The Way Of Water Costume Designer Deborah L. Scott On A Brand New Frontier [Exclusive Interview]

As much as we talk about the technical side, this is a movie about family. In your Oscar speech, you thanked your family for inspiring you. So, how does family inspire you and your choices when you work on “Avatar: The Way of Water”?

Yeah, it’s extremely personal because as a costume designer, you’re building character, but you’re also helping the narrative of the story. So, it’s important that they ring true, that even in a fantastical world like Pandora, you have the basis of a unique individual in a time and place. I think Jim talks about this too, raising children. Since “Titanic,” my kids were little, now they’re adults.

Going through all that, and seeing all that interaction, and crisis, and dysfunction, and wonder, and beauty that a family has around it, it’s important for us to remember that. It just channels through. Things like Lo’ak being the rebel son because the firstborn is the golden boy. Jim likes these classic delineations. So with Lo’ak, it was like, “Well, we’re going to shave the side of his head. Doing the hair design made it so important, those braids that come down, so that he can react to it.” They work hand in hand with the performance, with his character, the nature of that boy in that time.

There’s so much to discuss, and obviously, I do want to ask a bit about your past work. You mentioned “Heat.” For that film, how’d you want to help define Al Pacino and Robert De Niro’s characters?

Well, you know it’s a suit world, right? You accept that. It’s going to be a suit. Michael Mann really wanted to exemplify the differences, even though they’re both wearing shirts and suits, and it’s quite like that. De Niro’s character comes out of the prison system, basically. He’s so precise. That guy’s like, a crisp white shirt, not a wrinkle. We went through maybe 100 gray suits to get to that one. It’s like, that was the one, and then we tailored it to make it even more [right]. He was pretty much no frill. He didn’t have jewelry. He was sharp and clean. Pacino, he automatically brings more motion to his characters, in a way. De Niro can be quite still, and was unbelievably focused in “Heat.” Just an incredible performance. Pacino could slump back and do the things, his Pacino thing, and his clothing was dark and moody, and he had, really, a signature ring that we found for him, that he really clung to. But that difference and yet similarity, you take the same items, a shirt, a suit, a pair of pants, and you just go absolutely opposites in terms of character development.

Your imagination runs wild on “Minority Report,” and yet, still keeps two feet in reality. That’s such a great movie, by the way. 

I know. Both of those movies really hold up. I think that the technology even, in “Minority Report,” is fantastic. It’s a brilliant piece of writing. The characters are amazing. Tom is as equally focused as Pacino and De Niro. He’s just a laser beam. I think in that film, he was allowed to show a lot of emotion that we don’t often get to see.

I agree.

It’s a really good performance, but one of the things that was different about that, that it was more of a fantastical world, but we based it, again, in reality. What I did, when I started off designing that movie, there are three parts of society. There’s Tom Cruise, there’s the authoritarians, and then there’s the underground people. I used three different illustrators with different styles, so that you could get this feeling organically. Tom Cruise is the real world, they’re slick, they were minimal designs based with an artist that was much more of a fashion illustrator. So, it’s a little gestural and very simple. The authoritarian world is kind of like the ’60s. Max von Sydow’s world, it’s very based on a ’40s thing, old movie star, classic shapes, classic colors. I used a different illustrator for that, that was just more a realist. Then, the underground world with all these crazy characters, it was just that you needed more of a completely unique way of drawing and presenting the fact that you’re going to take … It’s just a mishmash of stuff. We got to be as crazy as we could get, but contained and real too.

I love that you brought such film noir to it. Colin Farrell’s suits in that movie are terrific.

Yeah. He fits right in that center, that sharp, double-breasted suit. He obviously can carry it off. He has that physique and stature to just be clean. There’s a lot of clean in that movie, that juxtaposes with the underground.

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