Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Oct. 22th, 2018

Anna Wyckoff

Having walked the same streets and frequented many of the same establishments, Costume Designer Arjun Bhasin relished the opportunity to bring to the screen people that were part of his memories. “I moved to New York for college in 1992,” Bhasin says. “I remember those misfit characters who inhabited that bar. I remember sitting there as a young person thinking, ‘Who are these people? What is their backstory? What is their life?’ When I got the script, it was so exciting. I thought, ‘I know this and I’d love to explore who these people were and where they were coming from.'”

The film is the story of Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy) a writer whose career has stagnated. To pay the rent she turns to forging letters from deceased authors and playwrights with the help of her friend Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant). Telling that story meant focusing not only on the period, but on how the characters fit (or didn’t) into it. “Lee and Jack aren’t part of the booming economy of the 1980s. They’re on the outside,” Bhasin explains.

His visual solution was to dress McCarthy in menswear with a strict color palette. “We wanted it to be a sepia-toned world of dusty bookshops and back alleys. And we wanted textures and fabrics that felt rough and cold.” For Jack Hock, Bhasin wanted to create a slightly seedy air of mystery. “You’re never really quite sure if he is stealing his clothes, borrowing them from a friend, or if he lives in a cardboard box. He’s kind of enigmatic, so his clothes were a little more dapper, a little more flashy than hers.”

The end result is a look for the film that captures both time and place in a way that seamlessly entwined with the script and the characters. “As Costume Designers, we get cues off the page,” Bhasin says. “When the actor comes along, it’s another level, but it’s always about being honest to what that character was about.”

Can You Ever Forgive Me from Fox Searchlight Pictures is in theatres now.

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