“The Legend of Tarzan”
July 8, 2016
After a career spanning around 85 films, it is significant when Costume Designer Ruth Myers says Tarzan ranks in her top two. From director David Yates to late producer Jerry Weintraub, from the cast to the crew, Myers has nothing but raves. When she explains, “It was a marvelous undertaking for me from the first day I spoke to the director. I loved it, I loved every single second of it.” Her excitement is contagious because in the world of film production such an ecstatic experience is of course the exception.
Yates had three initial requests that Myers found useful, but difficult. The first was that Tarzan should not look like any of his predecessors, i.e. no loincloth. Secondly, he asked that it not look “National Geographic.” Lastly, Yates did not want the costumes to be defined by any one period. “I don’t do renderings,” says Myers, “I do very quick drawings, I went in with drawings and David is a director who responds very visually, which for people like us is a wonderful thing. Because of the way he reacted to my drawings, I knew exactly what he was talking about, which was bizarre and very exciting.” Myers understood that Yates was creating a world of the imagination grounded in both reality and hyperbole. “You know the animals aren’t going to be real, you know we are shooting at the back lot at Leeds, which is the Harry Potter studio, but I wanted to approach the costumes the same way so you are completely convinced by them,” notes Myers.
Regarding Tarzan’s (Alexander Skarsgård) costume, which he wears for the bulk of the film, some in the crew fretted, “those britches will never be sexy,” but Myers was confident in her vision and persevered. She wanted his trousers to be like a second skin. It took hundreds of man hours to paint the hue and create the feeling of wear. In the end, there were ten variations to last the duration of the film and each iteration was reproduced fifty times to accommodate all of the stunts. The sleek silhouette was maintained with daily fittings and alterations, as Skarsgård was so active that his body kept changing.
“I loved Jane’s (Margot Robbie) later costumes,” says Myers, “I had great joy in doing those pieces. Margot is a beautiful woman with no vanity. The idea was to disintegrate that dress so you felt that it was happening organically, but it was getting sexier and sexier.”
With Chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou) the head of the tribe of warriors, Myers pushed herself to create something completely new in the striking leopard headdress. The script described how the leopard tribe fought and Myers wanted to arm them with claws on both their hands and elbows. Working in concert with the stunt coordinator, Myers delighted that the end result yielded a simultaneous movement of the claws going forwards and backwards. She had the fabric for the tribes people aged, painted, and appliqued as well as having all of their jewelry handmade. Myers felt this attention to detail was necessary in order to create a cohesive and believable world.
Yates had a weekly Monday meeting for all of his production teams to discuss where they were and what they were still hoping to achieve. In the end, despite the fact the budget for costumes was not large, Myers felt grateful to be given the space to make such a beautiful film, she calls it nothing less than a dream job.
The Legend of Tarzan is in theatres now.