Exclusive Interview: Lindy Hemming. Costume Designer On ‘Dark Knight’ Trilogy And ‘Wonder Woman’



Interview by Steve J. Ray

Lindy Hemming is the Academy Award Winning costume designer for Topsy-Turvy. Her designs have graced the hilarious Four Weddings And A Funeral, Angelina Jolie’s Tomb Raider blockbusters, TWO James Bond movies, and the family classic Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets.
She cemented her status as a comic fan’s costume designer of choice with her superlative work on Christopher Nolan’s Batman BeginsThe Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises.
Her designs and original costumes for these legendary Bat movies are on show at the excellent DC Exhibition: Dawn Of Superheroes at the O2 in London, which is running until September. I was fortunate enough to attend the press preview for this amazing event, a day before it opened to the public. Lindy was there, and I was honoured to sit down and chat with her about her amazing career.

The Dark Knight Trilogy

Steve J. Ray: Lindy, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me, and to all the press and fan-sites in attendance today.
Lindy Henning: Thank you, Steve. It’s lovely to speak to all these young, enthusiastic and friendly people. I’ve been asked some really great, and insightful questions.
SJR: Let’s hope I can continue the trend! What I love about you is your love for your work. Throughout today, your enthusiasm, and joy hasn’t wavered, even though you’ve clearly got a bit of a cold. But I understand that you didn’t start your career as a costume designer.
LH: That’s right. I actually started in stage management. I studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, and found that many of the costumes hadn’t been well maintained, or in some cases not been very well made to start with. This led me to design costumes for productions at West End theatres, for the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Royal National Theatre.
SJR: This led, of course to a great career in costume design for cinema, including Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight Trilogy” and your wonderful work on Wonder Woman.
LH: Yes. It’s been a real journey.
SJR: How different is working on something like Four Weddings, as compared to a Batman movie?
LH: Working on contemporary cinema is actually harder. With a superhero movie, capes and armour, it can move into the dimensions of fantasy. With something like Four Weddings, we have to make multiple costumes, which have to be worn over days, or weeks of filming by actors. Taken off, and put on again, remain comfortable, functional, and be ultimately durable. Because they just look like “ordinary” clothes, though, they don’t get the attention, or recognition that a Batsuit, or Amazonian armour do.
SJR: Wow. That’s actually fascinating, and not something that I would’ve thought about.

Being A Clown’s No Joke

SJR: I suppose then, that the Batman movies must’ve been a great transition point, then? Apart from Batman himself, and Scarecrow’s mask, in Batman Begins, almost all the other costumes are “real world.”
LH: Yes! That was a wonderful experience. On and off, I spent almost a decade living and working with (Christopher Nolan). He always wanted these films grounded in reality, he didn’t want them to feel like they were set in a fantasy realm, but in the here and now.
SJR: That’s one of their most successful attributes. Even the Joker’s costume is a far cry from the almost luminous purples of Cesar Romero, or Jack Nicholson.
LH: That was definitely on purpose. I do love the Joker and the Penguin from the Burton films, though. With our version, I took a different approach. A Joker or Jester is a medieval character. An entertainer for the courts, and for the masses. I tried to base our Joker on a rock star, who is probably our modern day equivalent. A Pete Docherty, an Iggy Pop, Keith Richards or Johnny Depp type. Someone with charisma and the ability to draw the eye, and hold the audience’s attention.
SJR: And he definitely does that! The story with clown masks is a fascinating one!
LH: It was a nightmare! Because this was a film with an international audience, we had to do some extensive research, and follow some strict, and bizarre guidelines. Professional clowns must choose a unique facial makeup design, and they have an unusual way of ‘protecting’ it from copycats. We could NOT use any design already in existence, and had to create new masks/makeup that had NEVER been used before. There are several registries, worldwide, with clowns’ faces painted on eggs. If ours were not totally new and unique, we wouldn’t have been able to use them.
SJR: That’s bonkers!
LH: But true.

Lindy Hemming’s Bane

SJR: Let’s talk about Bane.
LH: Well, he’s the character where we went in completely the opposite direction.
SJR: How do you mean?
LH: Well, in the stories he’s really just like a circus strongman, with the mask of a wrestler. That’s something that’s very common and everyday. But then there are the tubes, and he grows stronger, and angrier, which is the fantasy element. Again, (Christopher Nolan) wanted a physical threat to Batman, but without the popping veins, and wrestler gimmick. Our Bane’s mask is based on a jet engine.
SJR: This is amazing!
LH: He’s a damaged individual. Damaged nose, lungs, labored breathing. This mask is like a fuel injection system, pouring oxygen into his lungs, and keeping him functioning. This fuels him to a level where he can stand his ground against, or even defeat Batman.

Wonder Woman

SJR: How much exposure to, or knowledge of comics did you have prior to working with Christopher Nolan?

LH: Very little. It wasn’t a medium I had a great deal of knowledge about. Since then I have learned to appreciate it. Every film starts off with a word on a page. Every costume starts as a drawing on a piece of paper. It’s the same with comics; a flash of inspiration can lead to a creation that stands the test of time, and then, years or decades down the line, makes the transition to the silver screen.

SJR: Absolutely. This year will mark Superman’s 80th anniversary, next year Batman’s will follow. Wonder Woman will celebrate her 80th in just 3 years' time. You brought her, along with her Amazon family, and history to the big-screen for the very first time in live-action. How did that compare to your previous work?
LH: It was great fun to make. Of course, it brought lots of challenges, due to the time period, and the very different locations, and locales.
SJR: Of course! There are scenes in the present, and on the streets of London, and the battlefields of Europe during World War One. Then there’s also the Paradise Island of Themyscira. What a rich tapestry!
LH: Yes indeed. I got to work with beautiful gowns, WWI uniforms, Wonder Woman’s more, shall we say reserved, formal wear? Plus the armor and battle gear of a whole society of warrior women.
SJR: I love all the different animal motifs you used. Each woman shared a similar design ethic, but still had their own unique feel and individuality. Was all of it based on Greek myth, and historical research?
LH: Thank you. Some of it goes back further still. There are stories of female warriors, and women in battle going back thousands of years! Nubia and Canaan, Ancient Egypt, the Assyrians, Celts, and even Ancient China of the 13th Century BC.
SJR: Fascinating. I love the way that they bear a resemblance to Diana’s “Superheroic” garb, but aren’t all identical.
LH: Yes. I had to build on and translate what Michael (Wilkinson – costume designer on Batman V Superman, who created Wonder Woman’s costume) had made.

Durability, Design And Practicality

SJR: The battle gear is amazing. In terms of materials used, and variety of style.
LH: Yes, I worked with leather armor, metal, plus the more conventional silks and cottons. On Wonder Woman it’s hard to think of a material we didn’t use! But of course, the over-riding factors were believability, freedom of movement, and comfort for the actors and stunt performers. Harder, less malleable versions for extreme close-ups, as well as softer, more flexible, and padded versions for battle scenes and action sequences. Some of those suits took a heck of a beating!
SJR: Are you allowed to tell us what you’ll be working on next?
LH: Working on already, I should say! Yes, I’m back with Patty Jenkins and we’ve started work on Wonder Woman II.
SJR: Yes! That’s fantastic news.
SJR: So, in closing. I’m sure that over the years you’ve been asked thousands of questions. But is there one question that you’ve always wished someone would ask you but no-one has? What is that question, and what’s the answer?
LH: (Lindy Laughs.) That’s cheating! You’re meant to be asking me the questions, I shouldn’t have to make up my own!
SJR: (I laugh too.) OK, then, Is there anything you’d like to say to my readers, and to the fans? About your work, or about this amazing exhibition?
LH: Yes. About this exhibition. I’ve already said that a story starts with a word, and a design starts with a drawing. A career, a dream, a passion, they can all start from an experience. I wasn’t always a designer, but seeing the work and artistry of people who were, brought me to where I am. Children, families… please come to this wonderful event. Perhaps a design, a picture on the wall, a costume, a sketch, a painting… something can spark your imagination. Then we will have a comics creator, an artist, a director, a designer of the future.
SJR: Now that’s how close an interview! Lindy, thank you so much. This has been an amazing conversation, and I’ve learned so much.
LH: Thank you, Steve.
Lindy Hemming, And The DC Exhibition
The event opened at the O2, in London on February 23rd, and runs until September 9th. It’s an incredible, fun day out for the whole family.

Who knows? Maybe you’ll go, and see something that shapes your future, and inspires you, just like Lindy said
How cool would that be?

(This interview was originally published in two parts on the Dark Knight News and DC Comics News websites on February 23rd and February 24th 2018)

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