Interview with Kym Barrett (Costume Designer) – Part 4 – from The Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions (2003)

By Paul Martin March 28th, 2012, in Official Interviews, The Matrix Reloaded, The Matrix Revolutions

Archival interview with Kym Barrett from the official Matrix website.

HEL NIGHT CLUB

MATRIX: The Hel Night Club scene required around 200 individual extras; how did the Costume Department find those people and the inspiration for the costumes?

KYM: We tapped into the real world of fetish. Rubber outfits are very expensive, they don’t last very long, they break if you put your fingernail through them, and we had to be able to shoot that same person for days and days and days. So the best idea seemed to be to hire people who knew how to wear latex, who were used to wearing that, and could wear their own clothes because, apart from anything else, it meant our continuity would be much less compromised. They also know to drink water, they know to put powder on, they know how to get in and out of rubber, and they know how long they can wait before they have to go to the bathroom.

These people were great with lots of information about being in that world. The costumes we did design for specific people we could ask how they would cope if they had to wear it for hours and hours, how much water you’d need to drink, and what the signal is for ‘get me out of my handcuffs’ when you can’t speak because you’re zipped into a rubber blow-up bulb head. We did make a few great things for that scene, but for the most part I couldn’t have thought up a lot of the clothing those people came up with, it was amazing.

MATRIX: How did you go about selecting the people and the outfits for the Hel Night Club scene?

KYM: We saw a lot of people, because we wanted high-end, more closeted, fetish. We didn’t really want to go too dance party, or metal, or goth, and we didn’t want anything too definitive. We also wanted the scene to have a little surrealistic edge, so you couldn’t necessarily place it time-wise. We had a casting, and then asked if they knew anybody who does this, or who can walk in these type of heels, or who is a pony girl – and remember all these people go to the same clubs. The group kind of grew by word of mouth, and that’s how we got the best people all together. We had our own casting for specific roles, which we could then cast to fit in with the group. It was strangely easy, not for my crew because they had to deal with the sweat and the washing of rubber every day, but in terms of getting the look consistent – it wasn’t so hard, we had a lot of help.

AGENT SMITH

MATRIX: Consistency must have also been a challenge when clothing the 200 Agent Smith clones.

KYM: That was a long process; I have to give a lot of credit to Dan [Bronson, Costume Supervisor] for that; we had a lot of castings. When you see Hugo [Weaving, Agent Smith], you have a certain idea about what Hugo looks like, but when you have to cast people to fit into a Hugo mask, and to have the same shoulder height as Hugo, and to have the same arm length as Hugo etc, it’s all about proportion, as opposed to finding someone who has the same measurements as Hugo.

At the beginning, casting sent us people who measured the same as Hugo, but were actually nothing like him. They were the right height, and their shoulders were the right width, but the distance between their head and their shoulders was three inches out, so if we lined them all up against a wall, they were totally different. We got a silhouette of Hugo, we taped a life size photograph of him on the wall, and we had everybody stand against it and measured their proportion, as opposed to their real measurements. Then we had to get people with extra thin necks and small heads, because once they put the prosthetic mask on, that added on a couple of inches. We actually ended up with men that were nothing like Hugo, who all looked like Hugo.

That was a huge ongoing learning process. We lined them up and made sure all their fingertips were the same, therefore we had to make all the hem lengths of their jackets the same, even if it was the totally wrong hem length for that person. For some, we put lifts in their shoes, and underneath their suits they were wearing wetsuits and rash guards because they had to be in the rain for so long. It was a big deal, so my thanks go to my unrelenting crew for that.

MATRIX: Were all the suits made here in the Costume Department?

KYM: We made Hugo’s first, then sent the suit to suit makers and asked what kind of deal they could give us for making a few hundred of them. They could give us great deals, but wanted to use a particular fabric. We said we needed a shinier fabric because it’s going to be in rain, and it needed to be polyester because it had to dry overnight and not grow mold, but it still had to look the same as the good fabric, even though it wasn’t. So there was a lot of to-ing and fro-ing about how much it was going to cost. Dan and Elly [Kamal, Assistant Costume Supervisor] had to get on the phone, sending quotes and getting quotes back, and eventually you get someone who says they’ll do it, they take away the suit to cut the pattern off it, and the suit comes back nothing like the original.

Even though it seems easy to get two hundred suits identical, it was probably the most time-consuming job on the whole movie. I think Judy and Peter [Hair and Makeup Departments] would probably say the same thing from their department’s perspective. We spent more time on those things than anything else, because just to get that volume looking the same was a huge undertaking. No one wanted to do it in Visual Effects because it would have been much more expensive.

In these two movies, we had an even bigger challenge, because we had to make Neo’s coat also look the same when it was raining as it did when it was dry. So we had to use different weights of fabric, but we had to make you believe they were the same fabric, which of course they weren’t. We ended up with maybe eight different weights and types and sheens and textures of fabric; hopefully you won’t be able to tell which are different.

MATRIX: To have each costume work, you must have to liaise with a number of other departments.

KYM: Yes, we liaise with the Special Effects Department, and we work quite closely with Visual Effects as well because we have to talk about certain shots. For instance, there is a pitchfork rig with a huge bar that cuts out the middle of the stunt person’s body who is in it. For that we had to work out a way to, as much as possible, reduce Visual Effects’ job by creating a costume that only leaves them a tiny gap where they have to tweak it, color it in, and shave it off. It was a challenge to go that far, then they also asked us to make the area a particular green, make it so it was shiny enough, and we sewed on extra dots and glued on extra orange balls. It’s a great collaboration, but most of our work with them you never notice or see, hopefully.

MATRIX: What was the most challenging aspect for the Costume Department on these films?

KYM: The rain… so much rain, and so much water, and the kung fu is so much more sophisticated.

MEROVINGIAN & PERSEPHONE

MATRIX: Why did you take the direction you did for the costumes of the characters Merovingian, played by Lambert Wilson, and Persephone, played by Monica Bellucci?

KYM: I tried not to think about them too much until we had the casting, because I knew I could have done a short, fat, evil Merovingian who would have been totally different to Lambert, who was tall and elegant and adorable. For those two in particular, I felt like we needed to wait to see who they were, and what their actual personalities were like. They had to be two people who could be like Laurence, and hop into a costume and walk around in it, looking like they lived in it. Both of them are extremely regal in their bearing, so that gave me clues too about how to dress them.

MATRIX: How did you decide on Persephone’s silhouette and that she would wear latex?

KYM: We knew that she was the queen in the fetish club [Hel Night Club], and the visuals of the movie are hyper-real. The Brothers have a huge knowledge; they know about philosophy and myths and legends, the Holy Grail and fairytales, and because they’re all iconoclastic imagery we have all grown up with or assimilated, then there are always moments where I can tap into it and say, “Okay, so she’s really like the Witch in Snow White. She is the apple, she is the red, juicy Eve’s apple,” and use that idea. The fact that she looks like kind of a cyber Jessica Rabbit, and she looks like the evil witch in Snow White, and she looks like an apple, all fused together, plus she’s got a beautiful figure, and she’s delicious to listen to, all add up to the same thing. It’s more subconscious I suppose, it’s more a fusing of all those feelings and images into a single costume.

Lambert is a piece of black silk, he languishes around and he’s all mind and body, all flowing liquid, and all those things are a little frightening. I mean, if you were to dream of all those things in one dream, you’d come up with the Hel Club probably – syrupy and evil.

MATRIX: Thanks Kym.

Interview by REDPILL

May 2002

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