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Interview: Emmy-Nominated Costume Designer Kate Hawley Discusses ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power’

I may sound like a broken record when talking about the craft and artistry found in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, but it’s truly sensational. And those who have seen the show can attest to how everything has been meticulously planned, from the staggering VFX, cinematography, production design, and costumes. These elements craft one of the most technically impressive television productions ever made, which extensively expands the world of J.R.R. Tolkien on screen, the likes of which no one has seen before. 

Awards Radar had the chance to speak to costume designer Kate Hawley on Zoom recently, who was nominated for an Emmy for her work on “A Shadow in the Past” for Outstanding Fantasy/Sci-Fi Costumes. Reacting to her Emmy nomination, Hawley explained that she “had one moment to enjoy it, and then went back to work [laughs]. But I’m sure I’ll have moments to enjoy it again. But it is lovely, especially when you meet your colleagues, which I find very exciting. […] Celebrating it with colleagues you never meet is lovely. Of course, it’s wonderful to be nominated and great for the power of the whole costume team.”

In describing the research process for the show’s costumes, Hawley jokingly believed that “ the research never ends. It’s a huge pit of despair [laughs]. It’s one of the things I love, but it feels like going down a Pinterest hole. There’s so much material to look for, but we’re not dealing with scripts that J.R.R. Tolkien writes. JD Payne and Patrick McKay took us to a new level. You research the world that Tolkien described, with whatever we could get, because it wasn’t as fleshed out as something like ‘The Silmallarion.’ We had a background and would look at where our characters ended up in the Third Age to apply it to our Second Age. You must know where you’re going and where you’ve come from. It’s a language developing as we went, in collaboration with production design and visual effects. There were a lot of organic processes involved in that structure that helped build the world of the show.”

When Hawley met Payne & McKay, she described her meeting with the two showrunners as “two young guys bouncing around the walls, so full of excitement and as passionate as every fanboy I’ve ever met. They had some interesting takes on the material,  and it’s always interesting to talk about the characters that we know what they were in the Third Age, especially creatures like the elves, what are they in the First and Second Ages.

Clearly, they had a plan, and we weren’t privy to everything for the entire five seasons. They were developing it as we went, and your job is to support that. With whatever project you work on, when you have to read a book or a script, you come away with a vision and ideas yourself. We always joked if we had a microchip that allowed downloading everything in our director’s and showrunners’ heads to split it out. And when the actors become involved, they bring something to it, which may inform what the writers are doing and what we do. There is a structure and a definite hierarchy within it, led by JD and Patrick. But our job is always to offer ideas that provide the world and accompany everyone’s ideas.”

During our audio conversation, seen below, we also discussed how close she wanted to stay true to Tolkien’s source material and the process of designing the worlds of Eregion, Khazad-dûm, and Númenor, among others. 

You can listen to the full conversation below and see all episodes of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power on Prime Video.

[Some of the quotes in this article have been edited for length and clarity]


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Written by Maxance Vincent

Maxance Vincent is a freelance film and TV critic, and a recent graduate of a BFA in Film Studies at the Université de Montréal. He is currently finishing a specialization in Video Game Studies, focusing on the psychological effects regarding the critical discourse on violent video games.

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