By Gina Silverstein, July 18, 2011
Audrey Fisher is deeply honored that back in 2007, Danny Glicker gave her the opportunity to be the Costume Designer on the series “True Blood” (HBO). “It’s a really good story,” she asserts, “about an Assistant Designer being kicked upstairs.”
It all started when Glicker, who Fisher had been assisting for, was asked by producer Alan Ball to work on the pilot of a thrilling, new vampire show. Based on the novels “The Southern Vampire Mysteries,” no one knew at the time how wildly popular “True Blood” would become. In September of 2007, it was picked up for a series but three episodes into production, the WGA strike shut it down. About that time, Glicker was offered another job on the film “Milk.” With no way of knowing how long the strike would last and faced with a difficult choice, he opted for the film. But it didn’t end there. Rather than leave it to the production to come up with a replacement, Glicker told Fisher he was suggesting that she take it over. She was astounded, adding, “It was the biggest gift.”
With Ball’s blessing, Fisher has been at the helm since, creating costumes for HBO’s most watched series since “The Sopranos” and carrying on Glicker’s initial concepts. “He had really strong and wonderful ideas about the characters and I had the same ideas, so it was a shared thing,” Fisher explains. She continues to run with Glicker’s concepts at the core of her own designs. The main axiom is that most of the characters living in the small fictional town of Bon Temp, Louisiana are working people who don’t have a lot of money. To keep them in “real people” clothes, she avoids designer labels, and shops at department stores and online outlets.
Fisher believes the most challenging and interesting part of her job is designing with stunts in mind, as there is continually fire, blood, stunt people, stand-ins and dummies to deal with. She ends up having either four to six multiples for each outfit, which she and her shopper, Kristine Haag, find at stores like Kohl’s, J.C. Penney, Delia’s and Old Navy. Often, due to the quick pace of the production, costumes get approved but all the multiples aren’t available. At times, they have to buy sizes much larger and cut them down. “So, it’s a little different than fittings where you can just fit singles, go vintage shopping, do whatever you want,” Fisher explains. For this season’s finale they were prepared with multiples of twelve on costumes for the characters Sookie (Anna Paquin) and Tara (Rutina Wesley). She can’t reveal why until it airs but does say it’s the largest show with which they’ve been prepped.
Fisher is grateful to have the team she has and says they rely on each other to get through the tough schedule and workload. She describes it as tight-knit groups who play to each other’s strengths and, therefore, are without weaknesses. These women include J.R. Hawbaker, who originally was on board as a Costumer and became her Assistant Costume Designer on season two. Hawbaker is just now moving on to work with Costume Designer Jacqueline West on the film “Argo,” and Fisher says she’ll be looking for a new ACD for season five. Meanwhile, Sara Walbridge Castro and Carrie Grace are Key Costumers, and Debra Beebe is Costume Supervisor. Imogene Chayes has created illustrations, as well as Phillip Boutte.
Aside from finding multiples for the cast, Fisher is presented with an entirely different set of challenges for Sookie. “It’s always challenging to find costumes that reflect how she’s becoming more sexual, more adult, more like a woman, yet still in this small town vernacular,” she explains. For anyone who hasn’t seen the show, Sookie is a polite, nice girl who happens to be having “crazy sex with a vampire,” as Fisher puts it. So, in designing for this character type, she often turns to building dresses with tight bodices in small floral prints that suggest a young woman who is slightly sexy, yet somewhat demure and a little sassy. Fisher also tends to horde fabric such as the cherry-embroidered gingham currently stashed in Sookie’s closet that she’ll turn into a sundress one day.
Fisher finds designing for Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis) inspiring, as almost anything goes, especially the color palette. Equally enjoyable is Pam (Kristin Bauer), who she dresses in dramatic, sexy shapes to fit the story line that this fashion-forward vampiress has personal shoppers at her disposal in Los Angeles and New York. Fisher is most energized, though, when creating period costumes for the show’s flashbacks that in past episodes have included the 1920s, 1930s, 1850s, Vikings, fairies and even goblins. “If we were just doing rural Bon Temp all the time, that would get a little tedious and this allows me to do crazy, weird,” she laughs. She thrives on the change-up because it jump-starts her creativity within a restrictive set of boundaries in terms of budget and prep time. Where some designers may find this process nerve-racking, she finds it exciting.
In reflecting on the last four years, Fisher is amazed at the show’s popularity and attributes it to a narrative that is risky, sexy and raw. She believes “True Blood” is becoming more fantastical and strange, which she personally likes and finds similar to “Twin Peaks,” one of her old favorites. “I don’t think there’s anything quite like ‘True Blood’ that is not purely fantasy sci-fi but also has this very human element,” Fisher explains. She’s astonished it has become such a phenomenon, adding, “I love being part of a show that has that sort of fanatical following, that kind of devotion.”
Clearly, this devotion shows no sign of slowing, thanks in part to the outstanding work of Fisher and her team. The premiere of True Blood’s fourth season on June 26th drew 5.4 million viewers, up 6% since its third season launch and tying its all time record.