INTERVIEW: ‘The Flight Attendant’ Costume Designer Catherine Marie Thomas
The Flight Attendant is a limited series (8 episodes) on HBO Max, which started on November 18, 2020 and ends tonight (December 17). It premieres on Sky Atlantic in the UK on March 19, 2021.
The Flight Attendant follows Cassie (Kaley Cuoco), a flight attendant who has a spark with first class passenger Alex (Michiel Huisman). They go on a date in Bangkok and the next morning, Cassie wakes up to find that Alex has had his throat slashed. The rest of the season follows Cassie attempting to stay one step ahead of the FBI, who obviously suspect her, as she attempts to piece together the events of that extremely drunken night. The show co-stars Zosia Mamet, Rosie Perez and Michelle Gomez in supporting roles.
Catherine Marie Thomas is the costume designer of Kill Bill Vol. I and II, 27 Dresses, Grey Gardens (starring Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore), The Proposal and Whip It.
The first thing I want to ask you about is the flight attendant uniforms – why did you choose those specific colours and did you have to be careful to make them not too similar to any real airlines?
Yeah we did. The colours were chosen between me and Sara K. White, who is the production designer and Steve Yockey, the show-runner. Our inspiration was really the blue of the sky. We wanted the airline and the uniforms to feel very fresh, modern and interesting. Originally in the script, Steve had written that Cassie’s (Kaley Cuoco) uniform was a Diane von Fürstenberg-style wrap dress, which I thought was interesting and very specific [laughs]. And while I loved that reference, I’m not sure that it’s the most practical for a flight attendant. So we used that as a departure point, because it’s actually a very timeless and classic shape, it’s A-line, it’s very flattering to a lot of different body types. But I also really wanted it to look different and interesting at every angle, so depending on how you’re looking at her, 360, it has a different set of colour-blocking.
Cassie’s gold dress for her date with Alex (Michiel Huisman) is amazing – it’s a real kind of showcase centre-piece for the whole show, because you return to it so many times in her flashbacks. Can you talk me through designing that particular dress?
That dress was really important because it’s the counterpoint to Cassie in her uniform. So, she gets off the plane and she has this fabulous date. We knew she was going to be spending a lot of time in it, not just in Bangkok, but also when we were referencing back to what we call “the mind palace” which was the hotel room. There were a lot of components to it because she ends up, obviously, taking it off and underneath it is this slip that we constructed, so you would actually see the slip when the dress was on. But when she takes it off, she’s in this silk charmeuse slip, which I thought was a beautiful nude tone. It was almost more beautiful than her just being completely naked, if that makes sense.
Similarly, Alex also gets stuck in one outfit, because it’s the only one that Cassie sees him in and you went for a dark shirt with pale trousers – what was your thought process behind his outfit?
Yeah, his was interesting because all of his exteriors were when we were shooting in Bangkok, so it was quite hot and very humid. So we had to think very practically about what doesn’t show sweat. I really just wanted him to have this very sexy, mysterious but classic look. So we decided to switch it up and do a lighter linen pant with a dark Tom Ford shirt, so he just looked really beautiful. It’s a very dark dark blue, which was a nice contrast I thought to Cassie and her gold sparkly party dress.
The funeral outfits in Episode 3, on both Cassie and Shane (Griffin Matthews) are both absolute fire (if I can use that word). I love how Cassie looks like a widow who has murdered her rich husband – a classic femme fatale with the cape, hat and veil and also Shane has a gorgeous green coat – what can you tell me about these amazing outfits?
It was scripted by Steve Yockey, the show-runner, that Cassie had this hat on, which is kind of a comedic thing, we were always bridging the line between comedy and Film Noir. But I didn’t want it to look silly. So I found this great hat and I decided to design this great dress and this cape. I love the cape, it was probably one of my favourite things, I thought it was so beautiful and worked so wonderfully, with this whole feeling of being a fish-out-of-water. I mean, she looks appropriate, but then she kind of doesn’t, for Greenwich, Connecticut, like her tattoo ends up showing. She kind of gets it right…
Shane also looks so handsome and so dapper but he also sticks out, so that was a lot of fun.
I like that he hadn’t been to a funeral before, so he didn’t know what to do – how to dress or how to act.
And outerwear – coats become such a character in the show because of the nature of us being outside all the time, so a lot of times, I was designing around that.
That very neatly leads me onto to my next question! The coats – particularly in episodes 4 and 5 – they have been coveted on social media a lot. Cassie’s coats have become quite a signature of the show. Could you tell me about different ones she wears at different points?
Yeah, it’s funny, I guess this season is the Season of The Coat, right? It’s very funny, there’s been a lot of talk about coats. Very early on, when I was having conversations with Kaley and I told her that she’s a Southern California girl that’s coming to New York and I said “you have to be prepared to understand that it is going to be really cold and you are going to be wearing a coat A LOT, it probably is going to be the most important piece for each costume change.” So we took a lot of care to find things that I felt told the story of her. So there’s obviously her flight attendant coat, which is a dark blue Max Mara coat. There’s a beautiful Marni coat that has an iridescent green lining, that flips up and has buttons, that’s very loose and has a lot of movement. She also had a beautiful Stella McCartney coat, which was brown plaid with that beautiful Beatles colour-pop lining. They’re all so fun and kind of progress her story a little bit.
*some mild spoilers for Rosie Perez’s character ahead
There are several supporting characters that have to stand out at different times – so you’ve got Annie (Zosia Mamet), Megan (Rosie Perez) and obviously Miranda (Michelle Gomez) is a really important character. How did you make them stand out in their own ways, when it was important eg. I love that Rosie Perez wears a hat when she’s at the motel and trying to be incognito.
Yeah, Rosie was fun – her character is leading a double-life and she’s doing it mostly because she wants the money. So she has a constant need for new things, that’s her goal. So we wanted to give her a little bit of a Connecticut housewife vibe, which was a fun counterpoint to the flight attendant. But she’s not very good at what she does, at least in terms of being a spy, so we thought it was funny to play on that Film Noir spy thriller vibe. She also inhabited it, I thought and it worked really great.
Miranda – she’s that dark, shadowy figure and you don’t quite know what’s going on with her. So, we put her in a lot of Burberry and cashmere, luxurious British brands.
Lastly, I want to ask if there’s any major differences in costuming for film and TV, perhaps in TV you like the fact that you get to build a character arc through costuming and you’ve obviously got more time to do that?
I think the line between costuming for film and television is becoming very blurred now. With a lot of projects that I’ve been lucky enough to work on, I’ve had all of the scripts upfront. So as I approach it to design it, I have the luxury of knowing where the character and the story arc is going to go. So, for me, that feels much more like a feature film, that you know Point A to Point Z. I think that’s happening more and more, with all of these limited series and how they’re developing them. It’s such a better way to work, it really helps you figure out where you want to take the character, visually.
The finale of The Flight Attendant will be on HBO Max tonight (December 17 2020).