Movie Sneaks: For ‘Exodus,’ Janty Yates dresses Moses and Ramses
For a Hollywood costume designer, getting the call from director Ridley Scott saying he wants you to work on a big-budget biblical spectacle is a kind of holy grail.
“The initial excitement is just mad,” said Janty Yates, who was brought on to design the costumes for Scott’s new film, “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” opening Dec. 19. “You get your teeth into it like a dog into a bone.”
An epic retelling of the Old Testament story of Moses (Christian Bale) and his struggle to free the Jews from slavery under Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses (Joel Edgerton), “Exodus” marks the ninth time the British costumer has worked with Scott. Their first collaboration, the 2000 sword-and-sandals film “Gladiator,” earned her an Academy Award.
Drawing in part on the resources of the British Museum and the Egyptian Museum in Berlin, Yates, 64, threw herself into months of historical digging to design the costumes for Moses, Ramses and countless other actors and extras.
“It’s just research, research, research — you’re not interested in anything else.”
Though Moses is most often pictured in a flowing robe, a la Charlton Heston in “The Ten Commandments,” Bale spends a good deal of “Exodus” in battle garb, first as a general in the Egyptian army and later leading a rebellion against Ramses.
“All the Egyptians [in the film] wear lamellar armor, which has this petal-shaped metal that’s even more elaborate than chain mail,” Yates said. “And because Moses was a top general, his is a little more ornate because he had the wherewithal to have the court craftsmen craft this beautiful cuirass, which is the breastplate, and do some wonderful engraving on it.”
Though Ramses II ruled Egypt more than 3,000 years ago, Yates had a leg up when it came to designing the pharaoh’s wardrobe. “There are millions of images of him,” she said. “He was so vain, he had 70-foot statues built of himself — and not just one or two, like 40 or 50.”
Given his penchant for grandiosity, Ramses’ battle armor “would probably have been gold,” Yates said. Perhaps not surprisingly, the version worn by Edgerton is made of far humbler material.
“All of our armor is made of urethane, which is like car-bumper rubber,” Yates said. “It’s light and bendable so the actors and stuntmen are happy with it, and the paint effects make it credible.”
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