Costume designer Colleen Atwood tells PEOPLE about how she dressed the actress for her role as a high-powered pharmaceutical sales rep
The single mother is just trying to make ends meet as an exotic dancer in Florida when pharmaceutical sales exec Pete Brenner (Chris Evans) walks into her club and casually offers her a job.
Though Pete may not have been serious, Liza takes him up on his offer and starts her whirlwind transformation into a charmingly sexy pharmaceutical sales rep pushing pain pills at doctors — and that requires a closet full of clothes fit for a businesswoman.
Costume designer Colleen Atwood, who was in charge of crafting the wardrobe for the movie (available in select theaters now and on Netflix on Oct. 27), spoke with PEOPLE about sourcing pieces from places like Los Angeles Goodwill stores, and calling up designers to create one-of-a-kind designs.
Take us through Liza's wardrobe evolution — from exotic dancer to pharmaceutical sales rep just starting out to powerful saleswoman.
My first fitting with Emily was in New York. We talked about the character and the journey that she was going to make in her world. She was a working class girl. She came from humble beginnings. Clothes weren't a huge priority in her life. She had so many other things to deal with — just surviving. So we started with her in her jeans and really casual everyday stuff. Then as she saw the other people who were successful in sales in pharma, she adapted to their style and looks. Suddenly at some point she owned [her style] and she began to make her own choice based on that.
So it gave us three slots. She had the early starting wardrobe, which was the little yellow sundress you see in the beginning or the little denim dress with the straps. This was stuff you could get at Goodwill and secondhand stores. That's the concept that we went with, and actually both those items were found at secondhand stores in Brooklyn. Then we started shopping a bit at what we call the high street in the U.K., but the regular department stores. Then as she became more affluent and more comfortable and realized that she was making money, she started buying designer clothes and incorporating that into her look. So it's three different levels of dressing with her character.
When she first starts in sales, it almost feels like she went into her mom's closet for something an "adult" would wear — like she just didn't quite know what to do.
Right. She began to realize that she was operating in a different stratosphere. Emily's such an amazing actor and looks great in anything. It was really fun to work with her and bring her down a little bit in the beginning so we could make a journey with her, including hair and makeup. It was a real collaboration.
There are a couple standout pieces in her wardrobe, including the white suit jacket she wears in one club scene. It felt like a bit of her past mixed with her present.
It's an Alexander McQueen jacket. I saw it in a store and I went, "oh my God, this is perfect for the strip club scene." It's got elements of both worlds crashing together. In the story, it came at a point where that was happening to her. So it was a metaphorical choice as well as something that just visually worked in the room. It was a very expensive jacket, and my budget wasn't huge. I didn't buy it right away. But then when I showed it to Emily, she was like, "Oh, yeah, we're doing this." And I ended up making pants to go with it. It didn't come as a suit. I just made white pants, which you don't actually see in the film.
Another standout is the gold sequin dress at the house party — it felt like something Emily herself would wear.
Emily's friends with Michael Kors, and that dress was specially made for us for the movie because we had an idea of what we wanted, but we couldn't find it. She remembered that he had done a similar look to that a couple of seasons ago. So we approached [Michael Kors Collection] and they made it for her for the film. It was a great gift with her connection and the idea of the dress in the scene. It's super simple, but a perfect elegant dress in a sea of garishness. It really stood out.
What were some of the places that you were sourcing Liza's wardrobe?
Her wardrobe interestingly came from three cities, [but] mainly L.A. and New York. Even though we shot in Atlanta, by the time I got to Atlanta we had figured Emily out. I shopped at places like Goodwill and [consignment store] Buffalo Exchange, both in New York and L.A., and [also] flea markets and places like that because even though it looks like nothing, it takes a minute to get the journey correct with a character like that. I pulled a lot of stuff from those sources and then I filled in with [discount department store] Ross and even Nordstrom.
When we got into the world of the designer clothes, it was Bloomingdale's, Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus. I was all over the place with shopping for the show. And I made quite a few pieces for her in the middle range of the character because I couldn't really find exactly what I wanted.
Dr. Lydell (Brian d'Arcy James) also has quite the wardrobe evolution. Walk us through what you did with him — including that Gucci look we see.
Well, he was a great collaborator. His character was a train wreck — midlife crisis extraordinaire. So in the beginning he was a mess and he wanted to be hip and a player, but his reference for it was maybe not the most elevated reference in the world. As he became more affluent and more of a player, we felt like his reference would be like he'd look at something in a magazine and see himself in it as opposed to actually looking at himself in it. So that's how we ended up with the Gucci leather pants.
It was an evolution of anti-style. So he's somebody that is such a great character actor that we had a lot of clothes for him. We didn't want to make him too cartoony. You had to believe he was a doctor prescribing meds in this place. Whenever he was presenting as a doctor, even though he had the designer stuff underneath, he wore a jacket in the lab just to help make him not too obviously a sham. He's despicable, but your heart goes out to him in a way that's really due to his really great performance.
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Lastly, let's talk about Catherine O'Hara. Her wardrobe is so fun.
Well, I started with Catherine actually. She liked to go hear bands, she liked metal. She was like an '80s party girl that tried to settle down, raise kids by herself and was a bit of a mess, but with a great heart and a great spirit. And then Catherine really liked delving into the rock mom vibe of it. I just got a ton of T-shirts like Joan Jett and Blondie.
Then when she starts working at the pharma, she's already in that middle tacky range when she starts. Instead of going the business way, she goes the Dolce & Gabbana way with her higher-end choices. She's already channeling that rock-and-roll wannabe vibe with her clothes on a very scatty, not genuine way. Then at the end, she's back to where she started. Her clothing journey goes back to the comfortable place where she started, but just a little bit nicer.
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