J.R. Hawbaker interview: ‘Fargo’ costume designer

For costume designer J.R. Hawbaker, season four of “Fargo” “was a very detailed process starting with [showrunner Noah Hawley], and then every single item of clothing that went on these actors we discussed in the fitting room together: why they were wearing it, maybe what the colors were making them feel, all the little details.” With a cast this big, “the inspiration just came with who was coming to us.” Watch our exclusive video interview with Hawbaker above.

This season of “Fargo” explored a war between rival gangs in 1950 Kansas City with a large ensemble of characters played by Chris Rock, Jason Schwartzman, Jessie Buckley, Glynn Turman, Ben Whishaw, and many more. To distinguish them from one another, Hawley hoped to avoid a homogeneous, “sepia-toned sea of fedoras in a 1950s film … They’re definitely in two warring gangs, but they should all have very individualized looks.”

The design process started with “individual story boards with images for each of the characters before I even got in the room with the actors.” She’d “focus on one or two images that had an evocative tonal nature to where we wanted to go with that character.” And then came “intense one-on-one discussions … with each one of these actors.”

And of course there needed to be plenty of communication across departments to ensure a cohesive aesthetic. “The production designer, Warren Alan Young, the DPs, myself, and the directors were poring over so many images of Kodachrome photography from the era,” Hawbaker explains. “We used to call it the ‘Kodachrome football’ … We would toss it back and forth between sets and costumes to each other to make sure we were creating a nice frame.”

Hawbaker is a past Costume Designers Guild Award nominee for her work on “The Man in the High Castle” and now could potentially win an Emmy. “Fargo” has won six out of a whopping 52 nominations over the course of its last three seasons, including Best Limited Series in 2014, but perhaps surprisingly, the series has yet to be nominated for its costumes. Could these character-driven period designs do the trick?

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UPLOADED May 6, 2021 1:54 pm