The Envelope: ‘Theory of Everything’ costumes define times and off-kilter spaces
British costume designer Steven Noble loved working on “The Theory of Everything,” the biopic of astrophysicist Stephen Hawking’s (Eddie Redmayne) relationship with his first wife, Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones).
Based on her memoir, “Travelling to Infinity: My Life With Stephen,” the film showcases four decades — from Hawking’s healthy Cambridge student days through his physical deterioration due to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), which leaves him in a wheelchair and unable to speak except via a computer. “It’s a special film,” says Noble. “I’m very proud of it. I’m very emotional about it. It was a true collaboration of all involved.”
Early in the film in his Cambridge days, Hawking sported a quite cool navy velvet blazer. Did that come from you or the Hawking family?
That navy velvet blazer was a vintage piece but not from the family. In Jane’s book, it references quite heavily that he had a blue velvet evening jacket he used to wear. I thought it was apt that we should have one, and it felt like he should wear it in the very beginning. And that actually was where the blue and gray palette of the beginning of the film came from; the jumping-off point was that blazer.
I loved that it was a bit ill-fitting, very real for a man with his head in clouds of numbers.
He did come from this very sort of academic Bohemian background, the kind of family that still exists in academics around Cambridge and Oxford. We made everything (for the student Stephen) a little bit skinnier, a little bit shorter, even his trousers. Everything was a little bit off-kilter, slightly academic, disheveled, that too-posh-to-wash sort of thing.
Since both principle characters, Jane and Stephen Hawking, are still very much alive, how involved were they each in the film’s look?
Stephen came one time to the set when we shot the May Cambridge Ball. And Jane [who lives near the Cambridge shoot] every now and again popped in on a bicycle to have a cup of tea and tell us what was good and what wasn’t. She gave us original clothes that we ended up not using, and she gave us the old photo albums. She was fantastic and really helpful.
Why did you choose not to use those original pieces of clothing?
Some of them were just a little too period, if you know what I mean. It would have been too distracting to have those too on-trend period pieces constantly shifting throughout the film. The clothes would have taken over.
I understand Jane offered her original wedding dress for the marriage scene?
Jane’s piece was beautiful, but again, it was so iconic of the time, and with the color too bright, too white, the color would have had to be knocked back slightly, and to over-dye her original personal wedding dress from the ‘60s would be slightly sacrilegious.
So the blue palette came from the original navy blazer. How did the other colors evolve out?
The very first fitting I ever did was with Eddie; we tried to do it in a chronological order, and I saw I wanted to use that pretty velvet jacket, and the palette stemmed from there. And then we go into the ‘70s, which is much drabber, a more muted time, and a more difficult period of his life, and there were kind of brown and green colors. And then, if you noticed, the colors got brighter and lighter toward the end of the film as things got better for him.
The May Cambridge Ball costumes were light, dreamy and romantic. Was Felicity’s gown based on Jane’s real-life dress?
It was a vintage piece I found and adapted. The dress originally was more ‘50s style, and I slimmed down the skirt and gave it less volume of a silhouette. And Eddie’s tuxedo suit, I had it in my head that it will be an old vintage piece handed down from grandfather to father to Stephen, and they all would have worn it to the May Ball in Cambridge. So for Eddie, it was not a custom fit, again, a bit off-kilter, which gave it a sweet, lovely feel.
Stephen’s physical deterioration dramatically worsens during the course of the film. How did that affect the costumes?
We just kept making his clothes bigger and bigger and his collars larger so he would have the appearance of actually shrinking.
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