Spotlight on Crew: Denise Cronenberg, Costume Designer; Her Praise for Robert PattinsonCostuming Crew Denise Cronenberg Gucci
“In 1986, budding Canadian director David Cronenberg released a science fiction thriller entitled The Fly.The film was about a scientist who inadvertently becomes a man/fly hybrid after an experiment gone wrong. A remake of the 1958 original, Cronenberg’s adaptation received critical praise on all fronts and secured an Academy Award for Best Makeup. Cronenberg had taken a bit of a gamble with costume design, however, and hired a first-timer: his sister, Denise. “I remember him telling me, ‘Okay, but if you fall, I’m not going to pick you up off the ground,’” she tells me. “Luckily, he’s never had to.”
If you haven’t heard the name Denise Cronenberg before, get acquainted. Over the last 25 years, she’s shaped an impressively unique career. Her talents have developed and defined a Canadian artistic dynasty; her son Aaron Woodley is now a filmmaker, and her niece Caitlin is a photographer. Though Denise has gone on to work on even bigger budget films, she regularly returns to work with the familiar team of brilliant collaborators that her brother has assembled.
Denise began her career on stage studying ballet before transitioning to fashion design, and finally settling in the world of costumes. This has led her all the way up to her next film Cosmopolis, to be released later this year. The film stars heartthrob Robert Pattinson and is also directed by her brother. The movie is attracting so much attention that the costume designer has even begun to develop a tag on Tumblr. It only took forever.”
PAL: “What have you learned over the course of your very unique career?”
DC: “What I know now could fill a whole building, and there are no courses that will prepare you. For one, each actor is different, and you’ve got to interact with the producers and everyone. Being a costume designer is 90 per cent psychology. You’re dealing with actors, and they’re dealing with characters – everyone has a certain view. You have to pull it all together to try to get what you want on the screen.”
PAL: “You must get asked a lot about working with a certain teen heartthrob on the upcoming Cosmopolis.”
DC: “Oh, Rob? Poor guy had to stay in his trailer the whole time. That’s not what I call fun. But he’s a dream to work with. What a terrific kid.”
PAL: “How has the industry changed since you began working alongside David?”
DC: “Working with David, it’s simple and unique. He knows what he wants, and it’s intuitive. [The industry is] a lot nastier now. Again, this is not about David’s pictures, and I don’t say that just because he’s my brother – everyone will say that. Working with him is collaborative, and you discuss things as adults.
Other movies, it’s not like that. Bigger movies – million-dollar ones – it’s a whole different world. Maybe it’s the recession, and it can’t be a really easy experience. I’ve felt like I’ve been used, and I question whether I’m necessary because there are so many people who have a say these days.”
PAL: “But then there are unique challenges.”
DC: “There’s a certain limit with what you can do – you can have gorgeous fabric, lace, buttons, but silhouettes had to be a certain way. Also, people ask why there was a lot of white and that’s because that was the colour for high Victorian blouses, sometimes it was ecru [off-white]. Then colours started to come in, but black suits for men and white for woman was really the colour. That’s also not easy to shoot and light on a film as a director of photography will tell you, but that’s what it was.”
Grazia Daily: You’re working on Cosmopolis with Robert Pattinson now, what’s that been like?
Denise Cronenberg: Oh, he’s lovely! He’s such a nice, sweet kid. He’s intelligent and smart; he was very brave to take on something like this because I think he was quite hesitant at first. But David is wonderful with actors and he’s a father of three, so he uses that. He and Robert had a wonderful relationship. It was an unusual film to do, very unusual. We had to do a rave, street fires and have cars exploding for this film! David and I decided what we thought we’d put Robert in. I then talked to Gucci who were incredible and gave us all his clothes. He’s dressed from head to toe in Gucci from the tie to his socks! And we had no money, like really, no money so we could never have done it without them.