Hala Bahmet Interview: ‘This Is Us’ costume designer
Hala Bahmet didn’t know what she was getting into when she agreed to be the costume designer for “This Is Us.” Bahmet had styled the pilots of “This Is Us” and “Riverdale,” and when both were picked up to series, she had to choose one, she revealed at Gold Derby’s Meet the Experts: Costume Designers panel, moderated by this author (watch above). At the time, she had very little info to go on about the NBC drama — it was still untitled and no one knew about the multiple-timeline format.
“In the pilot, we really just show the two eras: what’s 1979-1980 and then contemporary. And none of us knew what the storylines were going to be going forward in the series. And we didn’t know we were always going to be in a minimum of four decades at all times, every few days,” Bahmet said. “I asked [my crew], I said, ‘Guys, what are your thoughts? Which of these shows do you feel like you want to work on? And everyone said, ‘Oh, let’s do ‘The Untitled Dan Fogelman Project.’ It’s going to be so much easier than the other one.’ So now we’re in incredibly complicated two units and different decades, and sometimes they’ll look at me and say, ‘Yeah, let’s just do the really easy ‘Untitled Dan Fogelman Project.’ But everyone really loves it and we’re all really close and we all feel really good about the decision.”
Beyond the logistical challenge of researching past decades and keeping track of multiple closets, Bahmet considers her most important job to be creating and maintaining an aesthetic for each character, many of whom are being played by multiple actors. A subtle, personal style gives viewers consistency and informs a character, even while clothes and fads change over the years.
“Because we jump around so much and because we have so many actors playing the same person over time and jumping back and forth, me and my team worked really hard to try to establish an aesthetic for each character for a number of reasons. Because that’s authentic, because that’s kind of how we are — I don’t think that my style has changed dramatically over the years; I change with the times,” she said. “People tend to have a general aesthetic that they’ll deviate [from] and play with as real people.”
The numerous decades also offer the temptation to lean into the fads and styles of that era, but Bahmet, who received an Emmy nomination for “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story,” feels that would not only be unauthentic but distract from the story onscreen.
“The stories that we’re telling are really important stories and a lot of writing really appeals to so many kinds of people, and so in a sense the costumes sometimes need to take a backseat to just be sort of a foundation so that the story and the acting and the drama or whatever we’re exploring is really at the forefront,” she explained. “If I were just pursuing fashion and fads, for let’s say Rebecca (Mandy Moore) in the ‘80s — if all of the sudden she was wearing giant shoulder pads and really super bright colors and had really big hair, how would the audience know that that’s the same Rebecca that we’ve been seeing in the ‘70s and the same Rebecca that we’ve been seeing even earlier in the courtship with Jack (Milo Ventimiglia)?”
Fashion is a focal point when need be, like for Kate (Chrissy Metz) and Toby’s (Chris Sullivan) wedding in the Season 2 finale. The episode technically featured two weddings since Kate dreams about her parents’ vow renewal on their 40th anniversary. Kate’s gorgeous beaded couture dress was a Bahmet original and completely handmade.
“Since we had made so many dresses for her, I wanted to make sure the wedding dress had its own silhouette and a little different from the other dresses,” Bahmet said. “And we knew it was the final episode [of the season], so we wanted to make sure it was something really special.”