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Costume Designer Kate Hawley: From “The Hobbit” To “Crimson Peak”

Tom Cruise helped test Kate Hawley’s uniform prototypes in “Edge of Tomorrow.” Photo credit: Warner Bros.

BY: Marjorie Galas, Editor

Kate Hawley begins every project by falling in love. From the storyline and characters to the actors and directors, the costume designer embraces every facet of the production and lets her romance with the production guide her creative spirit. Recent paramours have included Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro and Tom Cruise.  An inductee of “Variety’s 2014 Below the Line Impact Report,” Hawley constantly feels she must “pinch herself” every time she steps on a set.

“When I saw ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ I said ‘I’d love to work with a director like that,’” said Hawley. “It’s something I never expected in a million years to happen. It’s funny where life will lead you.”

See Also: From Ball Gowns To Underware: Designing “Masters of Sex” Costumes

Hawley’s journey began in the theater. As a twelve year old, she was exposed to theater reviews from the Wellington Theater in Australia. As a teen she wanted to learn as much as she could about production including painting scenery and making props. She received an art scholarship and continued perfecting her well-rounded education in every aspect of production and production design in London.

“I loved the interaction between the disciplines,” said Hawley. “You also have a strong crisis foundation in theater – you need to have creativity to overcome challenges and help the characters serve the text, which is the most important lesson I received.”

Hawley’s transition into film came through a chance meeting with some BBC producers. Hawley encouraged them to take a risk on her and she transitioned into costume design for film. Her first credit appears on “The Ride,” a British independent feature written and directed by Patrick Harbison, writer for “Homeland,” “24” and “Law and Order.”

Quickly mastering her craft, Hawley met del Toro when he was initially attached to adapt “The Hobbit” trilogy. She created concepts, drawings and samples for characters in all three films. Although she didn’t remain attached to the trilogy when Peter Jackson reclaimed the reigns of the production, her designs provided a template that has carried through each installment, including the upcoming “The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies.”

Hawley reteamed with del Toro for 2013 “Pacific Rim.” One of the greatest challenges in designing costumes for the film was finding ways to give uniforms a dose of each character’s individuality. She looked towards military photographs and found markings officers would make on their helmets that defined their personalities. Inspired, Hawley created a number of well-defined, intricate graphics into the helmets and uniforms.

“They are the sort of thing that you may not recognize when you watch the movie, but your eye would notice something was off if they weren’t there,” said Hawley.

From “Pacific Rim” Hawley jumped directly to director Doug Liman’s sci-fi/romance thriller “Edge of Tomorrow.” For the uniforms in this film, Hawley spent a great deal of time researching technology as well as WWII photographs, images of the Vietnam War, and 16th Scottish Paintings. The mixture of historic references helped her discover textures and colors that brought a reality to the futurist storyline and characters.

“I’m like a forensic scientist, looking for the reality of the environment,” said Hawley. “I’m a magpie, taking bits and pieces from a wide range of influences to build something new.”

Recognizing that every actor was “hired for a reason” to portray specific characters, Hawley also speaks with the actors when developing the costumes. Tom Cruise became an active participant in the creation of the uniform, including the boot designs. She worked with NFL safety padding as well as ski and snow boot designs to create something both futuristic in appearance and fully functional as to not inhibit the actors’ performances.

“Everything had to be adapted and customized for physical performances,” said Hawley. “There wasn’t as much CGI as you would think. Those conditions were as miserable as they looked.”

Out later this fall is the fruit of Hawley’s reunion with del Toro on “Crimson Peak.” While she is naturally drawn to the visually imaginative director, she was particularly enthusiastic about working on the director’s unique take on a period piece.

“It’s a combination of Gothic, Romanic and horror. It’s intense, dark scary matter handled with such intimacy,” said Hawley. “It’s bleak and beautiful. We worked within the discipline of period, but it’s hyphenated. The world is like dreams of a painting.”

Hawley has spent the last three years on the road.  After a short two week break spent exclusively with her daughter, she is back on the road again, working on a confidential project. To assist her, she will bring along the one thing she carries with her on every project she’s involved with: a suitcase full of books.

“They travel with me wherever I go,” said Hawley. “It’s a delicious library. I use virtual material but I also have the real ones. I love technology, but I can’t resist opening the cover of a book and being surprised by the unexpected.”