Interview with Costume Designer, Ray Holman
Ray Holman has been a costume designer for many years, and has been involved in the designing of costumes for many popular television shows both on BBC and ITV, including Broadchurch, Doctor Who, Silk and our favourite show of all, Torchwood. Ray is always a busy man, so it was with great joy that he managed to take time out of his busy schedule to tell us about his work on Torchwood, series 1, 2 and 3.
Hi Ray, Children of Earth was a much larger production in terms of cast, with the amount of children and military personnel, and the Home Office people as well as the usual crowd in Cardiff, how much planning ahead of production did you need in order to find all the costumes, or design the costumes before filming began and did the school children bring their own jumpers and school uniforms for the productions?
Ray: I think I had around 5 weeks to prepare the costumes for Children of Earth. In comparison to making the former 13-part series this was a big, but contained story. I designed and fitted as many of the principal costumes as I could before we started the shoot, but sometimes you don't have everyone cast so it has to be done during the course of filming. We started by shooting ALL the Home Office scenes in the first week, so they were the priority. No-one brings their own costumes because I need to be firmly in control of the 'look' and feel of the costumes and make sure we are achieving the vision that Russell T Davies has set with the scripts. Making the first two series was a much bigger broader job than Children of Earth.
When we interviewed costume designer Shawna Trpcic for Miracle Day, she told us that she provided ALL the costumes for each of the cast right down to their under garments. Is this the same for the British team, such as yourself, do you have to think right down to their boxers, regardless to whether they would be doing a scene that would see them in their undergarments?
Ray: Yes, we provide everything including underwear. Underwear can shape the body in whatever way we choose and it helps each character have an individual silhouette. So for example, Eve who played Gwen would wear a certain kind of bra which we chose very carefully when we set her character up, one which could help support her during all the running and action scenes. It's not all about 'looking sexy' but about practicalities as well and sometimes the two collide.
I love Captain Jack's period clothing and I remember the photo of the spitfire cufflinks you had posted on Twitter an age ago now!!! When and how do you find the costumes and the little attentions to detail, such as the cufflinks, tie pin or little things like that, that would suit the character?
Ray: I am always on the lookout for the kind of details that would be relevant to each character, just to embellish and add interest in the same way a real person would to an outfit. Where I find things are in various places depending upon the production. Sometimes it's established contacts and other times it's from the Internet and other times I will get things made for a production.
And do you often find them when you're out and about and not always when you're working and think, ‘Ooh, that would look good on Jack, or that would suit Toshiko???’
Ray: While working on any specific project, I am always on the lookout for details. I buy fabrics and clothes and I have a costume store where I keep all the useful things I find. Eventually they find a place on one of my productions.
Before you began dressing the characters on Torchwood, how did you know what clothing would suit them, what is it you look for when you begin planning a character dress code? I'd imagine that the script and background would help you, or the set design for their homes, or do you have another way of knowing what the characters would wear?
Ray: Working on Torchwood was a collaborative thing between many departments. Starting with the writing and the characterisation and the stories, we had 'tone' meetings where Russell and Julie would let us know how they wanted a specific episode to look and feel. Then, I talk to the actors, take them shopping or design and fit the things I would like them to wear. Research is key to planning a character so I use books, the Internet and various references, with Torchwood initially I was looking at Manga stories.
Some people have allergies to certain material, such as Captain Jack's great coat, I would imagine this would add further weight to your list in order to customise the coat to keep it looking as original as possible, was that a hard task to do?
Ray: One of the first things I ask an actor is what their measurements are and part of that is to find out if they have allergies, sometimes it's simply to washing liquid or jewellery and other times it's to fabrics like wool like in the case of John who plays Captain Jack. This meant I had to find a fabric which would work for him and not irritate him while he was working and it lead to the original design for the series coat.
I know the characters in my head, that I write about, I know a lot of what they like, because I can personally feel where their tastes lie. But these are my characters, it must be harder to know a person's taste and how they would dress when you come into a series for the first time, or is this part of the training as a costume designer?
Ray: There are certain cuts and styles which are best for different people, as themselves and I tend to find out what they are and incorporate the best cut and style for the actor into the costume, this isn't always possible, but on Torchwood it was fine because it was essentially a contemporary piece with period details.
In Doctor Who, Captain Jack's great coat, to me, looked a little too large for him, too big in the lapels. When he appeared in Torchwood the coat seemed to suit his character more, he appeared to have 'grown into the coat' and I just wondered if the coat had been customised for his character or if another coat, more John’s size had been found? It was the scene with Jack, Rose and the 9th Doctor when he produces a banana, I think, in the hospital with the gas mask zombies, his coat looked extremely large on him.
Ray: When Captain Jack appeared in Doctor Who he was playing an officer from the RAF in WW2 so the costume designer used a real coat from the period with a silk cravat to stop the wool from irritating John. When we did the series, I designed the coat so that it wasn't wool and also at the time it would be longer and blow in the wind. There were a lot of shots of Jack standing on top of buildings watching over the city in series 1 and we wanted a bigger stronger silhouette, more comic book than real and very heroic. So we made the new coat from cotton moleskin but kept the RAF references.
For anyone who would like to go into Costume Designing as a career, what advice would you have for them?
Ray: I'm going to refer you to a BBC link called How to be a costume designer on the BBC website, iwonder guides. There's a video and everything there http://www.bbc.co.uk/guides/z2ktycw
It sounds a really interesting career and so many different styles of production, from period to present styles, to completely futuristic, what are your favourite genres or styles to design for, or do you prefer not to be pigeon holed into one particular category?
Ray: I like to be varied in my work and not be pigeon holed into one thing. Variety is my thing. My work life is quite busy and as time goes on Torchwood fades into the distance. But I still have a Captain Jack costume and things like Gwen's hen party t shirts, I look at them with much fondness whenever I come across them in my store.
Thank you, Ray
If you want to find out more about Ray’s career, follow this link to his website or copy and paste the link into the address bar.