The danger of creating costumes for characters in a biography is that not all subjects dress in interesting ways. Real people plus real clothes can sometimes be a real bore. Costume designer Daniel Orlandi had no such problem creating the clothes for “Trumbo,” the story of Dalton Trumbo, the eccentric Oscar-winning screenwriter who was jailed and blacklisted for his political beliefs.
Based on the book by Bruce Cook, “Trumbo” spans the 1940s through the 1970s, a time when fashion shifted as radically as politics. In his fifth collaboration with director Jay Roach, Orlandi re-created the glamorous, old Hollywood style personified by Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) and his nemesis, Los Angeles Times gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren). Orlandi charted their personal and professional paths with his signature style, determination and lots of great vintage finds. Here, Orlandi shares how he brought it all together.
The first time we see Trumbo in a notable costume, he’s wearing a white dinner jacket in a sea of black. What did that look establish?
He has a big arc. There is a similarity between Hedda and Trumbo that makes them nice adversaries. He was a very eccentric dresser and we wanted to show in that opening with him in the white dinner jacket that he’s at the top of his game. He’s a bit different from everybody else. We wanted to show him as that sort of slightly eccentric person, because Trumbo was a slightly eccentric dresser. He loved clothes, similar to Hedda, really.
During the time Trumbo is blacklisted and works at home, he wears the uniform of the writer at home: His pajamas and a robe. How did you put that look together?
That was fun to do. It has a slight eccentricity to it. He had a polka-dot silk robe. That’s a really expensive, 1930s vintage Turnbull and Asser silk robe that he wore with cotton paisley pajamas that we made. Then I found this other one, a sort of terry cloth robe that was plaid. When I bought it, it had never been taken out of the box. It was one of those pre-boxed Christmas presents with the plastic window.
Hedda Hopper’s hats play a central role in defining her character. How did you manage to make them true to character but not distracting?
I don’t like a costume to overpower an actor, so the most flamboyant ones are for the quickest little pops. In the short newsreel scenes, she had much bigger hats. I didn’t want to burden her, trying to maneuver with some big hat in a scene. So the hats for the real scenes are a bit smaller — but all Hedda.
Did you closely copy her real hats?
No. I think we distilled the essence of Hedda Hopper in making Helen be Hedda.
The thing about Hedda is how her clothes don’t really go with the hats. It’s not usually an outfit. She had an eccentricity about her and a flamboyance. It was sort of her gimmick, those hats.
You’re known for exacting research, and for finding incredible artifacts. What did you bring to this movie?
I found some beautiful vintage woolens to make Bryan’s suits. And for Hedda’s hats, I have a collection of stuff — vintage trims and ribbons and netting and hand-painted velvet pansies from the ‘20s and celluloid flowers from the ‘30s. It was kind of therapeutic to make those hats. When everything is stressful, and you’re on a tight budget, it’s like, “I think I’m going to sit now and trim this hat for a little while.” I worked with the milliner at Western Costume, Kerry Deco. We found some beautiful vintage bases to make a lot of them.
In a key scene, we finally see Hedda without a hat. What were you trying to show there?
At the end, she’s in a hairnet. It was one that I had and [Mirren] saw it and said, “Oh, yeah.” She wore it with a vintage dressing gown and slippers. We wanted to show Hedda at home with no makeup. She was totally defeated at the end, she realizes she put up a good fight, but it’s over.