Jared Leto learned what it was like to walk in someone else’s heels thanks to Dallas Buyers Club costume designers Kurt and Bart, who brought to life the film’s mid-’80s-inspired wardrobe. Still, the duo — who are nominated for a Costume Designers Guild Award — give full credit to their cast.
“It was fantastic to work with such committed actors,” said Kurt and Bart, who reached out to EW from The Hunger Games: Mockingjay set, where they are currently overseeing the film’s next two installments.
Leto was so committed, in fact, that he remained in character as Rayon — an HIV-positive transgender woman — throughout their time together. “We spoke to Jared once on the phone and then [he stayed in character as] Rayon the entire time from the first fitting out of a suitcase and a plastic bag at his airport hotel room [to] right before his first meeting with [director] Jean-Marc [Vallée].”
Because of this, Kurt and Bart often reference Leto by his character’s name when discussing the costume process. And, according to them, Rayon had one definite opinion when it came to what she wore. “The only thing Rayon was adamant about was she never wanted to wear pants,” they explained, noting that Leto declined to wear a pair of “glam, but also very feminine” high-waisted pink flared trousers that the two had presented. “I know Jared was very into embracing the unfamiliar. He explained it as, ‘I know what it feels like to wear pants.’ I think the vulnerability of a dress or skirt helped him find Rayon, which totally makes sense.”
Kurt and Bart also embraced Matthew McConaughey’s extreme weight loss, though it did pose a unique challenge for the costume designers. The only thing tighter than the film’s budget was its 23-day schedule. “Our shooting schedule didn’t allow for any time to shoot Matthew with a little more weight on him for the ‘healthier’ sequences. We worked really hard to tailor the clothes that he repeated in the film so that they fit differently in different parts of the film. Working with single vintage garments, this was a feat of last-minute tailoring. We made him three different lengths of the same belt to add to the effect,” they said. “We found that if his clothes were more fitted it actually made him look healthier instead of emphasizing how thin he was. We played with oversizing his jeans and shirts a bit when he was sicker to make him look smaller.”
For their hard work, the duo — who have collaborated since 2000 working on everything from music videos (Britney Spears’ “Slave 4 U,” Madonna’s “Me Against the Music”) to television series (How to Make It in America) and films (Stoker with Nicole Kidman) — are up for their first CDG Award. Nominated in the period film category, Kurt and Bart are up against 12 Years a Slave, American Hustle, Dallas Buyers Club, The Great Gatsby, and Saving Mr. Banks. The costume designers couldn’t be more thrilled. “Receiving a nomination from your peers is the best, especially for this film.”
Read on for EW’s exclusive Q&A with Kurt and Bart to learn who made McConaughey’s signature cowboy hats, what it was like working around Leto’s real-life tattoos, and to find out who wore a shirt right off the costume designers’ backs.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Where did you source pieces from?
KURT and BART: We worked with Stetson to get the period look for Matthew’s cowboy hats. The crown of the hats then were much higher than they are today. Then Kurt and I hand-shaped and tipped the brim — that came straight from some of the beautiful old rodeo research we did. We always wanted Rayon to not be a drag queen, but a woman in transition, which can mean many things. Her little fur chubby [coat] that looks more tabby than anything was a thrift find. Same for her rayon print dress and slightly orthopedic-looking women’s size 12 shoes. We wanted to shop where Rayon would shop, and I am pretty sure we had the same budget. I think we hit every thrift store between Baton Rouge and Houston. Having been that outsider digging through thrift stores to find something that truly helps define you, it really was fun to shop as if we were Rayon.
What would surprise us about Jared’s costume?
We loved Rayon in dresses and skirts. Jared has tattoos and, with very limited time for makeup, the long sleeves and tights with runs became a distinct part of the look.
It was important to Matthew that a character that was so rough and ready have a little redneck vanity. His mall-quality gold chain was his favorite.
Matthew has talked about the film’s tight budget. How did that factor in wardrobe-wise?
Yes, doing period on this kind of budget and schedule meant we started close to home, literally. Matthew is wearing a lot of our own clothes, like his vintage snap-front shirts. We also found the graveyard for retired work clothes for oil field workers and bought a lot from there. We also hit the thrift and vintage trail between New Orleans and Houston.
What type of research did you do in advance for Dallas Buyers Club?
The research for the film was so compelling, heartening, and heartbreaking. The week that we were sent the script, we had just seen the documentary How to Survive a Plague and also just seen the Frank Moore retrospective in New York, who was an amazing painter who was lost to AIDS. We felt we had to do this film as a way of honoring all of that fierce activism as well as the incredible loss from that time of the early AIDS epidemic. It really all started there, and we also utilized the archives at The Gay Center in NYC as well as the Gay and Lesbian Gulf Coast Archive. They were an invaluable resource and had incredible collections of ephemera like photos, T-shirts, magazines, and pins. We were able to use a T-shirt from an early activist group in Texas called G.U.T.S. There were many T-shirts we wanted to use from that era, but it was challenging to get logos cleared, as many of these groups no longer exist and were hard to track down.
Did anyone in particular inspire Jared or Matthew’s wardrobe?
The whole cowboy thing is so ingrained in us from growing up in Denver in the ’70s and early ’80s, and in a lot of ways is a similar place to Dallas. We dug out shoe boxes of our own photos as well as yearbooks, which are always good. The character of Rayon was the most special to us, and we honestly just drew inspiration from our amazing transgender friends from the 80’s. With many of our friends documented in that time period by photographers like Nan Goldin, their images were a part of our very first talks with our director Jean-Marc and Jared.
What was it like working on such a tight schedule?
Because we were meeting our actors so close to shooting, we had built a shell of the character with research and clothes, but that moment when an actor actually steps into those shoes or heels and you see the start of that character emerging is so cool.
How many looks did you create?
For this small movie we actually had a lot of costumes. We love to always approach characters like this as if it’s a real closet. It’s always important to us to repeat things and have people recognize those items throughout the story. It could be Ron’s hat or his “Ron” belt buckle, but it really helps define a character. It was a really short prep and we didn’t get Jared until a week or so out. We had been accumulating “Rayon” pieces and just praying we would get someone skinny enough to fit [into] them!