Unconscious symbolism

Wendy Chuck on Alexander Payne’s multiple Golden Globe-winning The Holdovers

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Paul Giamatti and Da'Vine Joy Randolph won Golden Globes for their performances in Alexander Payne’s The Holdovers, spot-on costumes by Wendy Chuck
Paul Giamatti and Da'Vine Joy Randolph won Golden Globes for their performances in Alexander Payne’s The Holdovers, spot-on costumes by Wendy Chuck

On Sunday night, two of the stars of Alexander Payne’s intricately layered The Holdovers (screenplay by David Hemingson) won Golden Globes. The first award of the night, Best Supporting Actress in any Motion Picture, was presented by Jared Leto and Angela Bassett to Da'Vine Joy Randolph. The Best Actor in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy was presented by the clowning duo of Kristen Wiig and Will Ferrell (a Barbie producer) to Paul Giamatti.

Reese Witherspoon wearing the necklace as Tracy Flick in Election, collection Wendy Chuck
Reese Witherspoon wearing the necklace as Tracy Flick in Election, collection Wendy Chuck

In the second installment with Wendy Chuck, Alexander Payne’s longtime, brilliant costume designer (Election, About Schmidt, Sideways, The Descendants, Nebraska, Downsizing, plus Tom McCarthy’s multiple Oscar-winning Spotlight, screenplay with Josh Singer; Catherine Hardwicke’s Twilight, and Michael Blakemore’s last film Country Life), we discuss the Virgin Mary colours for Mary Lamb (Da'Vine Joy Randolph), connecting with shades of blue, the party scene at Miss Crane’s (Carrie Preston) house, attended by her niece Elise (Darby Lee-Stack), Paul Hunham (Paul Giamatti), Angus Tully (Dominic Sessa), Mary lamb, and a slice of Massachusetts in 1970, Marvin No-Pants, fitting all the boys, including the holdovers Teddy Kountze (Brady Hepner), Jason (Michael Provost), Alex (Ian Dolley), and Ye-Joon (Jim Kaplan), plus Alexander Payne’s Alfred Hitchcock moment in The Holdovers.

From Los Angeles, Wendy Chuck joined me on Zoom for an in-depth conversation on The Holdovers.

Anne-Katrin Titze: Let’s talk about Mary Lamb with the telling name. Violet, lavender, mauve are her colours. And a blue that is very much of that time, bluebonnet blue perhaps, a shade that she and her sister wear.

Wendy Chuck: The inspiration for that came from … I was working over the Christmas break two years ago, we went to set up and do some prep work in Boston and then came back for the hiatus. I went swatching for fabrics for her and suddenly I was thinking, Mary, Mary, Virgin Mary, oh! The Virgin Mary colour! It’s Virgin Mary blue! I don’t know what the Pantone colour is.

Necklace worn by Reese Witherspoon in Election and Carrie Preston (Miss Lydia Crane) in The Holdovers, collection Wendy Chuck
Necklace worn by Reese Witherspoon in Election and Carrie Preston (Miss Lydia Crane) in The Holdovers, collection Wendy Chuck Photo: Wendy Chuck

Then I found an image of the Virgin Mary in blue and red and then I found a Paul Klee painting that had this combination of colours and I thought, okay, that’s it. And then Alexander somehow texts me a couple of days later and says, I was thinking of blue for Mary! Funny enough, we’re both on the same wavelength here. And that moved into purple because blue and red make purple. Someone mentioned to me the other day that it’s like the purple of a bruise.

AKT: Wow.

WC: Here again, this unconscious symbolism comes through. Because I always say I channel clothes.

AKT: That’s so interesting. I did not think of a bruise.

WC: For her there’s some, not many original pieces, and some that were made for her. The blue for her sister is to connect them. Also the blue that she wears at the Christmas party, that dress was made. And I’m standing there watching the kitchen scene, and I say to my assistant, oh is it wrong because both her and Angus are in blue, oh, was that a mistake? She said, no, that is a moment when they connect and he goes to comfort her. Okay, I’ll buy that! Sometimes with these things you can’t think them all out, they just happen.

AKT: The party scene says a lot because a slice of Massachusetts in 1970 is invited. One woman who works at the boarding school and at the bar in a small town connects all these wildly different people. You have so many different styles there at the same party.

Bag in The Holdovers, collection Wendy Chuck
Bag in The Holdovers, collection Wendy Chuck Photo: Wendy Chuck

WC: Yes, it’s a slice of that part of the world at the time. I worked hard on trying to get that as accurate as possible. We had kids and when they cast kids you never know what size is going to turn up at the last minute. All of that is a miracle in itself, that we had clothes to fit them. And bodies aren’t the same anymore. If you get vintage clothes they are size 6 and below. They’re not going to be 12,14s, like average people now, especially after Covid. People thinking they’re ten pounds smaller than they were and they’re not.

Being remote, you can’t react to solve problems, like being in LA for example or in New York in the city where you have access to problem solving tools. It worked. We don’t see as many characters as I dressed, which is a shame, but it always happens, you get used to it. There is a gamut and we did some last-minute changes. Alexander wanted a hippie-type. In the end, I don’t think we see him, we might see a shoulder. He pulled in a crew member who was wearing a band T-shirt, and I’m like, oh no, we can’t see a band T-shirt, we got to get it cleared! But it all worked out.

AKT: I have to ask you about Lydia’s sister’s son, Marvin, who is wearing a blue shirt, a bowtie, and underpants! What happened there? Was he one of the kids whose pants didn’t fit?

WC: No, because I wouldn’t do that if that happened. This was a real character that was named Marvin No-Pants or something. He was actually a scripted character and we fitted two boys for that part. They didn’t know which one they were going to use, it depended on the kid. Originally he was a real character. David had gone to a party like this and there was a kid.

Angus Tully’s (Dominic Sessa) mother Judy Clotfelter’s (Gillian Vigman) with her bag (collection Wendy Chuck) and Stanley Clotfelter (Tate Donovan)
Angus Tully’s (Dominic Sessa) mother Judy Clotfelter’s (Gillian Vigman) with her bag (collection Wendy Chuck) and Stanley Clotfelter (Tate Donovan)

You know it was the Seventies, it was the end of the Sixties and there was a lot more freedom. Apparently at this party they used the kid as a paintbrush, so they recreated the scene but it didn’t end up in the final cut. It was probably too much or a distraction in the end. In fact, that same kid, I had him in a blue velvet suit too, which was super cute. That’s how he ended up there. Thank you for noticing! It’s amazing how you notice these things.

AKT: How could you not notice Marvin No-Pants! What else did I notice? Kountze [Brady Hepner], of course, who is such a horrible boy. We first see him in a plaid dressing gown, later on, does he wear a rugby shirt with a red tie?

WC: It’s rugby shirt-ish, which were around at the time.

AKT: He’s making a fashion statement. His clothes don’t necessarily make him unsympathetic, unlike the Headmaster whose pompous shoulders already make him unlikeable. With Kountze it’s his vile words and demeanor. Tell me about dressing the villains!

WC: I fitted all those boys in one day and I think we went to camera two days after. I had to have all their changes. That was a wild day. I fitted Angus the same day and probably someone else. And then came, okay, where am I going to place those things and how do I make them different? Sometimes it just happens in the day. It’s hard to track everybody’s changes and look when you start.

Wendy Chuck on Alexander Payne’s Hitchcock moment in The Holdovers: “He is the rowing teacher in the gym towards the end. ”
Wendy Chuck on Alexander Payne’s Hitchcock moment in The Holdovers: “He is the rowing teacher in the gym towards the end. ” Photo: Anne Katrin Titze

Then you get Day 1 done and then you get to see how they’re playing the character and then you can elaborate and support them in the next couple of scenes. The two little ones are kind of the baby boys. Kountze, I thought that green shirt with stripes was kind of like, that’s a guy you don’t like. It went that way on him. But put that on someone else and it could look completely different.

AKT: Did you design the logo for the school jackets? The lion?

WC: That was the art department.

AKT: It looks like a hamster. At first I thought, their logo is an orange hamster!

WC: Ha! Did you notice Alexander in the movie?

AKT: No!

WC: He is the rowing teacher in the gym towards the end.

AKT: His Hitchcock moment.

WC: That’s right, although he doesn’t usually do that. But this was the day.

AKT: Did you think that Angus, Dominic Sessa has a resemblance with Alexander?

Wendy Chuck: “I fitted all those boys in one day and I think we went to camera two days after.”
Wendy Chuck: “I fitted all those boys in one day and I think we went to camera two days after.”

WC: I never thought of that! Well, his body’s different, his hair, hmmm, I never saw Alexander when he was that age but oh yeah, yeah, maybe. And that just goes to show, I think we all put some of ourself onto the movie. If it’s me in the things I own or, I know in a contemporary world there usually is one character that you dress like you would like to dress or you can’t help but infuse your own taste in things, your own personal taste on a character sometime.

AKT: Can you give me examples of that for you, where you infused your own taste?

WC: Maybe even Lydia a bit. I did have her in boots but he didn’t like them. Boots with that skirt would have been great. I probably would have worn that outfit with a pair of long boots. The first outfit when she brings cookies. And probably even the young girl that Dominic kisses at the party.

AKT: The white blouse is nice.

WC: I was a young hippie wearing peasant blouses, in fact that was probably the first thing I made, a bias cut skirt to the knee and purple suede boots were the first boots I ever bought at 15.

Read what Wendy Chuck had to say on dressing The Holdovers cast.

Read what Alexander Payne had to say on The Holdovers from Omaha, Nebraska.

Read what Alexander Payne had to say on The Holdovers from JFK airport.

The Holdovers is in cinemas in the US and will open in the UK on Friday, January 19.

The final nominees are scheduled to be announced on Tuesday, January 23, 2024. The 96th Academy Awards will take place on Sunday, March 10 at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles.

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