Warning: Spoilers for ‘Maniac’ below.
Netflix‘s “Maniac” is ambitious in every sense of the word. The 10-episode series stars Academy Award winner Emma Stone as Annie, a drug addict dealing with a family tragedy of her own making, and Jonah Hill as Owen, the outcast youngest son of a crazy-rich industrialist. Seeking a quick fix for their issues, the two sign on for a pharmaceutical trial at shady Neberdine Pharmaceutical Biotech run by Dr. James K. Mantleray (Justin Theroux, sporting a spectacular hairpiece and an interesting ’80s-era VR appendage) and Dr. Fujita (Sonoya Mizuno a.k.a. Araminta in “Crazy Rich Asians“).
Helmed by upcoming James Bond director (and hair icon) Cary Joji Fukunaga and written by novelist Patrick Somerville, the series also spans a range of visually stunning (and mind-boggling) decades, genres and even worlds (oh hi, Middle Earth, maybe). Of course, the costume design is just as epic and imaginatively expansive thanks to Jenny Eagan, who won two Costume Designers Guild Awards in 2016 for Fukunaga’s “True Detective” and “Beasts of No Nation.”
“This show overall allowed itself to have so much creativity,” she says over the phone with Fashionista. “You have a sense of the time periods, but we weren’t locked into one specific time. [I did want to] give them great looks though, but also chic and fun — really fun.”
We jumped on a call with the in-demand costume designer the day before the release of “Maniac” for an insightful discussion about dressing Stone as a Legolas-like elf, exercising restraint while transforming a mullet-ed Hill into a ’90s suburban husband and collaborating with the prolific Fukunaga, who may have “Beerbongs & Bentleys” on his playlist.
Here are the highlights.
Annie’s gown in the 1947 caper dream is so Old Hollywood beautiful, yet also functional for the heist action scenes and ‘La La Land‘-like dancing. What was the inspiration behind it and what tricks did you include to allow for the required action moments?
It was definitely inspired by Old Hollywood glamour and that feeling of the story we were telling. With the blue palette, I wanted her to really stand out and be the central focal point in that scene. The bodice is actually a stretch to give her flexibility and movement, but still the feeling of Old Hollywood glamour. Then, of course, the long slit in that skirt was a bit of a modern twist on ’40s glamour — it made her look sexy — but it also gave her the mobility to do all of the stunts. She’s such a beautiful, easy person to dress. It’s so fun and you can explore and do crazy things because she’s so open to that and enjoying that character.
Annie’s ‘Lord of the Rings’-referential sequence in episodes seven and eight was especially elaborate. How did you speak to the fantasy genre but also make it specific for what you needed to do for ‘Maniac’?
I just dove deep with research and combined many different silhouettes. Also, because — what is that time period and what is that place? — it allows itself to have so much creativity and be anything you wanted. I loved texture so much, especially in something as specific as this. I wanted to make them stand out when you see them on that cliff [in wide shots], but when you get in close, it always [looks like] something you can touch. You want to be able to feel it like a scratch and sniff sticker, where you want to reach out and touch the screen. So all the different textures just blend into that old world. It was freezing when we shot it, too, so I had to find a way to keep them warm and give them flexibility and movement because they had so much to carry.
In the final NATO, post-World War II dream sequence, Annie’s skirt suit [top photo] really stands out from all the dark suited men and proved functional for taking out all the G Men, too. What was the inspiration behind the specific shade of red and the silhouette?
The suit might have looked like a skirt in the front, but it was actually a culotte. So that gave her the mobility to do the stunts she needed it to do. Again, Annie is such a pivotal point on that show. Especially when we see her with all of the military people [in the Parliamentary Assembly room] and down the hallway — everybody is dark. It was as if the same guy might be coming at you at all times. But I just wanted it to be red. So I felt like that particular shade of red, which had a bit more blue in it, worked well with her and the blonde hair, versus [Stone’s] red hair. It’s so beautiful against the set that [production designer] Alex DeGerlando built and it’s simple. I wanted to keep the suit itself very simple because if we go too much over the top or decorate it too much, it takes away from what’s actually going on. There’s so much happening on this show that you have to focus on the dialogue and what the actors are doing, so sometimes keeping it simple is better.
The ‘real life’ part of the movie is set in this retro-futuristic version of the ’80s, but the costumes feel like they can’t be placed in one time period. How did you decide on Annie’s duster coat, baggy pants, purple t-shirt, patterned socks and leather backpack to tell her story?
Where are we and when are we? Cary and [Somerville] wanted it to feel like we are nowhere in time. Maybe there’s an ’80s push to it, but I just wanted the world itself to be really muted. So the yellow coat [made Annie] the central focal point. You can see her coming from miles away. She didn’t care, so nothing really went together. She definitely wasn’t pulled together, but we wanted to give her just a little bit of style and edge. A little more masculine than feminine, that suited her character. I also didn’t want her to feel like she had a ton of clothes. She didn’t have any money. I wanted her to feel like everything in her wardrobe could work together. I just loved the red backpack against that yellow coat. There was style to it, but it was also sad to a certain extent. It was like her thing: her [security] blanket, almost.
Yes! Also, we haven’t talked about Owen yet. He also has some fun costumes, especially during the ’90s lemur-stealing sequence. How did you decide on the jersey and denim shorts to go with that spectacular mullet?
The football jersey was something that they specifically scripted. That was hilarious researching the mullets because certainly you can find some great ones out there. But [finding a mullet] that wasn’t so over the top that it was ridiculous — I mean, it was ridiculous — but it could have been his real mullet. Of course, denim shorts have always been something that I look at and think, ‘Why? And why that length? And that color?’ It’s just so specific to the time period, and unfortunately people think it’s cool now. And then the socks…
I wanted to push him a little bit into — I don’t want to say, goofy, but — that guy of the ’90s. That was a look, unfortunately for some. We wanted to make it fun and give it a laugh, without pushing it over the top. I knew in that episode he was going to wear the same thing for the majority of the time and I wanted it to be so funny, too. When he goes in to get the fur coat — just that outfit with the mink coat on made me laugh so hard. Jonah, he was so into it and just open to it and really gave me the ability to have fun. You have to restrict yourself so many times because you could push it so much farther and how far do you go that it’s really believable and not distracting in the story.
When Annie is on the ‘Maniac’ version of Middle Earth, Owen is having a mob infiltration dream and wearing chunky jewelry, zip ups and Hawaiian shirts, while sporting two French braids. What references did you use for his costumes in that sequence?
Cary [looked to rapper] Post Malone. He was a loose inspiration. We were like, ‘What’s the time period?’ So we took inspiration from old mobster [inspirations] like ‘Goodfellas’ [but] more ’90s and even a little bit of ‘Sopranos.’ That ‘mob’ feeling, but contemporary. That was just a mish-mash and finding something that pushed it. But I didn’t want to push it even further to make it even more ridiculous. The gold chain maybe shows status for him. I wanted him to have that feeling of much more security than he had with his other characters. Like that’s an inner part of himself wanting to know: ‘I am strong and I am tough.’
And the lab: Dr. Fujita has the lab coat on most of the time, but her outfits underneath are definitely striking and almost severe with origami-esque high-necks and she has that great white plastic coat.
That coat! I found that and was like, ‘this has to be it.’ She was afraid of the outdoors — afraid to go outside. So [the coat] and the black patent gloves. Like, ‘what can she wipe clean or put herself in the shower with it on to wash the outside off of her?’ Also, a lot of time, she was so busy in the trial, so she didn’t think about clothes. So what fit on her, she would buy in multiples, like, ‘oh this blouse, I’ll take in every color.’ So there was no thought process for her daily routine. She’s all about the work. That lent itself to the hair; everything was very clean with hard lines, geometrical, solid colors.
This is your third project with Cary Joji Fukunaga and he has such a distinct point of view. What is it like collaborating with him on costumes?
He’s such a creative person in general and has such a great aesthetic on his own. He’s so well thought through before you even come on board. Because we’ve worked together a few times now, we have a mutual trust with one another. Sometimes he makes a change at the last minute, but he really is vocal about what he wants from the beginning and gives you that room and space to explore. And then if he doesn’t like it, he’ll tell you. He’s very honest about how he feels about things. It’s actually really fun to collaborate with Cary and he pushes you. He pushes me to explore and dig a little bit deeper and be bold.
The above interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Follow Jenny Eagan on Instagram @jeneags. ‘Maniac’ premieres on Friday, Sept. 21 on Netflix.