Academy Awards season in Hollywood means so many A-listers attending so many glamorous events you almost can’t help but encounter some of the entertainment industry’s top artisans everywhere you turn. Costume designer Michael Wilkinson is one of those in-demand craftsmen working at the top of his game.
An Oscar nominee for his work with filmmaker David O. Russell on 2013’s “American Hustle,” this year Wilkinson was nominated at the Costume Designers Guild Awards for Excellence in Contemporary Film for his wardrobes in Russell’s current film, “Joy.”
But when CBR News encountered Wilkinson — whose more otherworldly credits include “Tron: Legacy,” both installments of “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn” and “Terminator: Salvation” — on the CDGA red carpet we couldn’t resist asking for a preview of his latest work with an even longer-term collaborator, filmmaker Zack Snyder. Wilkinson crafted costumes for Snyder’s films including “300,” “Watchmen,” “Sucker Punch” and “Man of Steel.” Their upcoming projects include, of course, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “Justice League.” CBR spoke with the acclaimed designer about Frank Miller’s influence on his Batman, the daunting task of finally bringing Wonder Woman to the big screen and assembling the Justice League.
CBR News: Tell me the mindset you entered “Batman v Superman” with and what you were able to do. What was that experience like?
Michael Wilkinson: It was a really fun and humbling experience because I grew up watching all the different “Batman” films. Each time the new “Batman” film came out, it was like, “Oh my gosh, I wonder what he’s going to look like, how they’re going to take it to a whole other level?”
So to actually be that guy to be able to contribute what the next Batsuit looks like was pretty mind-blowing. I think we just roll up our sleeves and didn’t think about the pressure and just got on with it, working with a very trusting and beloved director that I had already done four other films with, Zack Snyder. So there was a real comfort zone there to really be free and to try something innovative and interesting.
Added to that, there was also Wonder Woman in our film, too. So that was a really big moment for me: to be able to create the new look for Wonder Woman.
Was the armored Batsuit directly derived from Frank Miller’s “Dark Knight Returns?”
It was actually, yes. Zack’s a huge fan of Frank Miller — you probably know that because he directed “300,” which is another Frank Miller project — so we looked at that comic book.
We really looked at how Batman’s been drawn over the last 75 years and sort of really thought about how what we wanted to say about Batman, how Batman is a lot burlier and he’s a slightly older Batman. He’s a guy that doesn’t really have to depend on armor, he’s physically fit and in huge shape. When he has to fight Superman of course he really has to lift his game, and that’s when he puts on his huge iron suit. But yeah, there was a whole other thinking and a lot went into all of these decisions.
The Wonder Woman design went with more muted colors instead of the bold red, white and blue fans are used to. What was the thinking behind that?
The most important thing for us is that Wonder Woman was taken seriously and that she had a sense of grit and strength when she stood up with these two other men, that she had an equal amount of power. So when we made her, we went back to her warrior roots and her Greek roots and gave her something that mimics the gladiator’s armor.
It’s very practical. It’s got strapping and all sorts of gear. It looks very battle-worn. It’s beaten up and full of sword scrapes from all the enemies she’s been facing over the centuries that she’s been with us. So yeah, we just wanted it to feel legitimate and not at all decorative, but grounded. Combining power with grace and majesty was our criteria.
Were there any significant tweaks to the Superman costume you created for “Man of Steel?”
Yeah, we wanted to keep playing with that. There’s an amazing quotation of Kryptonian that is sort of blended through his suit. We’ve streamlined a few of the elements. He shows a few new materials. We wanted to keep pushing that to make sure it’s as fantastic as it could be.
You’ve worked with Amy Adams twice recently, on “Man of Steel “and “American Hustle.”
She’s my Lois Lane.
How did you look at Lois this time around? Much like the film’s other heroes, she’s also a very archetypal character for a lot of people.
She is. She’s actually one of my favorite characters in the movie. She’s smart, she’s a woman of the 21st Century. She knows what she wants. She’s ballsy. Amy is so smart. She’s all of those things herself. So it’s wonderful to bring that power and energy on to the screen.
And you have the entire Justice League, a group you’re going to be costuming for their film as well.
Yeah, I am.
Did that present any unique challenges that “Man of Steel” and “Batman v Superman” didn’t prepare you for?
Well, I’m right in the middle of it. We have camera tests coming up very soon, with the new characters that we’re establishing. So it’s hugely exciting, overwhelming and just thrilling. So we’re really thinking about these new characters, how the power balances between the whole Justice League, what role they all play. How they’re all very diverse from each other.
They have a different relationship with power, how that’s expressed through their costume. A lot of work is going into it.
“Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” arrives in theaters March 25.