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Costume Designer Lorraine Calvert On Sourcing And Building Costumes For “Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down The White House”

By: Marjorie Galas

Lorraine Calvert had spent many years as an assistant costume designer on feature films before having the chance to step up into the role of costume designer for the fact-based Watergate investigatory film, “Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House.”  Production had just wrapped on the pilot of “Time after Time,” one of the many television series Calvert had worked on as costume designer over the last five years, and the timing worked perfectly for her to tackle the lead position in the film’s costume department.  She had no trouble transitioning into her elevated position.

“It was much easier than TV,” remarked Calvert.  “Through the many meetings with the director, you get to be on the same mindset.  You really understand that world through the director’s eyes.  It was much more of a collaborative process.”

To prepare for the shoot, Calvert researched clothing from that period, specifically the suits worn by men in political offices.  The wealth of photographs and archival material on former FBI special agent Mark Felt, Richard Nixon’s White House Counsel John Dean and the other key individuals involved with the case really helped guide her decisions.  Felt, played by Liam Neeson, wore somber colors such as grey and dark blue, with a button down white shirt and simple ties, what was nearly a uniform for the government office.  Because the movie spans a ten year period, she made minor alterations to the suit designs to illustrate the evolving time.   Calvert custom-made the suits for Neeson to enhance Mark Felt’s larger stature.  She obtain swatches of material from locations around LA and ordered enough material to build eleven suits.

For two scenes with Audrey Felt (Diane Lane) including one where she is dancing a tango (that was ultimately cut from the film) and another involving the search for the Felt’s daughter at a commune, Calvert custom made the dresses for the actress.  Many other pieces were sourced from vintage stores and costume houses such as the LA based Western Costumes.  Working with characters like Audrey Felt and other wives that are seen in the film gave Calvert great creative freedom to emphasize the women’s strong presences through color palette and design, for there are far less archival images available of the women.  She chose colors that emphasized the women’s personal power and emotions, such as a deep purple and green halter top dress worn by Pat Miller (Kate Walsh).  Calvert was also able to utilize early 70s men’s casual business fashion; tight pants, printed shirts and wide ties, for scenes involving the FBI’s field agents.

Working on a blend of actual locations in Georgia and set pieces, Calvert avoided using browns and instead chose blues and greys that would avoid having the male characters merge into their beige surroundings.  She was able to utilizing “brighter, more colorful” colors for personal scenes.  Dealing with intense characters, she particularly enjoyed finding small embellishments that supported the character’s personalities, such as a pair of glasses worn by John Dean (Michael C. Hall).

Up next for Calvert is a return to television with the SyFy series “Happy!”  Based on a graphic novel by the same name, the series revolves around Nick Sax (Chris Meloni), an alcoholic and syndical ex-cop.  Life takes a dramatic turn after Nick revives from a gunshot wound to find he can see a talking blue unicorn named Happy.

“It’s wacky and far out and I get to create so much from scratch,” said Calvert.