Betsy Heimann Interview: ‘Godless’ costume designer
For costume designer Betsy Heimann, the most unusual aspect of Netflix’s western limited series “Godless” was how much it focused on “these women who were put in a circumstance where they had to improvise.” Written and directed by Scott Frank, the show follows a murderous outlaw (Jeff Daniels) hunting down an ex-protege (Jack O’Connell). His search leads him to a small town in New Mexico that, after a mining accident, is populated almost entirely by women, including Michelle Dockery and Merritt Wever. The veteran costumer was excited to “put my stamp on it by showing [women] doing all different things than you would normally” in the male-dominated genre. Watch our exclusive video interview with Heimann above.
Heimann delved deep into research to find instances of women defying conventions in the Old West. She discovered photos of female miners, builders and farm workers “who used to put their skirts up and tuck them into their belts and show their pantaloons.” Visually, Heimann used “a very restricted palette” and “tried to be very authentic to the fabrics of the period: woolens, silks, linens.” Working within these limitations “paints a picture” of a specific time and place.
Luckily, Heimann had previous experience in the genre, having learned her craft from legendary costumer Luster Bayless, who worked on several John Wayne westerns including “True Grit.” The first thing she gleaned from her mentor was that “the clothes can’t look like they just came out of the box.” He taught her to “make it dirty, but make it dirty where it really would be dirty. Don’t just throw dirt on somebody,” but rather “pay attention to the details” of a character. Perhaps most importantly, she learned that “there’s a hat for every man.”
Heimann first worked with Scott Frank on the Elmore Leonard adaptations “Get Shorty” and “Out of Sight,” for which Frank penned the screenplays. She later collaborated with him as a director on “A Walk Among the Tombstones.” She has also designed threads for the likes of Quentin Tarantino (“Reservoir Dogs” and “Pulp Fiction”) and Cameron Crowe (“Jerry Maguire,” “Almost Famous,” and “Vanilla Sky”). Her work on “Almost Famous” brought her a Costume Designers Guild Award nomination for Best Period/Fantasy Film in 2000.