First Man

Nov. 19th, 2018

Anna Wyckoff

Having worked with director Damian Chazelle on La La Land, Costume Designer Mary Zophres knew telling the story of the tremendous effort it took to put the first man on the moon was going to be a tour de force. “He’s so well prepared and works really hard,” Zophres says. “That intensity is contagious. He’s all in and so are his department heads.”

In early discussions Zophres and Chazelle focused on a specific color palette for the film. Chazelle wanted it to have a documentary-feel, underscored with the drama of the sacrifices that many in the space program, including Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling), made to reach the moon. That mandate dictated detailed research. Fortunately, there was an abundance of material. “NASA took care to document everything,” explains Zophres. “There’s a lot of archival footage and some home movies. We went to Houston looked at all the space suits. It was kind of like seeing the pyramids or a masterpiece in a museum. But it was daunting because your task is to replicate them. It was form over function, there is nothing aesthetic—but they are beautiful.”

Many of the scenes with Neil and Janet Armstrong (Claire Foy) were shot in 16mm to create the look of an old Kodak photograph. Their clothing reflected their personal style and the life they were living. “They didn’t have a lot of money. The astronauts were barely making ends meet. They shopped at Sears and J.C. Penny.” Because many of these scenes were filmed close-up, Zophres wanted the warp and weft of the fabrics to be perceptible to the audience. “I gravitated towards natural cottons and wools. We built a lot of clothes, and in most cases I was able to find vintage fabrics to make the garments.”

Making a legendary historical figure out of iconic actors was also a challenge. “We joked that I couldn’t show off his perfect physique, but I really couldn’t. I had to very subtly take the movie star out of Ryan Gosling, while still making a hero.” Janet Armstrong got a similar treatment. “I said, ‘We have to take the queen out of Claire.’ And she was totally game.”

First Man from Universal Pictures is in theatres now.

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