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Credit: Lachlan Moore // AMC // Sony Pictures Television

The ambitious costumes of Preacher's final season

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Aug 27, 2019

Preacher has gone on quite the physical and spiritual journey across its four seasons. Adapted from the graphic novel of the same name, Jesse Custer (Dominic Cooper), Tulip O’Hare (Ruth Negga), and Cassidy (Joe Gilgun) have crossed continents (and dimensions) on their various deity-driven missions while being followed by nefarious organizations and stalked by other-worldly assassins. Now, the AMC series is coming to an end, but before it does there are plenty of obstacles in their way — including The Grail, a detour to a fetish party, and themselves. 

“This season is probably the most creative season of costume design I have ever done,” says Preacher costume designer Jill M. Ohanneson. Preacher has always been ambitious in scale, but in the first three episodes of Season 4 alone, Ohanneson has crafted looks which expand the world of The Grail, as well as covering a number of locations and time periods (including the prehistoric era and the 1916 Irish rebellion), and one of the most surreal fight scenes this show has ever done. 

Preacher

Credit: AMC

Ohanneson is no stranger to creating costumes covering a variety of periods, as she designed the instantly iconic Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure looks back in 1989. The final season of Preacher not only goes back in time but also flashes forward. SYFY WIRE FANGRRLS spoke with Ohanneson about the challenges of such a physical (and bloody) show, her favorite character to design, and our TV-style queen, Tulip O’Hare.

In the two-hour premiere, the full size of The Grail’s operation is revealed while Cassidy is being held at the Masada headquarters. In the past, we have only seen certain departments, but in Season 4, Ohanneson and her team built an entire Grail world of costumes: “Everybody from the top of the food chain (which is, of course, Herr Starr), all the way down to janitors and maintenance people." The Grail only wear red and white so each position had to be a variation of these two colors, According to Ohanneson, “We were constantly using different kinds of white clothing, different kinds of red clothing, and then trimming it in the opposite color.” Referring to this process as a puzzle, she noted there are little Easter Eggs hidden within these costumes to reference their position within The Grail. An example of this can be found on the accountant: “We trimmed out a plus in the front and a minus in the back.”

Preacher

Credit: AMC

Herr Starr (Pip Torrens) has been promoted to the position of Allfather, which means he gets some fancy new robes to add to his closet. He doesn’t stray too far from the robes worn by previous Allfathers — the portraits on his office wall show his predecessors — so Ohanneson wanted to find something that revealed his sense of history. Before production headed to Australia (where Season 4 was shot), she visited Western Costume in Los Angeles and struck gold (literally) in the Biblical aisle: “I found beautiful vintage pieces, some of which we had to reline or retrim. But I tried to get as old, beautiful and authentic pieces as I could.” She found a cape, vest, and cross necklace, which allowed her to "bring that little bit of religious texture to his costume."

Not everyone within the Grail complex is wearing the signature colors, as Cassidy’s tormentor Frankie (Lachy Hulme) is noticeably in black and blue. Frankie is a guest lecturer, so he is not bound by the same clothing rules. "He brought his world of torture to the Grail rather than him being a part of the Grail," Ohanneson said. In one of several teases delivered during this conversation, she mentioned there was another reason why they wanted him to look completely different — but all will be revealed later in the season.

Preacher

Credit: AMC 

A show with this much blood and stunts requires plenty of costume multiples; in fact, Ohanneson said the costume department had to make sure they had extras on top of extras. “We had at least half a dozen to two dozen of every style you saw on screen.” Jesse may only wear one signature look, but this doesn't mean he needed fewer clothes than any other regular. Cooper required eight to ten multiples, his stunt double had four to six, and they also needed to factor in his photo double. Different sizes of pants and shirts were also on hand for when they needed to conceal stunt equipment like harnesses and pads.

Jesse doesn’t change his clothing very often, but this presented its own challenge. When it came to replacing his jacket, the original design from Season 1 was no longer available. Ohanneson had long been on the hunt for something comparable, “We finally found a fabric we had sent in from Italy that was a good match for it. It took me almost three years to find this fabric and we made another 10 jackets for him this season,” she explained.  

Preacher

Credit: AMC

In the second part of the two-hour premiere, Jesse loses his boots (which he got back in the following episode). This revealed the one part of his ensemble that doesn't match. Showrunner Sam Catlin asked for white socks as a last-minute switch. “In a way, it is good as I think it stands out, even more, when he doesn't have his boots on. I get why Sam pushed for that.” To protect Cooper's feet, they found socks with a rubber textured sole.

Collaboration is a big aspect from the top down, which after working together for so long ensures there is a shorthand between creatives. Ohanneson spoke warmly about working with each of the three lead actors, remarking that Negga is “a dream to dress.” Tulip O’Hare is one of the best-dressed characters on TV, but don’t worry, her reign is coming to an end in style. The two-hour premiere showcased the soft and hard sides of Tulip’s closet, including floral wide-legged pants and a blush T-shirt.

Clothing is an unspoken language, so in these floral moments, it is “when she feels safe and she's basically with her people," Ohanneson said. "It's because Cassidy's going to be coming back. Or it's because she thinks she's just going to be with Jesse. She can soften a little bit and let him kind of be the person in charge at that point.” This aspect will be repeated later this season and while Ohannes couldn't reveal the exact costume, it was an instance in which the close (and often intuitive) relationship between actor and designer is underscored. "There's kind of another case in point a little farther down the line that was another place [Negga] initially brought it up and I had been thinking the same thing: that we should do something soft.”

Preacher

Credit: AMC 

When Ohanneson joined Preacher at the start of Season 2 (taking over from Karyn Wagner), she wanted to cement a signature uniform for Tulip that leaned into the tomboy and mechanic aesthetic. Part of this was character-driven, but would also help with practical aspects so Negga could "fight, drive, or do anything she needs to do." Tulip's clothes act as emotional and physical armor, and leather jackets are a big part of this. "It is what she wears to keep people a little bit at a distance,” Ohanneson said. 

Most of Tulip’s costumes were off-the-rack, including the lace-up Louis Vuitton boots that get a great deal of screen-time during the fight with Featherstone (Julie Ann Emery) in the season premiere. Fighting in heels doesn’t necessarily seem like a wise option; however, these particular kickass boots were factored in due to Negga's tall co-stars and physical sequences: “We always made sure that we could lace them up, so not only does it give her height, but it does support her ankle. And not only for her, but also for her stunt double. All of the actors do a fair amount of their own stunts. But there's a certain point at which, for safety's sake and insurance purposes that we have to go to the stunt double.”

For Tulip’s fight with Featherstone, Ohanneson had to build a brand new flying squirrel suit for the big rock diving stunt. Catlin wanted this to be a CGI-free practical effect, which meant a lot of research to make this happen. Ohaneeson ordered an existing suit of this kind to see how it was constructed, “then we took one of [Featherstone's] suits and we added in a very particular kind of parachute fabric that we gave the extra bit of red trim to." Ohanneson described this as “one of the highlights of the season for me.”

Another standout moment for the costume designer came courtesy of a nod to the graphic novel. This included a look that draws heavily on the image of Jesus DeSade (James Smithers) from the source material. When discussing the DeSade House of Entertainment fight sequence that takes place at the fetish party in “Terrible Beauty,” Catlin told Ohanneson that he wanted it to be “more than just people in lingerie, thigh-high boots, and fetishwear.” She noted that everyone’s idea of fetish is different — whether romantic, aggressive or technical — so it was important to portray a variety of predilections. “It was really fun to explore that world and then find a way to enlarge it to include other offbeat proclivities.” Twins in lace white dresses wearing kangaroo heads, someone encased in Saran wrap, and a woman wearing a birdcage on her head are just some of the costumes to be spotted during this sequence.

This was another extremely physical scene so the safety element had to be factored in. There are two different sets of costumes: one for Jesse’s entrance, another set for the fight. The reason for the latter? Safety gear had to be hidden, which meant short or sleeveless ensembles could not be included in the corridor ruckus. As Ohanneson explained: “We had to figure out a way to do that hallway of people, protect them and still feel like it was part of the same party.” It was a lot of work, “but we all really enjoyed it, because it was just super creative.”

Another Season 4 highlight for Ohanneson occurred in this same episode. Going back to the Irish rebellion of 1916, viewers are finally shown how Cassidy became a vampire. In this flashback, Cassidy witnesses his friend’s death at the hands of the British military before having another unfortunate encounter. Production was already running in Australia, but Ohanneson did not need to get anything shipped over from the United States. Visiting Australian vintage rental houses also provided a really fun moment for her: “I actually got to use some costumes from the Man from Snowy River, which was a huge favorite of mine when I was younger.” She described it as a full-circle moment, as this was when she first started to become interested in costume design. 

Preacher

Credit: AMC 

Cassidy is Ohanneson’s favorite character to dress on Preacher “because he is so eclectic.” In the past, he has taken clothes from Jesse’s friends and even one of Tulip’s coats — something they didn’t tell Negga until she spotted it on set.

According to Ohanneson, Cassidy’s age impacts his clothing opinions (or lack thereof): “He's been around so long that he has explored all kinds of sexuality, all kinds of gender identity. And so we started to bring in bits and pieces of women's clothing. He is like a magpie. If he sees something he likes that has a little bit of glitter or a pattern, he just takes it and he puts it on. He has no concept at this point of men's or women's clothes; he just wears what he likes, what makes him happy, what makes him comfortable.”

Preacher

Credit: AMC 

In the fitting room, Gilgun was consistently up for playing around with his costumes including cutting bits off to make it even more eclectic. 

Originally, Ohanneson had a striped sweater from Topshop earmarked for Cassidy, but it soon became clear that it was better suited for another more powerful character, God (Mark Harelik). Up to this point, God has worn a dog suit and traditional robes — but this story development called for something different. “You don't really know what he's doing. I thought that striped sweater would be perfect and kind of odd. You just don't expect God to have on what looks like a vintage cardigan.” Part of Preacher’s charm comes in these very off-the-wall moments. The character line-up could best be described as surreal, which led to some very funny on set moments including the characters sharing a rack. “I remember people coming up and taking pictures because it said 'God, Jesus, Hitler,'” Ohanneson said with a laugh.

Preacher Season 4 Official

Credit: AMC

While Ohanneson was in Australia, she got a call asking if she wanted to do the costumes for Bill & Ted Face the Music, but sadly the timing meant she couldn’t return to her roots. “I have to say it was a little bit heartbreaking,” she said. “But when I commit to a project I see it all the way through, especially something as special as Preacher.” On the subject of Bill (Alex Winters) and Ted (Keanu Reeves), she did reveal that she looked to the punk scene in Seattle and Portland for inspiration. 

Ohanneson couldn’t share too much about where the final season is headed, but she mentioned there is a big costume sequence coming up, as well as Jesse’s eyepatch that makes a cameo in the opening credits. Unpredictability is part of Preacher's charm, right down to the costume design. 

"What's amazing about Preacher is that you're all over the place," Ohanneson noted. "You're in Biblical times, Irish rebellion, a fetish party, hell, heaven, you're in flashbacks, you're in future-forward. You never know what is coming next."

Whatever does come next, at least we know the season will end in style. 

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBC Universal.

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