Last Modified: March 01. 2013 8:04PM
You might not have heard of Gary Jones, but if you've seen “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” “Two Weeks' Notice” and “Valentine's Day,” you know his work.
The Oscar-nominated costume designer has clothed everyone from Katharine Hepburn and Frank Sinatra to Anne Hathaway and Ashton Kutcher.
For “Oz: The Great and Powerful,” his latest movie, Jones outfits James Franco, Michelle Williams, Rachel Weisz and Mila Kunis as well as hundreds of Munchkins, Winkies and winged monkeys.
“We started by doing a lot of research and having ideas of the ways (costumes) should look in order to be (historically accurate), but as we went on, we really began creating a whole new world,” says Jones, who lives about 50 miles north of Philadelphia in Lower Saucon Township. “It was exciting and freeing for me, a real adventure.”
During his nearly 35-year career as a costume designer, Jones has worked on movies big (“Spider-Man 2”), small (“Vanya on 42nd Street”) and in-between (“The Princess Diaries.”)
He's earned an Oscar nomination for “The Talented Mr. Ripley” (which he co-designed with Ann Roth), became director Garry Marshall's favorite designer after working with him on seven features, and outfitted a number of performers who went on to garner attention from Oscar, including Geraldine Page in “Trip to Bountiful.”
Without exception, all of Jones' movies have been reality-based enterprises. Deciding to follow Raimi down the Yellow Brick Road to “Oz” required Jones to take a big leap of faith.
“I was ready to go, but every now and then, the size and the historical ramifications of the project would come over me,” he says.
“Oz: The Great and the Powerful” is an origin story of sorts set before the action depicted in the 14 novels that author L. Frank Baum wrote between 1900 and 1920. The first in the series of Baum's books provided the basis for “The Wizard of Oz,” the beloved Judy Garland musical from 1939.
“Oz: The Great and Powerful” borrows characters that appeared in both the novels and the movie, such as the Munchkins and the Winkies, while also introducing new figures, such as the computer-generated China Girl (voiced by 12-year-old Joey King) and the monkey Finley (Zach Braff).
James Franco stars in “Oz” as Oscar Diggs, a small-time circus magician who is swirled away from Kansas to the merry old Land of Oz. At first, he thinks he's hit the jackpot until he meets three witches – Theodora (Mila Kunis), Evanora (Rachel Weisz) and Glinda (Michelle Williams) – who are not convinced he is the great wizard everyone's been expecting.
Reluctantly, Oscar is drawn into the epic problems of Oz. His mission: to try to put his magical arts to use long enough to transform himself not only into the great and powerful Wizard of Oz but also into a better man.
The sheer scope of the film is mind-boggling. Rumored to have cost $200 million, “Oz” required Jones to costume 1,500 actors. For the main characters – Oscar and the Witches – Jones stitched together dozens, if not hundreds, of costumes that looked the same but served different purposes. Some were made for stunt work, while others were made to look more fantastical to signify the characters' growing closeness to the Emerald City.
Franco's Oscar wears the same black suit for the entire movie. Needless to say, a lot of thought was put into getting that suit exactly right. Initially, Jones researched the late 1880s to figure out what men of the day were wearing.
Jones made a prototype of the outfit, which he showed to Franco in New York. The actor then screen-tested and re-screen-tested the costume, each time with fabric alterations.
Seven months later, Jones was happy with the result – a suit that communicates both Oscar's roots as a showman and his more mystical traits as a wizard-in-training.
“I think the suit does a good job of keeping us in touch with where Oscar came from,” says Jones, who constructed 22 copies of the garment, which he then altered to appear in various stages of distress. “The suit makes him look sharp and dapper when he needs to look sharp and dapper, and it can make him look less than sharp and dapper when he needs to look less than sharp and dapper.”
Jones found Franco to be a wonderful collaborator. “He's a lovely guy,” the designer says. “He's very well-spoken, a thoughtful actor. He really took his costume and made it his own in every way. It was like a suit of armor for him, a second skin.”
When it came time to dress the witches, Jones relied heavily on the script, which clearly defined the trio of sorcerers. Theodora, who's evil, is of the earth while her sister Evanora, another baddie, is forged in fire.
“I tried to give Theodora's (costumes) a romantic, 18th-century feeling, while Evanora's look became almost art deco,” Jones says.
Actress Rachel Weisz appreciated the care that Jones took in conceptualizing her look. “The costumes are very fantastical and very heightened,” she says. “Mine for Evanora is very glittery with a lot of feathers. It's complete transformation; it's just high-concept, high-fantasy. It's really fun.”
As for Glinda, Jones gave the good witch three separate white dresses and gowns to communicate her stature as a “pristine” figure both in Oz and in Oscar's backstory.
On the film, Jones shares the credit of costume designer with German artist and illustrator Michael Kutsche, whom Raimi hired as a visual consultant.
“Sam really liked Michael's illustrations so, together, the three of us began fleshing those ideas out and translating them into three-dimensional (designs), and then, at that point, I took over.”
Oz was re-created, in of all places, suburban Detroit. The movie was shot in 111 days at the new Michigan Motion Pictures Studios, a 200,000-square-foot complex that once served as the location for General Motors' Centerpoint business campus and truck-manufacturing plant.
“We shot on seven sound stages, and they were as big or bigger than any in Hollywood,” Jones says.
It was on the gigantic soundstages that locations such as the Yellow Brick Road, Emerald City and the Dark Forest were reimagined for the first time since “The Wizard of Oz.” New locations also were constructed, including the witches' Throne Room, the Whimsie Woods (where Oz meets Theodora), and China Town, whose inhabitants are made up entirely of porcelain.
After spending nearly a year at Raimi's side, Jones can't say enough good things about the filmmaker.
“Sam is the perfect match for this material because he marries the fantastical with human characters. His focus is on humor, humanity and a really good story. As Oscar and these characters are progressing toward the mystical and magical land, we're also getting to know them along the way.”