Deirdra Govan interview: ‘Devotion’ costume designer
“I was not familiar with the story of Jesse Brown, which is quite embarrassing,” admits Deirdra Govan, the costume designer for “Devotion.” The Sony Pictures film stars Jonathan Majors as Brown, the first African-American to complete the U.S. Navy’s flight training program. “My step-father served in Korea. When I read the script it was very powerful, but at the same time, I felt disappointed in the fact that I had not heard of this story and I pretty much read everything.” Watch our video interview above.
“Devotion” is directed by J.D. Dillard and tells the true story of Brown and fellow Navy pilot Tom Hudner (played by Glen Powell) as they risk their lives during the Korean War and become some of the Navy’s most celebrated wingmen. The movie premiered at the Toronto Film Festival and was released nationwide on November 23.
“There is so much richness and depth to this man,” Govan says. “The fact that he was an unsung hero until now was pretty shocking to me. Especially in the vernacular of African-Americans who are aviators. We hear about the Tuskegee Airmen. This was a story that was unknown. I was moved and excited to have been asked to be part of the production.”
For Govan, everything about her costume design starts with what’s on the page. “When you are dealing with a historical biopic and real lives that were lived, you start with the book,” she explains. “If you happen to have people who are still around, you investigate and ask questions. You ask for information and images. Anything that can help you create the skin that these characters will inhabit onscreen. It’s a lot of due diligence and research. I had seven weeks to pull this momentous project together. It was quite challenging.”
“I worked with many artisans across the country to build roughly over 1,000 pieces,” Govan reveals. “We built everything from the underwear, to the socks, to the boxers to the flight suits, to the bomber jackets. It was a lot in a very short amount of time, but I’m really happy with the result. We had so much support.”
The costume design for menswear can often be overlooked in film, while womenswear and gowns take the spotlight. Govan says that’s natural, “but when you get into the details of aviation gear, from flight suits to naval jackets to life vests, the details matter. I really love cotton twills, leather, just the aging and de-stressing that we had to do once things were created and built was a feat unto itself. We needed it to look authentic. It is something that I found to be quite intense. It’s a very detailed process.”
While the majority of Govan’s work was male-centric, she was excited to dress a young Elizabeth Taylor, played in the film by Serinda Swan. “I can’t tell you the excitement I had,” she says. “Not everyone can say they had the opportunity to reimagine and create Elizabeth Taylor. We built her costume. It was an original design that I created. I did all my research in the images. She was there. I built both her swimsuit as well as her casino look. She was known for her nipped waist and plunging neckline and it was so appropriate for the film. I just leaned into that and recreated that design in my own mind and went for it. It was a beautiful moment.”