Ane Crabtree Q&A: ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ costume designer

“It was an amazing outlet to be able to take on something so emotional,” admits costume designer Ane Crabtree during our recent webcam chat (watch the exclusive video above) about her double duty jobs. She has been working on the first-year dystopian fantasy series “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “Westworld.”

In “The Handmaid’s Tale,” which is based on the 1985 novel by Margaret Atwood, Crabtree was tasked with designing the gowns worn by the enslaved ‘handmaid’ concubines among countless other looks. The costumes worn by these women, including leading lady Elisabeth Moss, who are forced to give birth for the barren ruling class in the authoritarian theocracy of Gilead, have become an iconic and indispensable part of the show’s look and feel. “We started with the color red because red is so difficult. It pops out in the frame no matter what you do. It is difficult cinematically as it can help or harm a character if it is the wrong red,” the designer reveals. “We looked everywhere [for inspiration], and ultimately it was this beautiful photo of red maple leaves against a very poignant teal sky. It was a close up, a nature photograph, and we said this is it.”

For Crabtree, real world events also played a huge part in how she tackled the project. “We started filming in September and then November 8th happened,” she explains. “I was walking around in a sort of stunned reaction. It was like Ann Dowd as Aunt Lydia cattle-prodded my brain. And I thought I can’t lose sight of what I am doing and I need to throw everything that I have into the show and yet you can’t help but be aware of the news. My only resilience, my only way of being righted by that was to throw it back into the work and into the design of things and act that out in a way by giving more power to the women and to the people with less power in the script, if it called for it.”

Crabtree has been so in demand this season, working on two high-profile fantasy period dramas. “Westworld” was a dream project for Crabtree, as a longtime fan of the source material. “I was very interested in the super far reaching future and looking at the world of the west,” she explains. “I knew there was some new stuff I could do,” she says. “In any kind of dystopian story, it’s really about human nature, and that human nature is man going too far. So that really drew me in.”

Apart from the challenges of designing so many different costumes in different settings, Crabtree recalls that the shoot itself was a particularly difficult one for the cast and crew. “The big challenge was shooting in 100 degree heat in the desert with blinding sun over us on a show that was so physical for the actors and the horses and knowing that they were going to be baking all day but knowing that I would have to keep it realistic in terms of heavy suedes and wool and that sort of thing. What is incredible was that the actors were all game.”

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UPLOADED Jul 14, 2017 7:59 pm