(This story contains mild spoilers from the third episode of Lessons in chemistry‘Living dead things.’)
In the opening scene of Lessons in chemistrymain character Elizabeth Zott (Brie Larson) steps out of the backseat of a 1950s Pontiac on the set of her hit cooking show Supper at six o’clock wearing green patterned pants. It’s an unusual choice for a woman of that era, as will be seen in a later episode when the owner of the network her show airs on asks, “Are those pants?” Why is she wearing pants?” when she walks from behind the kitchen island where he would prefer to stay, both literally and figuratively, to communicate with her audience.
Although viewers won’t know Zott’s backstory, or the series of events that led her to go from devising lab experiments as a chemist to being the housewives’ favorite TV star, unless they’ve read Bonnie Garmus’ debut novel, from which the Apple TV+ emerged. series was adapted – her image immediately points to her strong-willed and unorthodox character.
“We really wanted everything to be grounded in reality, especially for Brie and her character and her world,” says costume designer Mirren Gordon-Crozier. The Hollywood Reporter. “But we also wanted to put a stylistic twist on it so that it looked aesthetically pleasing.”
For that reason, Gordon-Crozier’s research for the project focused less on the wardrobes of movie stars in films from the 1950s and 1960s, and more on what those Hollywood actresses wore in their private lives.
“In films of that time, women were depicted as quite glamorous. Audrey Hepburn was one of the first characters we would see more casually in a film Breakfast at Tiffany’s‘s or even Funny face where she is dressed in cigarette pants and a ratty sweater,” Gordon-Crozier explains. “So the research I did included more off-duty actresses behind the scenes at home, and also focused on working women who did have families and women who were also of a different nature. So Lauren Bacall for example, and the clothes she would wear at home, and Grace Kelly – very simple and chic looks where she usually wore trousers and a men’s shirt.
Lessons in chemistry This is the fourth time that Gordon-Crozier has worked with Larson. After designing the costumes for her previous films, Short term 12, The Glass Castle And Unicorn Shopthe pair has developed a sense of mutual trust on set.
“We have a very open dialogue, so she doesn’t have to beat around the bush if she doesn’t want to wear something,” says the customer. “But I really like character development and understanding a character’s mental state in a scene, so she allowed me to really explore it on my own, and when we had our long adjustments, I think we were both able to to help each other and also others.”
Such was the case when conceptualizing the all-pink, baby blue accented Supper at six o’clock set with production designer Cat Smith, who is revealed in the show by a male producer who, in a fit of ignorant pride, exclaims, “We put our heads together and came up with every woman’s dream kitchen.”
“One of my favorite kitchens from the 1950s is this colonial-style kitchen with oak cabinets and strapped black wrought iron hinges,” says Smith. “I always thought of it as a weirdly cozy, but at the same time impractical kitchen, but the problem was that it looked too cool and interesting,” she recalls of her first concept for the cooking show. “When Brie saw it, she said, ‘You know, I almost want this kitchen. And actually I should feel the opposite. ”
To evoke that feeling, Smith says she “relied heavily on the things I would hate most, like pink.” She also dramatized the structure of the elements in the kitchen to mimic a special effects trick used at the time. “There’s a Hollywood Regency style they used, where everything on set is a little exaggerated so it looks brighter on TV. For example, a frame would be larger, or have larger protrusions, so that the shadow lines fall in the right place. I also leaned very heavily on that.”
Having a scientist for a husband helped Smith design the sets for the laboratory scenes of the fictional Hastings Research Institute, where Zott Dr. Calvin Evans (Lewis Pullman), a chemist who unexpectedly changes the course of her personal and professional life. Smith also got an insider tip while working on the 2022 Hulu miniseries The fallout.
“A chemistry consultant we had said, ‘You know, chemistry people just laugh all the time at what they set up for chemistry experiments on TVs, because it’s all different colored liquids and things like that, and it’s really not like that,’” Smith said . remembers. “He said, ‘But don’t stop doing it because we love it.’ But we didn’t do that much.”
In fact, Smith and her team went to great lengths to find beakers, centrifuges and other equipment from the period, with the help of chemistry professor Dr. Jess Parr and a laboratory historian who would educate the crew on the proper equipment needed to create a particular substance. experiment and then help them match those elements to the resources that would have been available to researchers during that period.
Finding locations in Los Angeles with architecture that matched the ’50s and ’60s was another major obstacle for Smith. The suburb of South Pasadena, that is often used to mimic small towns in the Midwest in films, is where the exteriors of Zott and her neighbor Harriet Sloane’s (Aja Naomi King) homes were filmed due to the uniformity of the properties. The courtyard of the Wilshire Ebell Theater replaces UCLA, where Zott attended school in 1950, and the 1930s buildings of Loyola Marymount University form the exterior of the Hastings institution.
One of the more challenging scenes involved a sit-in at an underpass to protest the construction of a new highway through the predominantly black neighborhood of Sugar Hill. The plot is inspired by the true story of the construction of Interstate 10 in Los Angeles, which wiped out the West Adams community in the early 1960s.
“They wanted to close a highway and film on the highway, but the problem, of course, is that this would have been a brand new highway, and most of the highways you can close are just not new,” Smith says. explains. “When they built a highway, especially through a neighborhood, they were bulldozing. The trees and stuff would have been brand new. Most highways now have giant hedges on the side, so that was a problem.”
The solution came in the form of a highway maintenance yard, discovered by a location scout. “Above you, two highways merge, so there are just so many bridges, and I’ve always wanted to shoot under a highway because it strangely reminds me of Roman ruins,” says Smith. “When LA eventually becomes a ruin, the only columns left will be these freeway structures.”
The sit-in is led by Sloane, a middle-class black woman whose character is a mix of those in Garmus’ book. The wife and mother of two children befriends Dr. Evans and later Zott, becoming a confidante during some of her most difficult life transitions. Although race and class differences in relationships like these are often magnified when depicted on screen, Gordon-Crozier chose to emphasize the women’s equality through their wardrobe.
“There are a lot of similarities in the way Harriet and Elizabeth dress, just in their color palette and their textures and patterns and things like that,” she explains. “Unconsciously I wanted a unity to arise between the two of them.”
Unity is a theme underlying the experiences of women in the series as they fight back against patriarchy in small ways, such as refusing to wear an apron in the kitchen and instead donning a custom lab-inspired chef’s coat Pull. And big ways, like Zott refusing to be second author on her own research paper, which costs her a job but ultimately serves as a catalyst for a new career. They are both examples that give Zott’s experiences a sense of universality for the audience, even though they are so clearly tied to a particular place in time.
“I can completely identify with Elizabeth in the sense of being a working mother. There is always a tension between being a mother and taking care of your family, and being passionate and good at what you want to do,” says Gordon-Crozier. “I think she’s quite an inspiration. Elizabeth never really gives up, even though the world tries to bring her down.”