Qohen in Wonderland
Carlo Poggioli, Costume Designer for The Zero Theorem talks
| On day 26 of The Zero Theorem's shoot, Phil Stubbs interviewed
Costume Designer Carlo Poggioli. Sitting in his office at Bucharest's
MediaPro studios, Poggioli discusses the ideas behind his costume
creations, and how they came to life.
Phil Stubbs: When you read the script for the first time, was
it immediately obvious the opportunities you could have with the costumes?
Carlo Poggioli: Yes, of course. When I read the script, immediately
I knew that this is Terry's movie. I've worked with Terry for many
years. I met him a long time ago - 25 years ago - when I was Gabriella
Pescucci's assistant, and she was designing for Baron Munchausen.
I was young at the time, and meeting Terry was an amazing thing for
me. I was a big fan of Terry at the time.
Carlo Poggioli in the Costume Office
within MediaPro Studios, Bucharest
After that movie we worked together on The Brothers Grimm.
I also worked on the bad experience of Don Quixote - another
big adventure. And I've worked with Terry on commercials. So I know
Terry very well. And when I read the script for The Zero Theorem,
I said it will be wonderful to design this movie, to have the opportunity
to recreate this kind of world.
Terry told me about the contemporary painter Neo Rauch. He said,
"Carlo, start to think of the colours and kind of costumes
you see in a Neo Rauch painting." So I started to look at them
and I had the inspiration and I understood what Terry was talking
about: to create a kind of world where you really don't know where
you are. It could be the future, could be the past, so immediately
my fantasy started and I started to draw. I met Terry in August
and we had immediately a good feeling about what we were doing.
Of course we had restrictions on budget, so we were thinking how
to develop the idea. Sometimes you have wonderful ideas, but there's
no money, so it's very difficult to get the results you are looking
So I started to think, and Terry agreed immediately, that we should
find some kind of fabric that's not a natural fabric. I showed him
some samples of shower curtain and tablecloth in plastic. That will
be our future really: in Italy we had so many places where they
were producing silks and wonderful fabrics, but they've disappeared:
we don't have them anymore.
Where are you using the shower curtain material?
Eighty per cent of the movie is done with this kind of thing. With
the table cloths, we are doing the raincoats. We did the umbrellas
with the same kind of thing, we did pants, and we did hats. The
light reflects off this kind of new fabric. We are doing these things,
yet I didn't know how the light would work. I was so worried with
director of photography Nicola Pecorini.
But everything works very well. We were very happy, so I went ahead
with this idea. And we also have this kind of rubber. I'm sure in
a few years everybody will wear this kind of stuff, it's a futuristic
thing. We are using new materials, but using old shapes. The inspiration
is from the 1940s and 1950s, so we have different shapes with new
materials. It's a very strange result, but I think it works.
"Qohen in the bus", by Carlo
Poggioli Click on image for further detail
How does the process work of creating the costumes - from the script
to the finished costume?
You always start to do the research to understand where we are.
Reading the script and the fact that I know Terry well from his
movies and his history, it was difficult to think where do we start?
I started to make some drawings, and initially I went in the wrong
direction. I thought that the cubicle people were sad people like
Qohen. Terry immediately said no, we have to create a kind of happy
world where Qohen is the only one completely different from the
others. In fact the only black or dark things I am using in the
movie are for Qohen, so it's just the colour for him. So when Terry
said let's try to make it like Qohen in Wonderland, I immediately
realised what he was asking from me.
And so that was the start of the new drawings after the first meeting,
and immediately I thought of this different world with this kind
of strange hair, strange look and how now we can translate the happiness
of these people into costumes. So I was thinking still about the
budget, and I had this idea to use fabric that didn't cost a lot
but would make some wonderful shapes, to create this kind of strange
Could you tell me about the Africa party costumes, where the ideas
came from, and how it was taken forward?
At the beginning it was not an Africa party, it was just a party.
We were thinking with Terry how we could develop the idea. It had
to be a strange party, because Joby was having it after selling
the house. And at one point Terry had this wonderful idea: why don't
we give a theme to the party. Now the culture of Terry is amazing:
he knows everything. I was shocked when I went to meet him at his
home because you see how many books he has, how many photos. He
started to show me some costumes from Africa. He said: let's try
to make a funny African party. The strange thing is we are using
white people wearing Lycra or tattoos. And Terry asked me to use
the real black people painted white. Because you can transform everything
and give another sense to something that looks banal. And it became
very interesting. The African party is a really funny part of the
movie, and we had a lot of fun to create this world.
Could you describe Bainsley's costumes?
Bainsley is completely different from all the others in the movie.
For example, in the African party she is wearing something completely
different from all the others. You start to understand there is
something strange in this character. And after you discover when
we see her on the website, she's wearing rubber things. Again, we
are using strange materials in this movie. She's wearing the kind
of thing that you really do not understand what she is wearing.
It's silk, it's rubber, and it can be kind of different fabric that
you cannot see every day. So you start to be very curious because
she's changing the look, and she's changing the wig. So I was thinking
about the transformation all the time. Whenever she appears in the
film, she looks different every time. At the end we see the real
Bainsley, when she comes and says hello to Qohen, and we see the
real girl behind all this transformation.
What were the influences behind Joby's costumes?
When I started to think about the cubicles, we said that in this
kind of office they wear short pants, slippers or bathing suits.
And then we decided we needed to create costumes for the supervisors.
In fact when we shot the cubicle you see they are wearing different
colours. So the supervisors are in a different fabric, and Joby
is wearing a kind of rubber. And he looks a little bit like a captain
as we put something on his shoulders. Later when he goes to see
Qohen, he looks like he has transformed completely. He's a very
fragile person - he's been fired and he goes there shouting to Qohen,
and we see another face of Joby.
And of course it's very funny when we do the party. He is wearing
a tiger costume, it's amazing. It's funny.
Did you make all of the tiger costume?
Of course, everything. I'm lucky because here in Romania, we have
this wonderful workshop so we have made everything. The people here
are very good so I could make many things. And it's not an expensive
place to work.
Where did you find the materials?
There is a big Chinese market here in Bucharest where you won't
find any wool or silk or cotton. You can find only polyester and
plastic. Terry was laughing with me when I told him that I went
to buy this fabric and I bought the fabric by the kilo. So I came
back with Matt Damon's fabric. I said "Terry, this is three
kilos for the coat, and two kilos for the other suit", and
he was laughing all the time. And when Matt came, Terry said, "Matt,
you know how much it cost for all your wardrobe, and Matt if you
don't believe me, Carlo bought twelve kilos of fabric for you. Matt
let me tell you, it was really not expensive to buy your suit!"
So that is what we did for all the other stuff: looking for the
plastic, and we went to this big shop where they sell shower curtains.
Can you talk about Qohen's virtual suit?
That was the biggest challenge on this movie. It had to be a virtual
suit, so when he is wearing this, he has to dream. He goes into
another world, and it had to be something very special.
When you think how many strange suits we have seen in our lives
- like Spiderman or Batman - I said there is no way we could do
something like that. We took so much time to do this suit but at
the end it is wonderful, because there is so much handiwork on it,
and it looks like we see veins coming through the skin.
To make just one of the suits, it took three people working for
two weeks, for many hours a day. We made three, with the third one
for where Qohen destroys the mainframe. But in the morning before
we were supposed to use the third virtual suit, I had a phone call
from Terry. He said to me, "Carlo, you know the surprise of
the day is that Qohen will not use the virtual suit at the mainframe.
In this scene, I think it will be much better if he is wearing his
pyjamas." I said that it was a wonderful idea because he is
in a dream, he is like a kid, and the pyjama remind us of that.
So it was a good choice.
But then I realised that we'd only had one pyjama.
So now you have to recreate the pyjama suit!
Now this is very difficult because this fabric was impossible to
find because of the stripes and the colour. It's a very old pyjama,
so it's very used. So now we are trying to recreate it, because
there is no time at all to go to the place where they can print
it. So we are making a handmade printed fabric here. And I hope
it will work but we are working very hard because we need it for
the beginning of next week. I don't know if it will be ready
but we will do it.
Could you tell me about Matt Damon's look?
Matt is Management, and he is the father of Bob. The first time
we see him, there is a chameleonic look. When Qohen goes to the
party, he finds Management in a chair, but you cannot understand
that Management is sitting there. I used the fabric from the suit
that Matt is wearing to match exactly the fabric of the chair. So
you don't really know what is moving. So all you just see is the
hand and the face moving, and then you realise it is Management.
And the same later when Qohen finds him in the studio and he is
in front of the curtain, that is black and white curtain fabric.
Again, he is chameleonic with the curtains, so the suit is exactly
the same fabric of the curtain - still by the kilo!
The costumes themselves in their entirety, they look as extreme
and unusual as in any of Terry's films
Terry is unusual, so there's always a big surprise, there are always
wonderful ideas. But there are some really magical things in this
movie, everything works so well together - even though we didn't have
a big time to prepare. Sometimes we were sharing all the drawings
with Dave Warren the Production Designer, and Jille the set decorator.
But sometimes we didn't have the time to put the stuff together earlier
- so the set was not ready, or I was not ready with the costumes.
I could check with the drawings or with some pictures but sometimes
we went on the morning on set - for example with the cubicle or at
the Africa party - we went there at the last minute and everything
At the cubicle, I went in the morning and I was worried about the
light because Nicola was telling me about how they would light the
cubicle, and I asked how would it work? But - this movie is magic.
We were so happy because everything works so well all together.
The set works with the costume. Everything works so well. The lights
are so perfect for my costumes. It's really a magical movie.
Has it been an enjoyable experience?
Yes of course, I've enjoyed everything from the beginning. How can
you not enjoy working with Terry? Terry is the kind of director who
has to trust you a lot. But with my experience with him over so many
years, I knew exactly what he was asking from me. And at the same
time at the beginning we had exactly the same ideas, so it was never
a big surprise. And when he changes an idea about the pyjama or about
some colours, he's always right!
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