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Watchmen's costume designer reveals all the secrets of the superhero suits
HBO's Watchmen is proving to be one of the best TV shows of the year. Dave Gibbons and Alan Moore's seminal graphic novel — once thought to be unfilmable — has come to the screen again in the form of a "remix," as showrunner and creator Damon Lindelof likes to call it.
The show brings not only the political themes of the original comic to our modern times, but even the look of the original Watchmen, and that's in part thanks to the efforts of the show's costume department.
SYFY WIRE spoke with costume designer Meghan Kasperlik to go through all the major costumes we've seen in the show so far. Kasperlik is no stranger to working with superheroes, having assisted on The Dark Knight Rises and The Amazing Spider-Man 2, but for her, Watchmen represented a whole new set of challenges.
There are spoilers for the first six episodes of Watchmen ahead.
YELLOW MASKS AND HANDMADE COSTUMES
One of the first things we see in the first episode is police officers covering their faces with striking yellow masks, which looks like a terrible idea unless you want to be seen by absolutely everyone. Either way, it's an instantly iconic look. "The masks pay homage to the original comic," Kasperlik told SYFY WIRE. "It is basically like a standard-issue police uniform, with the added yellow mask. Most of the cops wearing the masks have limited speaking roles, so we could put them in tighter-fitting masks."
The general approach was that the costumes had to look handmade. Unlike the big-budget DC and Marvel movies, there are no high-tech suits in Watchmen. "The characters are supposed to make their own costumes," Kasperlik explained. "It just can't look like some of the flashier stuff like Batman or Iron Man, so I had to make sure that the costumes are made of material obtainable to the vigilantes. It was about giving it a DIY spin without making it look like a Halloween costume.
"So the graphic novel became like our Bible," she continued. "I had it on my desk every day, flipping through the pages every day for inspiration, but making the story our own and set in 2019."
SISTER NIGHT AND LOOKING GLASS WERE CHALLENGING
Like most of the costumes we see in the first couple of episodes were done for the original pilot for Watchmen, which were designed by Sharen Davis, and then Kasperlik tweaked them. "The costume is so striking on camera," she told us. "The hood was a bit of a challenge because we were doing a little bit more action with the character and the hood wasn't keeping the shape we wanted, so I put a layer of neoprene in between the lining and the base of the leather so it would hold its shape on camera."
Likewise, Looking Glass had already been designed when Kasperlik came on board, but surprisingly enough, Tim Blake Nelson isn't wearing reflecting material all the time he's on camera. There were five different masks that they used depending on what the scene called for, and only one actually looks metallic.
"In the pilot, they tried to make it a hard mask, and Tim Blake Nelson insisted on actually wearing a mask to get into character. But when I came on, we used a motion-tracking mask with spandex motion capture material so he can breathe through it," Kasperlik explained, adding that when his reflective mask wasn't a CGI effect, Nelson wore a mask made of lamé.
PIRATES AND BATMEN AND OZYMANDIAS (OH MY!)
Episode 3, "She Was Killed by Space Junk," gave us some great new characters, and the confirmation that Jeremy Irons was playing Ozymandias. But it also gave us a better look at Sister Night and Looking Glass' co-workers, Red Scare and Pirate Jenny.
"For Pirate Jenny, I took inspiration from Keith Richards," Kasperlik explained. "I wanted to make sure she didn't look like a stereotypical pirate, but instead it was a little bit of rock and roll and punk protesters, in a way. So she has this cool jacket, the scarf on her head, and then I cut up a pair of fishnet stockings to make the mask, and then to cover her nose and mouth is a scrapbook sticker of chainmail that we cut into vinyl so it wouldn't disintegrate."
Again, DIY was the key to the costumes in Watchmen, so they had to look simple yet elaborate enough, because this is still a TV show. According to Kasperlik, Damon Lindelof would provide background information on the characters, so the costumes would match what they discussed about who the characters are, even if it's something very simple.
"Red Scare had a tracksuit at his house, put it on and threw the mask on it. While Pirate Jenny, she's a younger person and maybe she used to be a protester or used to go to a lot of rock shows, so that's kind of where her costume was taken from. It's really based on who the character is and working out what their backstory is."
That same episode reintroduces us to one of the main characters from the original Watchmen, Laurie Juspeczyk, now known as Laurie Blake. When we first meet her, she's about to arrest a vigilante named Mr. Shadow, who is dressed as a very familiar superhero.
"The one thing that was really scripted is that he had to look similar to Batman," Kasperlik explained. "So I worked with a local artist named Chris Donio, who molded the shoulders and the chest and the back. Then for the cape, I took inspiration from flying squirrels, like when you do base jumping and you put those wings out. So it was similar yet unlike a Batman costume; mainly it had to have some imperfections and not be super mobile."
Then, in the middle of the episode, we finally see Jeremy Irons put on the classic Ozymandias costume. Charlotte Walter, the costume designer on the Wales team, actually designed this one.
"We knew it had to be as close to the graphic novel as possible. The thing about the original Watchmen is that all the costumes are two-dimensional because of the way that they're illustrated, so they don't necessarily jump off the page," Kasperlik explained, adding that the same team who made Wonder Woman's costume in the 2017 movie made Ozymandias' costume. It's meant to look like metal without actually being metal, which means the actors have a much easier time moving around.
WILL THE REAL HOODED JUSTICE PLEASE STAND UP?
The first time we met Hooded Justice, the first masked vigilante, was in a segment of the American Hero Story show, which obviously turned out to be full of inconsistencies and lies. This translated to the costume itself, which was different than what we see in the sixth episode.
"When we're doing Hooded Justice and the other characters in American Hero Story, everything is a little pumped up," Kasperlik said. "The colors are brighter, the costume is a little flashier, everything is made to be a bit extra. And looking into the graphic novel, sometimes Hooded justice looks purple and sometimes it is shaded a little bit black. So at first I wasn't sure which one to go with, but because we heightened everything for the segment, I thought the purple would be great for American Hero Story, and that's what we went with. The colors stand out more, the ropes are swishing around, and it just looks a bit more elaborate and over the top."
So when it came time to reveal the story of the real Hooded Justice, purple gave way to black, the problem was that the episode was shot in black and white, so we couldn't see any color anyway, which presented a challenge for Kasperlik.
"We filmed in black and white, but they also wanted the option to go back to color, which is not really the way you do black-and-white films. So it was a bit tricky to make sure there was still some extra texture and that everything looked flat. But creating it in black and filming it that way gives a bit more depth and weight to the costume."
For the rest of the costume, it was all about that handmade look. "We worked with the production designer and the prop department about the weight of the rope and what would be accessible in the '30s and '40s, the texture of the ropes, and also the cloth that he has placed over his head is not what ends up being his actual hood," she said. "So we had to figure out what fabric he would use to make his proper costume once he got home and decided to make his own costume at home."
WHO WATCHES THE MINUTEMEN?
For a very, very, criminally brief moment, we get the show's version of the original Minutemen. Though we're focused on Hooded Justice and his experience, we do see the classic masked vigilante team in the background. Of course, designing something that appears so briefly on screen but that should remain iconic isn't easy.
"We, of course, took all inspiration from the graphic novel," Kasperlik explained. "It was all making sure that I was looking at what was happening in the graphic novel, so all costumes were custom-made to fit our actors and what's on screen. For Nite Owl, I wanted to give him extra texture in his costume while still preserving that DIY feel, so it was almost like he takes this polo that he had at home, pushed out the sleeves, and that's it. Then for his briefs, you'd expect it to be spandex, but I actually made it out of a piece of Brazilian fish leather that looked like scales or feathers. Then we hand-dyed his tight and painted his shoes."
Because of how briefly the Minutemen are on screen, extra attention was given to the little details that would make them instantly recognizable to the audience. "We worked a lot of making sure that the silk chiffon for Silk Spectre looked just right, and readjusting the dollar sign for Dollar Bill so it would pop up on the screen, and adjusted Captain Metropolis' nameplate to be embroidered. It is all about the costumes not looking high-tech, but instead like common items you could find at the time," Kasperlik said.
"Not a lot of stretch was available in that time period, so it wouldn't be exactly latex," she continued. "For Moth Man we focused on the wings, so it would look like he had some wire that he shaped into those wings and just put some fabric over them. His bug eyes should look like he just cut a piece of glass and covered his eyes with it and put on a hat. That was our general rule of thumb, while still having some finesse on our end to make sure they still look like a superhero team."
THE MYSTERIOUS LUBE MAN
We only see the man known as "Lube Man" when he runs away from Sister Night and slides down into a sewer to escape. It is a short appearance, yet it was enough to make him an iconic addition to the show — and his odd costume certainly helped.
"The only thing that was scripted is that he is a mysterious man and that he slides down into the sewer," Kasperlik said. "So I naturally went to what slides and glides easily, so latex. Then we put him in a latex costume that was custom-made for him. And speaking with the director of the episode [Andrij Parekh], he wanted it to be something that we would see easily, so not like black or a dark tone, so it would be easily recognizable as he's running. So that's where the silver came about."