The very lovely and amazingly talented Shawna Trpcic, costume designer on Torchwood: Miracle Day and many other great TV shows agreed to do a Q&A with me for Torchwood 4 Fans (which was more than nice of her!). Here are our questions and her answers.
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Q: Did you always want to become a costume designer? And was it difficult to get a start in Hollywood?
A: I went to art school to study to be an artist, in my second year changed to fashion design and in my senior year worked with Bob Mackie on the senior project and fell in love with costume. I went over to American Film Institute and asked the student directors if I could design their student films - they said yes. When they graduated I started getting paid. :)
Q: It's safe to say that costumes provide as much flavor to the character as the actors and scripts. How do you begin the process of finding a look for a character such as Jilly?
A: I researched PR and women in media. I base the look in reality and then just push it a little - to bring a little dazzle. Even for Oswald I researched pedophiles and serial killers - not pleasant but I need to see the reality. It helps the actor find the character as well.
Q: Continuing with Jilly, you broke some classic rules there (ie, a redhead wearing red.) Do you deliberately go in that sort of a direction in order to help set the opinion of the audience, or is the process more organic than that?
A: Even the actress said "I don't wear red" - but look how powerful and iconic that coat is now. That's the goal - to push the envelope and not bend to what you are "supposed" to do.
Q: What do you think has been your biggest challenge in terms of designing a look for a character? And what was the most difficult thing to design for Miracle Day?
A: I don't really find designing difficult - there are challenges - budget, time, etc - but each character I have done is so rich and has so many layers to discover - I love the process of peeling back the layers and finding the look.
Q: What was your favorite outfit that you've designed in both Torchwood and any other series that you've worked on?
A: Oswald, Jilly, Vera, Rex, Jack - rediscovering his coat, Gwen - I loved them all. You can't really separate them - each is so unique. I loved Firefly series as well - so many new worlds to design every week.
Q: What are your influences when you design clothes in general and specifically for Torchwood?
A: I let the character influence me - the actor's body, the physical requirements - the way the actor moves - and most important the written character on the page. I want to make their vision a reality.
Q: You have a lot of experience with iconic science fiction type programs. Do you prefer working on those types of shows or would you like to do something different? What would be your ideal program or movie to do design for?
A: Fantasy and sci fi are definite favorites. Someone asked me if I would be bored on a lawyer show – no, not really - every written character is layered and discovering subtleties is fun, too.
Q: With Torchwood, Jack has a distinctive look and Gwen more or less too. Does that make it more difficult to come up with something new or is it easier because you already have an example?
A: It's fun to have a jumping off point. I really wanted to make my own mark with Jack and was so pleased that the fans were happy with the new coat. John loved it too and he knows the character best.
Q: Have you ever been intimidated with the thought of making changes, such as in the case of Captain Jack, a character whose fanbase has some rather strong opinions about his outfit? And did you go back and watch previous series of Torchwood to get a feel for any of the characters?
A: I watched all three seasons in a marathon to really absorb the characters. I wasn't intimidated - I have worked with a famous captain before. :) And I got Russell's and John's approval on my sketch before we made the actual coat, so I knew they liked it.
Q: How many variations of the RAF greatcoat did you create for Miracle Day? How long did it take to re-design the coat? Who is the Italian tailor who produced the coat?
A: Two variations, one with thick wool, one with thin cashmere - both the same cut. It took only moments to redraw the coat in the thinner silhouette. And a tailor named Il Stephano.
Q: Do you have a picture of JB wearing the coat for the first time? Why does the coat look more blue than grey compared to the former one which was more grey than blue? Is it correct that the coat is made from 70% of wool (non-allergic) and 30% of cashmere, with some rayon for the liner? Did you ask some advice from Ray Holman (the previous designer) to create a lighter coat?
A: Yes we have lots of fitting photos. I chose the fabric from swatches in a fabric book off of feel and weight. Not sure of % content; it's more like 50/50 cashmere - it is an iridescent rayon lines. And no. I have never met Ray.
Q: You flew out to the UK to do a costume measurement with John Barrowman. What was your first impression of John?
A: He was lovely and energetic but VERY serious about the changes I spoke to him about. I draped the old coat on him and pinned it a great deal to show him the silhouette. He respects his fans VERY much and wanted to be sure it was perfect.
Q: Over the course of the Torchwood production you tweeted about many a Fraterday night. What's a typical day for you when working on a show like Torchwood and how do you balance those long hours with your family?
A: I have a great team. I try not to work 12-15 hours every day but that is often the case in TV. My set crew - Alana and Joey - put in the longest hours.
Pictures: BBC Worldwide and Shawna Trpcic