Interview with “Copperhead” Costume Designer Kate Rose

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Costume designers are extremely underrated members of any film production crew, because more often than not, we do not realize exactly how much work goes into fitting hundreds of cast-members, even though we find ourselves staring right at them on the screen. For a history-related film more than any other, it is of the utmost importance that the clothing the characters are wearing is correct, especially with a director at the helm who is known to go for an authenticity down to the buttons on a coat or shirt. While many of the background extras were members of the living history settlement where Copperhead was filmed, all of their clothing was not dated to the Civil War time period, as they portray 1800’s Canadian townspeople and farmers, not upstate New Yorkers from the 1860’s. Thus the tedious journey began, to not only design uniforms for the various soldiers who come in and out of the film (and whose uniforms are well-documented), but to come up with accurate renditions of the clothing “normal” people of the time would wear. The immense task of fitting the cast of Copperhead fell to Kate Rose, who has eighteen other titles of work to her name, spanning both film and television. Having seen the film already, I would like to comment that she did an outstanding job. It may be ironic, but sometimes it takes a person to not even notice the costumes to realize how great a job the designer did. What I mean is, because everything looked so real, both clothing and scenery wise, sometimes it is easy to forget we are watching a movie, and only when we step back do we say, “Wow”.  Simple but elegant would be the proper way to describe her work. I had the chance to interview Kate by email. Our conversation is below:

Costume designer Kate Rose.
Costume designer Kate Rose.

GC: How did you first get involved with the Copperhead production?

KR: I became involved with the Copperhead production the old fashioned way. I interviewed for the job! I knew Ron Maxwell only by cinematic reputation before that interview.

GC: Describe what you went through in order to get the costumes made accurately.

KR: During a period build, there is always a great deal of research. I have a small private library of costume reference books and , of course, the resources of the world wide web. Research involved not only silhouette and palette but also historically correct options for fabrics,trims, notions, undergarments and footwear. I sourced most of my fabrics in Montreal and Toronto and had hats and shoes made locally by excellent and knowledgeable craftspeople. Because I was invited on the initial location scout to Kings Landing I saw the set before I had to make costume choices which was most helpful.

GC: What was the hardest part of the costume design?

KR: The biggest challenge with the design was to keep it honest and simple. These characters are rural northerners who worked for a living. I wanted the garments to look like their clothes, not costumes.

GC: Take us through your typical day during the production.

KR: A typical day begins an hour before main crew call at base camp to ensure that all is well before the cast travels to set. Traveling back and forth between base camp and set is required to establish new costume pieces and prepare for the coming day’s scenes. Fittings for the day players are scheduled throughout the day. Adjustments are made on chosen pieces and photos of each costume are sent to Ron for approval. Once approved, the costumes must be altered and “broken down” or distressed to avoid looking newly constructed. As well, principal costume builds  continued throughout production. Repairs, changes, shifts in schedule and completely unforeseen happenings occurred on a daily basis. The days were long and very busy for my department. I was extremely fortunate to have an amazing team working with me!

GC: Did you have an interest in the Civil War or American history prior to your involvement?

KR: Ironically, I did my MFA south of the Mason-Dixon line at Ole Miss. I spent three years in Oxford, Mississippi experiencing the American South first hand, so this was naturally a subject of great interest to me.

I would like to thank Kate for taking the time to conduct this interview! She was also kind enough to share some more of the original design sketches of her work. Please enjoy!

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