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How Costume Designer Mitchell Travers Transformed Jessica Chastain and Michael Shannon Into ‘George & Tammy’

This interview with “George & Tammy” costume designer Mitchell Travers first appeared in the Below-the-Line issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine.

According to country legend Dolly Parton, Tammy Wynette was “a country girl’s idea of glamour.” Throughout her tempestuous courtship and marriage to George Jones, some things failed: her health, her patience and eventually her marriage. But never her fashion sense, God love her.

“When you go back and look at the way these musicians were dressing themselves, it was an incredibly forward-thinking period in history—and I would argue that the country world is now a bit more conservative than it was,” said “George & Tammy” costume designer Mitchell Travers. The limited series reunited him with Jessica Chastain, for whom he designed another Tammy in “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” which earned Chastain a best-actress Oscar just last year, as well as a reunion with the actress’ onetime “Take Shelter” costar Michael Shannon.

Showtime
Showtime

George and Tammy’s attire in the rollicking Showtime series is downright spectacular at times: plunging necklines, form-fitting suits, rhinestones, tassels and cleavage-revealing gowns, all in resplendent colors that RuPaul might envy. “There was this sex appeal to their relationship and to them as individuals that I really wanted to use costume to help convey,” Travers said. “There was genuine passion. It was about finding ways to flatter them, show a bit of skin, find some connection between the two of them.”

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And when Travers’ research unearthed garments that had actually belonged to the stars, he was always anxious to share. “Elements of Tammy’s real wardrobe kept finding me, and every time, I would run into Jes’ trailer to show her my newest acquisition,” he said. “In one of our first meetings, I showed her the first piece that I had, and she just had to try it on. I was like, ‘It’s a bit fragile, but maybe we can use it for a still photo or a montage or something.’ But to her credit, she just stepped in and it zipped up. Absolutely no alterations needed.”

Jessica Chastain in "George & Tammy"
Jessica Chastain in “George & Tammy”/Showtime

For Shannon’s fun Western attire (including a very handsome avocado suit he wears during Tammy’s childbirth scene), Travers had the George Jones Museum as a valuable reference. “I’m not just interested in what an outfit looks like,” said the “Hustlers” and “In the Heights” vet. “I also want to know what the lining looks like. It was a really wonderful resource to me in the beginning to get to learn who George was.”

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As the miniseries depicts, the legendary duo lived a hard life on stage and off, and the clothing that fell into Travers’ possession was proof. “There’s one dress we found that had a little cigarette burn in it,” he said. “These little details tell a bigger story. One of the other dresses still had foundation on the inside, because people were much more heavily made-up for television in that time.”

Chastain and Shannon are taller than the megastars they’re portraying, and Travers said both couldn’t have been more cooperative. (“Michael was so patient with me, trying on suit after suit after suit.”) But the 6-foot-4 Shannon is a foot taller than Chastain, whereas Jones, at five-seven, was only five inches taller than Wynette. “My costume-designer heart was begging our director John Hillcoat not to put their shoes in the frame for performances just so we could get that same visual chemistry. And of course, Jes is a trooper—7-inch platform high heels, just to make the shots work. Luckily, both actors were willing to play ball with me on that.”

Read more from the Below-the-Line issue here.

TheWrap magazine below the line issue cover
Photo by Jeff Vespa for TheWrap

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performances just so we could get that same visual chemistry. And of course, Jes is a trooper—seven-inch platform high heels, just to make the shots
work. Luckily, both actors were willing to play ball with me on that.