The Public

Apr. 23rd, 2019

By Anna Wyckoff

Costume research can be an academic endeavor, but designer Christopher Lawrence’s approach for the film The Public was rooted in first hand observation. After reading an article about the influx of homeless people into libraries, director Emilio Estevez wrote and produced a film that scrutinizes how the media and politicians handle the issue. “The project is an exploration of the people most often ignored,” says Lawrence. “I went to churches where the homeless stayed overnight and really talked to people. I was able to photograph them with their permission, and look closely at who this person is. Of special interest to me was what they chose to keep. There was a man who had keys on a carabiner and I asked, ‘Are those your house keys?’ He said, ‘Yeah, I’m, going to get back there.’ Everyone had a story.”

This thorough investigation was crucial given the scant budget. “It’s a tier one, crazy, low budget film. I had Jennifer Soulages as assistant costume designer. We pulled the show based on the extensive photos I had collected.” Lawrence delved into character and circumstance to dress his both principal and background, a process that was greatly enhanced by the actors’ passion and commitment. Stuart Goodson (Emilio Estevez) is the librarian who must deal with the breadth of humanity. “He’s sort of an innocent, so his jacket is the adult version of a little kid’s jacket. It’s nylon, it has a hood, zips, and has buttons. Other looks were similarly embraced by the cast. Detective Bill Ramstead (Alec Baldwin) is a crisis negotiator. Lawrence dressed him in an inexpensive suit. “Alec wanted to look like a regular guy and he does.”

He used aging and dying strategically and subtly. It was important to him that the homeless would not look comic or cartoony. The result is a rich set of people, portrayed with authenticity and candor in a timely story. Lawrence explains his passion for the project: “The film addresses a lot of problems that were more fictional when Emilio wrote it. Now these issues have become a reality.”

The Public by Universal Pictures is in theatres now.

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