Susan Lyall interview: ‘Trial of the Chicago 7’ costume designer
For costume designer Susan Lyall, “The Trial of the Chicago 7” was “a dream job honestly, and the ability to define a courtroom through your costumes is really a wonderful experience.” The film is based on the true story of activists accused of inciting violence at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, so it required Lyall to create and recreate looks for well-known historical figures. She joined us for our “Meet the Experts” costume designers panel. Watch our exclusive video interview above.
“When you do any film that involves real people, the research is an incredibly important element of it, and it gives you a really great starting point,” Lyall explains. Studying the characters involved in this story, including protest leaders Abbie Hoffman (played by Sacha Baron Cohen) and Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne), gave her a strong baseline to work from. And that opens up different options for a designer: “You choose to follow either the exact path of the research … or you can use it in a way that has the feeling of the character.”
An especially noteworthy example of Lyall pulling a costume straight from the historical record was Hoffman’s famous American flag shirt. “Honestly, of all the costumes in that film, nothing took more effort than that shirt … It was one of the first things that I addressed to [director Aaron Sorkin], partly because whenever Abbie Hoffman has been portrayed in other films, he’s almost always put in that American flag shirt.”
There was even some initial concern that it would be too reminiscent of an American flag shirt Cohen wore in the first “Borat” film. But “Abbie Hoffman wore it all the time, and he was arrested for desecration of the American flag because he wore it,” so “it seemed really important to use it … This is what happens with some costumes. Some piece just ends up absorbing a lot of time and energy and thought.”