Costume design in comedy film is a delicate balancing act between straight and farcical. How far can an outfit go before a gag is too conspicuous? Floppy hats? Clown shoes? For Due Date, costume designer Louise Mingenbach worked closely with Zach Galifianakis to create his character’s look. Immature and unaware, yet still believable; Ethan Tremblay is the archetype of comic dress up.
Speaking exclusively to Clothes on Film, Louise explains her costume choices for the movie, how to keep a joke from becoming tired and the process of designer/actor collaboration:
Ethan’s costume is manifest in two stages, when he swaps out a plain grey t-shirt for a coral ‘Lilith Fair’ long sleeve t-shirt in the story’s second act. The Lilith Fair shirt tells us a lot about Ethan’s psyche, which is why it is kept off screen for so long. Louise confirms that it is difficult to evolve a character’s personality in just one change ‘The vest and jacket and scarf work well to keep the “joke” from getting tired. I think we said all we could without the clothes becoming too distracting. The Lilith Fair t-shirt is better as a slow reveal’.
Apparently Zach Galifianakis has hoped to wear a Lilith Fair t-shirt on film for the longest time. The actual shirt used was custom made from a print found on the internet, ‘so we could control the exact colour and image’.
Zach’s core outfit is made up of skinny black stonewash jeans from American Apparel, star pattern scarf purchased on Venice beach, white lace-up jazz shoes by Repetto, theatre mask pin badge bought online, brown plastic sunglasses by Oliver Peoples. Both his blue cotton jacket (based on a 1980s design) and pinstripe waistcoat were made from scratch by Louise to suggest the look of ‘poor starving actors shopping at second hand stores’.
‘I knew Todd felt that less of the skinny jeans would be funnier than too much’. Those tight pants on Zach’s larger frame provide perhaps the most obvious costume laugh in the film. Director Todd Philips bides his time and then cuts to a full length shot of Ethan toddling toward his car; it is as though Robert Downey Jr.’s character, uptight architect Peter Highman, notices them just as we do.
Before fitting there had been some initial discussion of Zach’s costume on the telephone. The self-important ‘small town theatre geek’ was how Louise pictured Ethan from the script, and there is little deviation from this concept on screen. Typically collaborative, Zach added his own touches based on personal experience.
Prior to arriving at the fitting, which took place in New York, he had come into contact with a memorable fan on the sidewalk. Likely unknowingly, this fan was the template for Ethan. ‘He became our new inspiration’.
Peter Highman loses cool, patience and eventually clothes during his journey with Ethan. In sartorial terms he literally falls apart on screen. Conversely Ethan’s clothes, his general wellbeing in fact, remain relatively together. This was Louise’s intention, that costume be ‘representative of state of mind’.
Robert Downey Jr. wears a Tom Ford grey glencheck suit jacket and pale pink Oxford shirt with cutaway collar by Martin Margiela. His red and green tartan wool necktie is from Woolrich. Combining the busy patterns of the tie and jacket were intended to reflect Peter’s erratic temper.
Two characters, two sides of the costume coin, each with meaning and interpretation. As Louise Mingenbach has already demonstrated with her standout attire for The Hangover, clothing can subtly inform a story by helping characters to grow and then, as is often the case, disintegrate.
Ethan Tremblay is a ridiculous man, but truly human. He dresses to belong and feel young. It is a hard heart who would not find this just the least bit endearing.
With thanks to Louise Mingenbach.
© 2010 – 2013, Christopher Laverty.