthetic and the look that you’re going for. So how do you manage going between those two goals?

Field: I think the way that we manage it was we go through every scene and we talk about what the action is and we talk about what outfit would work for that. Then it’s up to me to find those things. First of all, I think Natasha, in general, she just embodies Charlie from head to toe. She just feels like the character, and she’s so cool and she’s so chic without anything, it’s so effortless for her. So, I think that is the main component and then as far as the stunts go, well, she’s going to be crawling on the ground. Okay, well then she has to be in long sleeve so I can find a cool long sleeve or she’s going to be in a jacket. For me, it’s common sense meets fashion. It’s that you want it to be something that you know is going to work for all of what the script requires. But also, I need her to look cool, and I need her to feel like the character. I do think that’s the challenge, that’s what makes me lose sleep in the middle of the night. I will say to myself, how am I going to make this all work? Sometimes I get up and I’m on the Internet just finding things that inspire me or I find the piece that I think is going to work. But, it’s about being diligent, I guess that’s the best answer. With Natasha, we go through every scene and we talk about what’s important and what we want to convey, and then she leaves it up to me to find the pieces that would work, and then we do a fitting and then magically the outfit comes to life.

Well, that’s so amazing to hear. Thank you so much for your time. I just want to say also, before we go, I’m a huge fan of your work and always am so happy to see any time that you’re going to be involved with a project. I’ve watched so many of the movies and shows that you’ve been a part of and so thank you so much for your passion and your energy, and I really appreciate getting to talk to you today.

Field: No, I appreciate you. This is the thing—I think it’s just so wonderful that people are starting to realize the value of costume design and how important it is for visually telling a story and how it really helps create characters. I feel like people are really interested in how we make things or how things come about so I appreciate you highlighting it, and I’m sure I’ll speak to you again someday.

Yes, I hope so, too. Thank you so much for your time, and I hope you have a great rest of your day.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.


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Written by Danny Jarabek

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