Liam Neeson stars as private investigator Matt Scudder in “A Walk Among the Tombstones.” Photo credits: Atsushi Nishijima, courtesy of Tombstones Productions, Inc. Costume illustration by Gina Flanagan.

“A Walk Among the Tombstones”

September 26, 2014

A shawl collar, button-front winter coat has so much screen time in the suspense thriller “A Walk Among the Tombstones” that it wasn’t so much worn as it was inhabited.

Liam Neeson almost never takes off the coat as he plays Matt Scudder, an ex-NYPD cop turned unlicensed investigator who works in the shadows between legal and illegal.

Scott Frank wrote and directed the film, which is based on Lawrence Block’s long-running series of mystery best sellers. The action is set in 1999, filmed in the bleak and grimy corners of a Brooklyn winter. Scudder is a loner, struggling to stay sober and maintain a low profile as he struggles with redemption.

Costume Designer Betsy Heimann, veteran of “Take Back Your Life” and “Unknown” with Neeson, and Frank on “Out of Sight,” has plenty of gritty couture in her repertoire to attack the project. She’s also done “Get Shorty,” “Pulp Fiction” and “Reservoir Dogs.”

Her working familiarity with Neeson aided the design of the brown corduroy coat that Scudder wears like a combination of armor and security blanket. The star showed up only three days before filming began, so Heimann had a version—and the rest of his costumes—ready and aged for a first fitting, including the coat.

“With corduroy, you blend in nicely,” Heimann said. “You don’t look too slick. When you’re on surveillance, it’s a little less obvious.” It also had to be warm to withstand the winter scenes, while offering a certain vulnerability.

“He’s not a tough guy,” said Heimann. “The corduroy is softer, practical and shows the wear. And I think that the Matt Scudder character shows his wear.”

Out of fashion for more than a decade, the thick material “sends you back in time without hitting you over the head,” she said.

To find the right fabric, Heimann and her crew had to be detectives themselves.

“We were looking all over for this corduroy. I swear I had people combing the streets through all of New York,” said Heimann. Assistant Costume Designer Autumn Saville had spotted an upholstery shop in a sketchy neighborhood that she hoped yielded the elusive fabric.

And there they found a thick corduroy with a plush underside. The fuzzy surface became the lining of the coat and, when reversed, doubled as a textural detail along the shawl collar’s lapels.

“It was not exactly the color I had been trying to get. I just saw this, and, what the heck, I think this is perfect,” Heimann said. “Sometimes, you have to surrender to what’s available.”

“A Walk Among the Tombstones” is currently in theaters.


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