Since the series premiered back in 2016, Preacher has had the difficult task of walking the line between absurdity and realism. With the narrative exploring a world in which a preacher becomes the vessel for the child of an angel and a demon, beginning a quest to find God with a vampire sidekick, finding ways to inject authenticity into that premise is easier said than done. That trend continues with its fourth season, which also serves as its final season, as the audience is primed to see some of the series' most ambitious work. Helping bring that vision to life is costume designer Jill Ohannseson, who has been involved with the series since Season Two.
Ohanneson has her work cut out for her when it comes to finding ways to bring a sense of realism to such an otherworldly show, as she must also inject style and a sense of fun into each character's wardrobe to evoke their personalities. It was a task she was more than prepared for, as her career has seen her bring all sorts of productions to life, from dramas like Six Feet Under and Dexter to more whimsical genre projects.
ComicBook.com caught up with Ohanneson to discuss her approach to the series, her favorite characters, and finding the balance between fantasy and reality.
ComicBook.com: You have dozens of projects under your belt, which includes movies and TV. How does being a costume designer on a movie compare to a TV series?
Jill Ohanneson: There is a difference between film and television because film is just one story that's done over an hour and a half, whereas with television, you have a new episode every week so it's a longer form of storytelling with greater character arcs. But other than that, the process is the same. On a film I do the one process over six to nine months, and with a TV show I do the process very compacted in eight to 10 days.
And when you're credited as the "costume designer," are you the sole designer responsible for the project or are there often a number of costume designers collaborating?
Well, it's usually one costume designer, and then you have an assistant designer, and other people on your team. Back in the '20s and '30s they did sometimes have multiple costume designers, or there can sometimes be an actor or actress who have their own costume designer and then the other, main costume designer will do the rest of the show.
While we're here to talk about Preacher, we should also spend some time talking about what everyone wants to know about, which is your work on the 1986 horror film Troll.
I love that, that's so great. That was so early on in my career and when I was first starting to design, I was a one-man band, I was doing everything, I was shopping and things and had pots on my stove, it was back in the guerrilla days of my costume design career.
One of the more memorable costumes from that film involved Seinfeld's Julia Louis-Dreyfus wearing a bikini made out of leaves.
Oh my god, I totally forgot about that. Now I will say that when I was working for Charles Band, who did most of those shoots, he was filming a lot of those in Italy, he had bought a studio and so sometimes I would do the principles and then there would be another European designer who was doing the background and uniforms and things like that. But I do remember that leaf costume. I had totally forgotten about it, thank you for reminding me.
Another one of your earlier projects was Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. At the time, you were probably just trying to throw together a slacker look, so how does it feel to look back and realize that you created costumes that would be consistent Halloween outfits for decades to come?
I do still get Facebook messages of people asking, "Where did you get the pants?" or, "How could I make that t-shirt?" or, "Where can I get that?" I'm very happy that it continues to have legs within the community and, sadly, they called me while I was in Australia, doing the fourth season of Preacher, to ask me if I would do the third movie and I couldn't. I don't walk away from a commitment once I've taken it. So, sadly I had to say no. Tying in to Preacher, the minute I walked into my interview with [producers] Seth Rogen and Sam Catlin and Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen says, "Well, you know you're here because of Bill & Ted, right?" It was so funny, he said, "That was one of the classics of my teenhood." So it was really great that that was something that inspired him to bring me in.
You came on to Preacher with its second season and have been the costume designer on all subsequent seasons. Was this a passion project for you that you sought out or just an exciting opportunity that came your way?
I was sought out. I have an agent who put me up for the job. But there was somebody on the show that I was friends with and he knew of my reputation and he really wanted to make sure it was a good personality fit with myself and Sam Catlin, who's the showrunner. And so, that's why he said, "Jill, you know I'd really love if you would come and interview for this." And oddly enough, I had been watching the first season with my teenage son and we both loved it. We were both really excited when I got the call to go and interview. It really helps when you're passionate about a project that's already come out and then you get to go in and say, "Hey, I would love to be a part of this, this is such an interesting, different, out-of-the-box project, and I really love what you guys are doing, can I come play too?"
So when you were pitching yourself for the gig, how did you convey the balance of bringing something new to the table while also honoring what the first season of the series had set up?
It's very, very important to me, what you just said. I really didn't want the audience to say, "Oh, something's different here, the clothes look different."
It was very important to me that there was a transition coming out of Season One. But, on the other hand, going from a small Texas town to the bright lights of New Orleans and all that goes on there, it felt like, once we got to New Orleans, it was appropriate to make a costume change with a style that reflected where they ended up being for two seasons. That made sense to me, it made sense to Sam, it made sense to the characters, so that's basically what we did. We used the geographical change of New Orleans to bring about a new kind of style for both Cassidy and, of course, for [Tulip actress] Ruth [Negga]. And, particularly for Cassidy, the first season he pretty much looks like he does in the comic books. And that all fits in that kind of small western town.
When we get to New Orleans we started talking about how eclectic New Orleans is, how people wear all kinds of different things and mix it up and mash it up, we started off doing that with Cassidy. Since he's been around for so long, he likes women's clothes, he likes the '80s, he likes punk, he likes rap, so we just constantly tried to put together eclectic pieces that made these fun costumes for him that felt like Cassidy but weren't a caricature. They are interesting, they're different, but he didn't look silly in them. Unless we wanted him to, of course.
While the show has never shied away from embracing the absurdity of the source material, things that work in a comic book don't always work well in a TV series. Fans of the comics will recognize the appearance of Jesus DeSade and his elaborate outfits this season, and his many acquaintances, but the costumes also have to allow for a lot of physicality for the performers. How did you find that balance between honoring the comics while making something practical?
Well let me put it this way, Sam Catlin and Sarah Goodman, who was the writer of that episode, basically sent me an email that said, "We want this scene and the people in this scene to look disturbing."
They didn't want your run-of-the-mill fetish outfits with skimpy lingerie and half-naked people. They wanted it to be more than that, and that was really, really fun for me. I did a lot of research. We found a lot of strange worlds out there of people that do odd things and tried to bring that to this party.
Of course, downstairs where everybody is, we could do people a little more skimpily dressed. Because the fight ended up being upstairs, once we do the fight, people have to be protected. The actors have to be protected, the stunt people have to be protected. That is one of the most beautifully choreographed fights I've ever seen in the entire time I've been in this business. It was really important, as you saw, it was a brutal fight, and all those stunt people had to be protected. So that's why there were a lot of long sleeves and a lot of costumes that covered them more. It was just important to be able to do that upstairs but still feel like the same world as downstairs. It was more bare downstairs, more covered upstairs.
And, as with in the comics, the costumes in that scene aren't all sexy, as some of the outfits show more of people than you'd really want to see, mirroring the more grotesque characters from the books.
Correct, yes. There are always those people all over the world that get stuck in a certain period where they felt the best about themselves. And they never change. They keep buying those clothes because they felt really good at that period in their life and 20-30 years down the line, those clothes don't look so attractive anymore. And their bodies have changed and their hair and facial features have changed. And so it is interesting to make sure that we have those real people around our world and that it's populated not just with the most beautiful and the prettiest people, that it has that sense of reality.
The show itself is so unreal. We've got a preacher with special powers and he's hanging out with his vampire best friend and they're looking for God. That is so irreverent and out of this world that part of my job is to make sure that there's a foundation of reality that it operates within, as far as the costumes on a lot of the background and a lot of the day players. Otherwise, it becomes a cartoon. So, yes, having those unattractive costumes are just as important sometimes as the really beautiful ones. Because that's reality.
As far as the main characters go, do you have particular favorites to dress?
I would say that my two favorite characters, I'm going to pick a female and a male.
My favorite male character to dress is definitely Cassidy because we really had a good time. Every time we were in the fitting room together we were playing with all various kinds of periods and colors and genders and the way stuff fit or didn't fit. So that was just really, really ... we had a good time in there.
I loved dressing Tulip, just because, to be able to really find that nuance for her of a tough chick who's a mechanic, who had a tough upbringing, and she pretty much used her jacket and her boots and the way she dresses, as emotional armor against the rest of the world. Unless you see her when she is away from the public eye, and sometimes she'll dress a little bit softer with Jessie. So that's really fun, being able to continue to find, in different scenarios that the writers have written, how to continue to be able to give her that silhouette and that strength that that character needs.
And then, of course, I got to do so many different, amazing disguises for Featherstone. I got to build a squirrel suit this year. That was just amazing for me. And there's more interesting things coming down the pipe for her, so keep your eyes peeled for that. I have to say both of those women have been amazing. There's so many favorites. And then how can you not talk about Grandma from Season Three? To be able to work on that character with Betty Buckley was amazing. But, it's just this whole year has been just such a wild ride. One of the things I tweeted, just before it came out, I said, "Put your seatbelt on, because it is a wild ride." And it just continues to go into these different directions and we've got some origin stories coming. It's really an amazing piece, I just think they've done a phenomenal job, the writers, with pulling off the ending of the series.
A memorable part of Jesse's ensemble from the comics is the eyepatch he ultimately adopts, which we have seen glimpses of in the series' opening credits. What was the process of finding the right look for the eyepatch?
We definitely had the graphic novels to start with, but Dominic [Cooper]'s face is a little bit different from the shape of the character in the book. I literally had, I think six different shapes of patches made from real leather and shaped with different shapes, ovals, and all kinds of different shapes. And we literally just tried them all on until we found one that we thought worked the best. We made more of those and we, at one point, when he's wearing it during fights, we had to have a version that had a whole bunch of little pinprick holes in it so that he could actually see through it, because when he was fighting, he really needed both eyes to be able to fight.
That process was interesting in that we had to find a way to also make it comfortable for Dominic because it puts you off balance and, to have something wrapped around your head for 12-14 hours a day, is not always comfortable. We just tried a lot of different variations, different elastics, different fabrics, different leathers, to make sure that whatever was sitting against his eye was comfortable and really just looking for the right shape for his face. It's like a hat, not everybody can wear hats, not everybody can wear the same type of hat, it's kind of the same thing. Or with sunglasses, or regular glasses, you just have to find the right shape for that particular actor's face.
Now that the series has ended, do you have a dream project you'd love to take on?
Well, I have to say that it's probably more that there are some directors that I would like to work with. I have a real love for people with a Peter Greenaway sensibility. I'd loved to do movies like Brazil. I did love The Hunger Games series, something like that. I would prefer to do something like that than to do a superhero project.
I find that the superhero world is a very specific world and I prefer stories that are a little darker. Somehow The Hunger Games really worked for me, or I think it was The Maze Runner was also another series that was a fantasy, a little bit science fiction, although not necessarily in space. Those kinds of franchises are interesting to me, because again, I love creating worlds that you've never seen before. That's part of what I loved about doing Preacher, because it kind of exists in our world, but it was so different, where we ended up going, particularly this season. So those kinds of kind different worlds are really, really attractive to me. It's one of the reasons I really loved doing the pilot and the first episode of Joss Whedon's Firefly, because I got to do a futuristic western. I mean, who in the world ever gets to do that?
In that regard, it sounds as though you most enjoy borrowing the materials and concepts found in the real world, but bringing them to a parallel reality where those materials are reinvented and repurposed in new ways.
Absolutely. That's a good, blanket way to put it. I was a huge reader growing up, and still am, and the thing I loved about a good book was that it would take me into a world that I was not familiar with. And I love to continue to go into those worlds and I love to continue to help directors and writers to costume those worlds and help bring their vision to reality. I've been very, very lucky to have gotten to work on a lot of wonderful projects that have helped me to do that, and also I love a really, really good story.
I loved working on Six Feet Under, for example. That was storytelling and writing of such a high caliber that I'll always be happy that that was my first foray into television. And I actually think some of the best writing is happening on television these days, so I'm very happy to be part of the world where we're telling a story longer than just an hour and a half. You get to continue to tell the story for five, six, 10, 24 episodes.
In other words, we hope to see you return for as the costume designer of a Bill & Ted TV series.
Absolutely, that sounds fantastic.0comments
Tune in to new episodes of Preacher on Sunday nights on AMC.
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