How ‘Westworld’ Season Four Blends Western, 1920s and Sci-fi Genres Through Costumes
“Westworld” is arguably unlike any other modern TV show as it’s become known for blending otherwise contrasting genres seamlessly through its narrative, production design and costumes.
Season four of the popular series, which is airing on HBO, has taken this plotline up a notch with the introduction of the 1920s-themed Delos theme park and various storylines that take place up to 50 years in the future.
Seamlessly merging the three genres and tackling the varying timeframes were both a challenge and a joy for costume designer Debra Beebe, who is working with the show for the first time this season.
“We were going for accuracy in silhouettes and really focusing on characters because it is a theme park rather than a film set in the 1920s, so we could have a little bit of play with it,” Beebe said about the addition of the 1920s theme in season four.
When it came to the contemporary scenes, Beebe was tasked with dressing the characters for two time frames: one that was set 30 years into the future and another set 50 years into the future. She wanted to be able to set that distinction between the two periods through costumes for audiences to understand the shift in time.
“We needed to separate between 30 years into the future and 50 years into the future,” she said. “That was one thing that as the show goes on, you understand through the story that you’re even that much further ahead in the future, so we needed to give the time periods a distinctive look.”
She explained that while both periods had a sci-fi, futuristic vibe, the 30-year time period centered on color-blocked looks, while the 50-year time period was more tonal, with characters in all gray or all navy looks. To give both periods an overall futuristic vibe, Beebe kept accessories sparse and looks all had a clean element to them.
“It has to look like the characters were in the costume and not the other way around,” Beebe said. “You don’t want it to be so noticeable that you miss sight of what’s happening in the scene. It all needs to work together in harmony. All of these looks, because for the most part they were all futuristic, you do need them to be different and to stand out to pull your audience into the future so they can get lost in that world.”
Beebe was also tasked with recreating some of the show’s original, iconic costumes from “Westworld” season one. When characters Maeve (played by Thandiwe Newton) and Caleb (played by Aaron Paul) are in the 1920s-themed park, they are dropped into the gangster shootout storyline that was prevalent in the first season, all with the same characters who are now dressed in 1920s clothing instead of their western-inspired costumes.
The new park also features its own Dolores Abernathy and Wyatt characters (played by Evan Rachel Wood), who wore a 1920s-inspired take on the character’s classic, cornflower blue prairie dress.
“It was turning [the original costume design] on its side and saying, ‘How would she look if she was in the 1920s?’” Beebe said. “It was to fit in that period, but also carry across the color and the sweetness of the look. [The costumes] aren’t going to be direct, but it’s about using the original Old West look as inspiration for the newer look for the 1920s and just taking it from there.”
Among the show’s lengthy character list, Beebe said she thinks Charlotte Hale (played by Tessa Thompson) has the most standout costumes in the season.
“She could look very high-end fashion and she didn’t have one sort of set style,” she said. “It was fun to play with her different looks. I didn’t do her as corporate as she has been in the past. She wasn’t doing boardroom meetings and things like that. It was more her evil imagination and playing with the world she’s created. It was just open with her.”
One of the most taxing costumes to create this season was the cryogenic suit worn by William (played by Ed Harris), which took Beebe roughly six weeks to create. The costume designer worked closely with Harris for the look, making sure the body-con suit was comfortable for the actor, but still reflected the sci-fi and technological elements needed to fit in with the storyline.
Beebe also found the season’s nod to prior “Westworld” seasons as a way that tied in all the contrasting genres and time periods, making the storyline flow seamlessly.
“The producers really wanted to have callbacks to the first season, that’s what we did on the train with Maeve and Caleb like we saw in season one,” she said. “They were just so smart in the writing to weave these elements of the previous seasons into the show and use the costumes to help identify all of that and understand the story.”
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