June 20, 2014
In “The Leftovers,” a new sci-fi drama series coming to HBO, Costume Designer Amy Stofsky’s mission is to dress the ensemble cast to look like ordinary citizens who are dealing with extraordinary circumstances. In an instant, 2 percent of the world’s population disappears in a rapture-like event. “The Leftovers” picks up three years later in suburban Mapleton where the remaining citizens are coping after 100 men, women and children vanish without reason.
Starring Justin Theroux, Amy Brenneman, Christopher Eccleston and Liv Tyler, “The Leftovers” is based on Tom Perrotta’s best-selling novel of the same name and is the latest project from executive producer Damon Lindelof of “Lost.”
The costumes, like the plot, have a way of evolving that isn’t always linear.
“Everything that happens in the story is really emotional and psychological,” explained Stofsky, who joined the series after Costume Designer Kristi Zea established a look in the pilot. One of her more challenging wardrobe tasks involved dressing from eight to 80 extras who comprise the “GRs,” the Guilty Remnant. Dressed in all white, the GR is a kind of cult, bound by the psychological pain of surviving after so many unexplained disappearances.
“They live communally, they gave up their worldly possessions and they gave up speaking,” said Stofsky. With an image in mind of a group dressed in whatever random garments they can find, Stofsky went about unlinking them from their worldly identities. She gathered dozens of coveralls, lab coats, sweatpants, hoodies, down vests and jackets and layers and layers of T-shirts.
In the beginning, Stofsky dressed the cult members to look as they did in life–but in white. “But it didn’t work because it was too planned. It was more that it was cattywompus–for lack of a better term,” she said.
Without color to reveal character details, garments became more important for their silhouette. And even though the intent was to erase identity, Stofsky remained cognizant that the performers didn’t necessarily need or want to look unattractive.
Across the 10-episode season, the GRs required clothing that would be appropriate and comfortable in weather that ranged from 5 to 110 degrees; that fit a wide range of bodies; that could be ordered by the dozen; and that wasn’t so blazingly white that it wouldn’t read on camera–even when they shot against snow. For such a simple color, white presented numerous technical and storytelling challenges.
“We’ve used so many different dyes and so many different aging processes,” said Stofsky, who had to bleach and dye nearly every garment.
“First, it was that the whites were too dirty,” she said. “Then we finally, finally got the white right. It’s a warm tone. It’s not dirty.”
And though Stofsky researched the symbolic meanings of white across cultures, in the end, the script’s choice of white for the cult members wasn’t necessarily linked to any larger meaning; it’s just a choice the writer made. Still, the presence of the slightly disheveled, mute and anguished cult members all dressed in white comes across as ominous, not pure or innocent. The ultimate neutral color, white also revealed a blazing power.
“It’s starting to feel like summer and and people are starting to wear white,” said Stofsky. “But it’s like you can’t even look at anybody in white anymore. It’s made all of us a little crazy.”
“The Leftovers” premieres on HBO on June 29 at 10 p.m. ET/PT.