Monique Prudhomme is the costume designer on Terry Gilliam’s forthcoming project The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus. She spoke with Phil Stubbs of Dreams one night early in 2008, during the London location shoot of the picture. In fact, camera started rolling in the middle of the interview, so we had to turn the volume down to a whisper to continue.
A Canadian, Prudhomme started her career as a costume designer in Montreal, after finishing a BA in Fine Arts. Currently established in Vancouver, she has designed the costumes for numerous feature films and television projects with stories of adventure, drama and comedy. Projects include Best in Show, Case 39, Fierce People, The Final Cut, Neverwas, and Snow Dogs. Prior to Dr Parnassus, Prudhomme worked on indie hit Juno, for which she gained a nomination for a Costume Designers Guild award.
Christopher Plummer as Dr Parnassus
Verne Troyer wearing one of Percy’s costumes
Dreams: This is quite an extravagant project as far as the costumes are concerned…
Monique Prudhomme: It’s absolutely fabulous. I think that the project itself, because it’s the Imaginarium of Terry Gilliam, it’s open to everything. And the more interesting you can make something look like, in terms of shape colour, it’s a real challenge.
It’s all about letting go a little, and also with this project because the context is a stage show, and also because Dr Parnassus is immortal, we are doing a shameless mix of every period and every ethnicity, and everything that I found that was interesting. So, for example, there are things from the Middle Ages, bits from the Renaissance.
I saw something from Japan yesterday
Yes, and for Valentina we use kimonos… kimonos on top of Afghan dresses, on top of Chinese pants, with ties for belts. It’s like Dr Parnassus has been around the world, and has gathered over the centuries all these treasures and they are all in this big box, and they become this treasure box.
So it is the same for when Tony comes in, he is dressed from this treasure box too, because he has only one suit. With Verne, playing Percy, because of his size and his stature, he is the one who really has it together in his outfits. He is the best dressed, and his outfits come from a mixture of style and periods. So it has been fantastic. It has been a really fantastic adventure.
How does the process work going from an idea to a finished costume?
It’s a process. You start with what I call hunting and gathering. You have ideas, things that would be good. You start in books and looking at images. And Terry also has his favourite images that he wanted to bring in. And from there, you hunt and gather, and you gather clothes, and you gather pieces: hats, coats and scarves, and suddenly when the actor comes, you create the characters by moulding it, like a sculpture.
Terry is open to anything
Terry is open to everything that is interesting, that catches his fancy, and he is very generous in his approach and if you have an idea, he will always listen. And itis extremely extraordinary for that, because he is really interested in the process. And we are always working -there’s nothing that is set. If you get into that flowy mode and you stay fluid then you go with it, it’s an adventure.
Do you have a favourite costume?
I think they all look great and they all have found their character, and all the actors they all look fabulous.
The costumes play an important role in telling the story
I always see my job as being a facilitator for the actors to find this character. So by being open to a process, instead of thinking that the actor is a coat hanger, you create a character with the stature, and the body, and the expressions. Then you mould it and invent things. This film has really enhanced that process. And made it even more fantastic.
Which costume is giving you the most problems at the moment?
I think it is the quantity of wardrobe that has to be provided eventually for when we go into the Imaginarium. Of putting it together, it’s more of a challenge to make it interesting, in a limited time with a short amount of money (laughs)… which is always a challenge for every movie anyway.
Have you worked here before now?
No, I’ve never worked in London before.
How have you found it, working here?
I think it’s fantastic, there is a great amount of resources here that are available, and it’s fantastic because of the history of theatre here and the history of filmmaking. There are huge resources for wardrobe in terms of period costumes and things. And because of course there are millions of people here in London, there are millions of second hand shops and charity shops, and there are a lot more resources than in Vancouver which is a smaller city. We have all the resources there, but not a great amount as we found in London. I’ve found it’s been a great experience for me coming to London. I met fabulous people. My crew has been really fabulous – talented and experienced. I felt welcome, and it has been a fantastic experience, I have loved it.
Link to Dr Parnassus homepage within Dreams for many more interviews & features on the picture