Luis Sequeira on his Oscar-nominated costume design for ‘Nightmare Alley’ and international quest for ‘fabrics from that time’ [EXCLUSIVE VIDEO INTERVIEW]

“I’m still walking a little bit in a twilight zone,” costume designer Luis Sequeira shares about his recent Academy Award nomination for Guillermo del Toro’s “Nightmare Alley.” Sequeira reunited with the director on the film after collaborating on “The Shape of Water,” for which Sequeira received his first Oscar nomination. “It was a banner year for costume, so I’m quite thankful,” he adds. Watch our exclusive video interview above.

Sequeira needed to conduct a lot of research to pull off the costume design for del Toro’s noir-esque thriller, which is set in two vastly different worlds, moving from a Great Depression-era carnival to the upper echelons of metropolitan society. The first half came a bit easier, as he reveals, “I had an amazing book that I bought in the late eighties that was 1939 menswear three volume set,” which helped him tackle Stanton Carlisle’s (Bradley Cooper) suits and black tie wear. For the earlier, carnival scenes Sequeira relied on “portrait photography and photojournalism” to “understand what the fabric was of the day.” From there, he sought out those fabrics from “Rome, Madrid, New York, Toronto, and tried to find, if they were not original fabrics from that time, as close to that as possible.”

WATCH our exclusive video interview with Oscar-nominated “Nightmare Alley” production designer Tamara Deverell

The carnival scenes involved hundreds of background actors who played both carnival entertainers and workers as well as patrons. Sequeira “would speak to each and every extra basically in a big form about how important they were to the film. I asked them to watch out for what color they were wearing and not saddle up to someone in the same color and help us paint the frame.” Those scenes also show off the costumes of the featured players as they perform their carnival acts, including Toni Colette as the faded Zeena the Seer. Sequeira shares of her costume that he need to “age it out so it felt like it had lived a long life of being thrown into a trunk and brought back out.” The gold detail work was added in India, but the first version of the costume got held up in customs and to this day has not emerged. “Talk about pressure, because it was literally a few days before we needed it that we actually received the pieces in order to put it together.”

Sequeira’s costumes help make the different parts of the film feel seamless, as his character’s wardrobes transition characters like Stanton and Molly (Rooney Mara) out of the carnival and into the city. We first meet Cate Blanchett’s character Dr. Lilith Ritter in those scenes. Her glamorous outfits needed to help “legitimize her,” he shares, adding, “We had to make sure she was believable as this doctor, so the suitings and tailoring was key.” Blanchett wears Sequeira’s favorite costume of the film, “a beautiful velvet dress with gold bullion throughout” that he calls Cate’s “shadow dress,” though it’s barely featured in the final cut. Sequeira reveals that Blanchett liked the look, too, telling him, “‘Mr. Sequeira, this is a damn fine frock.’” Sequeira also discusses two costumes from the end of the film that are vital to its climax and memorable conclusion.

“Nightmare Alley” received four Oscar nominations, including Costume Design, Production Design, Cinematography, and Best Picture.

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