Though set in Montana in 1925, Jane Campion’s “The Power of the Dog,” based on Thomas Savage’s novel of the same name, was shot in New Zealand. To outfit the western film, costume designer Kirsty Cameron had to devise a palette for Kirsten Dunst’s widowed innkeeper character, Rose Gordon, that would pop with color in a sea of rugged beige- and brown-clad cowboys, as well as in the dark rooms of the sprawling ranch house of Rose’s new husband (played by Dunst’s real-life partner, Jesse Plemons).
“Most of the costumes had to [work] inside as well as outside in the bright landscape,” says Cameron of the character’s pale pink and deep red wardrobe. “We made lots of things for you,” Cameron told Dunst during a recent video call with The Envelope. “The guys were like, wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am. [For Rose,] I had this board in my room. It was like [solving] a puzzle.”
You two had a very collaborative relationship. Talk about a challenging wardrobe moment.
Dunst: In the book and in the script, there was this [humiliating] dinner scene with the governor [where Rose is unable to play piano], and there was a hat.
… A turban with a very large feather.
Dunst: It just felt silly. It was like, “You don’t need to make me look ridiculous. Let me do the acting.” It’s already painful enough for Rose. So we talked Jane out of that. And she agreed with us.
Cameron: That’s something I’m always really conscious of: allowing space for the actor to do their work. That’s exactly what you did in that dinner. That’s such a beautiful performance. It didn’t need a hat.
In that scene, Rose wears a luminescent gold column dress. Kirsty, can you share the story behind it?
Cameron: There are always moments that are difficult or more challenging, and the dinner dress was difficult to work out. It’s an ensemble scene, yet it’s so much about her. One of the fantastic dressers had got it from a vintage seller, and I literally found it [in a cupboard in the bedroom set]. We added to it, refined it and finished it properly, made a slip to go under it. I think you have to be open to those situations.
How does Rose’s most elaborate get-up — gray-green jodhpurs and a pink satin cowboy shirt — advance her status as an outsider at the ranch?
Cameron: I’m going to read from the book: “She began to look on clothes as costumes, disguises, masks to hide the useless and frightened self she was becoming.” I love that double layer, that she’s using clothes as a defense.
Dunst: It’s the most luxurious look. But I wanted to make sure that now that she had money, Rose didn’t seem like she was buying all these extravagant clothes. The woman had taste. You could see that in her little dress at the Red Mill [restaurant]. It was tattered but feminine, a beautiful dress that Kirsty made.
And your favorite look?
Dunst: That I’m mostly in a robe and a nightgown. [Laughs.]
Cameron: And a sleep mask. [Laughs.]
Dunst: That’s Rose. She’s trapped in her bedroom. I remember talking about it. “Let’s just let her wear the same thing.” She’s not going to get dressed to run outside. She’s losing it mentally. She’s the madwoman running [into the yard].
… And spiraling into alcoholism. Is the idea that she’s too hungover to bother getting dressed?
Six actresses at the top of their game -- Penelope Cruz, Kirsten Dunst, Lady Gaga, Jennifer Hudson, Kristen Stewart and Tessa Thompson -- dive into how to get into character, on-set safety and how best to play drunk.
Dunst: From my perspective, it was like a Tennessee Williams play. I love the glamour in [the lingerie]. It’s so pink and satin and gorgeous. And then you have this tragic person in it. I like the juxtaposition of that. When you don’t feel good, you want to wear the same sweater, the same robe. So I loved the repetition. I appreciate that from you, Kirsty. Sometimes you show up and people are like, “Let’s do another robe!”
Cameron: I think that was a really important aspect, to find a continuity between the Rose we first meet at the Red Mill and the Rose who goes to the ranch. Even in terms of using a pale pink, even if it’s on a threadbare dress at the Red Mill. There’s a femininity, but she’s also very practical, very capable. I love it when she comes into the kitchen [at the ranch] and says, “Don’t mind me,” and starts drying the dishes.
Kirsten, much of Rose’s wardrobe has a timeless quality. Was there anything you brought home?
Dunst: Two aprons from the Red Mill. For my mom’s birthday, because it was COVID, Jesse’s whole family came down, and we celebrated. My mom loves going out to dinner, and, obviously, we couldn’t at that point. So we got a bunch of takeout from Jon & Vinny’s, and me and my sister-in-law were the waitresses. We wore the aprons. If anyone wanted a cocktail, we’d make a drink. Red Mill Rose — that’s my style.
From the Oscars to the Emmys.
Get the Envelope newsletter for exclusive awards season coverage, behind-the-scenes stories from the Envelope podcast and columnist Glenn Whipp’s must-read analysis.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.