Arrested Development’s Costume Designer Katie Sparks on Never-Nude Shorts, Dressing Michael Cera, and Portia de Rossi’s GenerosityJun 25, 2013 @ 11:45 am
After a seven-year hiatus, Arrested Development returned this month with 15 new episodes for season four, all available for instant streaming on Netflix. Producing such a season offered challenges in scheduling and logistics for each member of the fictional Bluth-Fünke family, with all of them going in and out of episodes that featured both flashbacks to previous seasons and new plotlines. That’s where the wardrobe department came into play. Costume designer Katie Sparks, who worked behind-the-scenes for the first two seasons (she left in the third to raise her daughter), was responsible for keeping the visual story seamless—including re-appearances of Tobias Fünke’s “never-nudes” and Gob Bluth’s silkscreen-printed bathrobe. Watch the clip above to peek inside Sparks’s closet for Arrested Development, and scroll down to read our exclusive interview with the designer. One thing you’ll learn: The costumes are just as calculated as the dialogue.
What was it like returning to the show after seven years?
“It was really surreal for me, I hadn’t seen the actors or been on set for seven years. Everyone seemed the same, but what was amazing was seeing how much Michael Cera and Alia Shawkat grew up. It was amazing to jump to the future and see them all grown up, it was like a family reunion. Arrested Development really elevated these actors’ careers and to see their success after the show was great, everyone was so happy to be there. I’ve also known Mitch [creator Mitchell Hurwitz] for so many years and I felt very fortunate that I was one of the few asked back.”
How did you pick up where season three left off?
“Well the first thing was we were jump-cutting to a scene that was about eight years ago and the whole family was on the Queen Mary, and then we jumped to eight years later and they’re all wearing the same thing. Now the thing was, once you buy all the costumes, the FOX company holds them for nine months to a year, then they go into a warehouse. Ever since then, we have tried to find those costumes and unfortunately we didn’t, so we ended up having to build all the women’s costumes, because the men were in tuxedos. I knew it was going to be a challenge and I thought, ‘Oh boy, here we go,’ but it was exciting at the same time!”
What were some of the challenges you faced while working on set?
“The biggest challenge was not knowing what was next. There would be times when Mitch would be doing a scene and then he wanted to add something and suddenly there’s a new scene, but I like the spontaneity of that kind of thing. Another challenge was most of the time, we literally didn’t get the guest star cast locked until the night before. I would start looking up online who the actors might possibly be and look at their bodies and try to shop an array of sizes. Some of the clothing was altered, but it was really fast and furious. Kristin Wiig [who plays a young Lucille Bluth from the 80's] was great, I think she was used to it from SNL and it was funny because her scene was set in the 80s, which was just a horrendous decade for fashion.”
What was the most challenging costume you ever created for the show?
“I would say Tobias’ ‘The Thing’ [the rock costume from Fantastic 4] costume from season four. There were four different versions of the costume, each version getting progressively older. We tried all kinds of different foam to make “The Thing” costume, and I wasn’t happy with any of the results. We went to Pep Boys and bought out every yellow car sponge we could find, then cut the foam pieces out of the sponges, airbrushed them using different colors until I thought we had the right rocks. It was complicated, but fun.”
Where did you source the show’s clothing?
“I got things from Etsy, different online sites, all kinds of vintage places around town, Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, Barneys, Urban Outfitters, Target, Forever 21 for cheap jewelry, and Fred Segal. One of the things I like to do is mix things up. For instance, I put Portia [de Rossi] in a Valentino dress for the funeral scene, and then added a leopard coat from Target. I also pulled from costume rentals and The Salvation Army, there wasn’t a place we didn’t pull and we built a lot of things. Also, the thing that changed for me was the Internet. Seven years ago you couldn’t get the things you can now, and now you can find anything anywhere.”
How did you come across Tobias Fünke’s never-nude denim shorts?
“I was shopping in Neiman Marcus for Portia and Jessica [Walter] and I was in the designer section, and here were these short shorts. They were cut tight and narrow, and because they were women’s, they were perfect.”
How did you maintain Michael Cera (George-Michael Bluth) and Alia Shawkat’s (Maeby Fünke) looks from the flashbacks seven years ago to present time?
“Well, they’re still suppose to be younger, but they obviously look older because they had baby faces back then. I still tried to keep Michael looking conservative and nerdy, but you can put anything on him and it would look funny. He would be a good sport about it and had an open mind for anything, it didn’t matter if it was a women’s shirt. Alia was tricky because she really blossomed into this amazing figure and Mitch wanted her to look younger, which she did, but it was harder to hide her voluptuous figure. I did my best to keep them in whatever was popular now and how they looked before whether it was using jeans from Target, vintage or a little bit of everything.”
Which character did you enjoy dressing the most?
“Tobias because he is such an odd ball and his sexuality is questionable.”
What was it like working with Portia de Rossi?
“She is just lovely. When we started shooting season four, she said to me, ‘No one would have been able to do this job except for you.’ It was so heartfelt and made me feel so good.”
Who made you laugh the most on set?
“Jessica Walter [who plays Lucille Bluth]. She is so funny and playful, and the rest of the cast made me laugh so much, I would start tearing up on set. The hard thing now is that I miss everyone, so many people kept saying, ‘If this was the only show I’ve ever worked on for the rest of my career, I would be happy.’ I really enjoyed it, it was such a fun job.”
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