Haunted forest-dwelling witch of ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’ is creepy -- naturally

A horrific, desiccated witch reaches toward the camera in an episode of "Guillermo del Toro's Cabinet of Curiosities."
Lize Johnston plays a witch in the “Dreams in the Witch House” episode of “Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities.” Costume designer Luis Sequeira fabricated the costume to look like she sprang from a haunted forest.
(Ken Waroner / Netflix)

When it came time to choose an episode to submit for Emmy consideration, “Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities” costume designer Luis Sequeira was undecided.

“I was torn,” Sequeira tells The Envelope. “I really wanted to do the contemporary one, ‘The Outside,’ because I felt that has a kind of twist on contemporary modern [style]. But when discussing it with producers, we decided to go with ‘Witch House’ and the incredible work that was put into this witch costume.”

In “Dreams in the Witch House,” a boy anguished over the death of his sister grows up to be a spiritualist, played by Rupert Grint, who uses a strange elixir to be reunited with her in the afterlife. His pursuit leads him to a haunted forest and a witch’s house, where he rents a room, only to be haunted by the former occupant. The episode earned an Emmy nomination for Sequeira.


Initially, Sequeira and his team anticipated providing an apron for the witch and leaving the rest to the visual effects team. Instead, they learned that the character‘s appearance was to be mostly a practical effect, not digital.

“Ultimately, the inner part of the witch is not a costume thing, it’s visual effects and the same thing with the embers in her hair,” Sequeira says of combining effects and practical elements. Handcrafted branches formed the bottom of the costume, which was needed for master shots. Moving the branches slightly higher enabled better movement for running and stunt sequences.

Two drawings of the witch character from "Guillermo del Toro's Cabinet of Curiosities" showing how she seems made of wood
Creature concept designer Guy Davis and costume designer Luis Sequeira used the idea of rooting a character in a haunted forest in the “Dreams in the Witch House” episode of “Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities.”

“We did investigate using real twigs at first, then we went to faux twigs and decided to make our own, which were done with foam, and we wrapped gauze around and painted,” Sequeira says. “The fabric was dyed and twisted like bark onto the actual bodice piece we created for the actress [Lize Johnston].”

Normally, Sequeira and his team pore over image banks, photos and paintings to compose a board for each character, capturing the mood early on and providing a reference tool he can share with other key creatives as well as his shop. Grint’s character mainly wears a faded green overcoat, tying him to the Forest of Lost Souls. His best friend, Frank (Ismael Cruz Córdova), is a more grounded character, in tune with the world around him.

Director Catherine Hardwicke with her two leading actors in Victorian dress in "Guillermo del Toro's Cabinet of Curiosities."
This behind-the-scenes shot shows the contrast between the costumes of protagonist Walter (Rupert Grint), center, and fancier friend Elwood (Ismael Cruz Córdova), as well as director Catherine Hardwicke.
(Ken Woroner/Netflix)

“He had a levity to his clothing and a fashion sense of the time,” Sequeira says of Córdova’s costumes. “It’s easy to drop into those dark tones, but trying to bring the brighter notes into the costumes strikes me as unique.”

Although Córdova’s character dresses stylishly, his wardrobe is bland compared with those of the outré types who lure Grint into an opium den, or the haunted artist whose embroidered multicolored robe Sequeira fashioned from an old rug.

Each episode comes with a new director and a different sensibility that has to be fused into the wider aesthetic of the series. “The Viewing,” set in 1979, features predominantly amber lighting and costumes with limited patterning. And for “The Murmuring,” set in 1951, the wardrobe team referenced vintage Kodachrome photos and heightened some of the colors.

“It’s all about collaboration, and every time you do that, by osmosis, you’re actually learning something. That collaboration works between the director, DP, myself and the production designer, but also my cutters and dyers and agers,” Sequeira notes. “Guillermo amasses these people that we work together with repeatedly. So the dialogue is very fluid and very open, and that’s a wonderful thing. He allows each person to bring to the table their experience, their breadth, their effort with very little interference and quite often with absolute delight.”

At age 24, Sequeira was a fashion designer with his own store in Toronto when a friend suggested he try the film industry. From there, he worked his way up from production assistant in the early 1990s under designers such as Daniel Orlandi and Julie Weiss (Oscar nominee for “Frida” and “12 Monkeys”). Sequeira was nominated for an Oscar for his work on “Nightmare Alley”; his credits also include Del Toro’s “The Strain” and his best picture winner “The Shape of Water.”

“Your experiences teach you,” he says of his career. “Every experience brings more experience. The minute you think you’ve learned everything, you’re done.”


On the morning nominations were announced, he was so busy prepping the Max series “Welcome to Derry” (a prequel to “It” and “It Chapter 2,” both of which he worked on) that he didn’t even know he’d been honored.

“I had totally forgotten. I was on my way to a production meeting, and someone in my department spoke in a cryptic way, ‘It seems like you got nominated.’ And my assistant, we started looking to see if it was actually true,” he recalls with a wide smile. “It was a wonderful surprise, and I’m so thankful that the work is being recognized.”