Clint Ramos designed the costumes for a production of “The Elephant Man” that headlined three-time Academy Award (aka Oscar Award) nominee Bradley Cooper (for “American Sniper,” “American Hustle,” “Silver Linings Playbook”).
The show ended its Broadway run in February (where it recouped its US$3.1 million investment in six-and-a-half weeks) and will begin previews on May 19 at Theatre Royal Haymarket in London’s West End.
Written by Bernard Pomerance, the play is based on the life of Joseph Merrick (named John in the play) who lived in 19th century England and was known for the extreme deformity of his body.
John Hurt played the titular character in the 1980 movie version. On stage, other Hollywood actors have portrayed the lead role, such as Billy Crudup, David Bowie and Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker to older readers; voice of The Joker in animated Batman movies, TV series and videogames to younger readers).
Ramos has been involved with this production from its first incarnation at the 2012 Williamstown Theatre Festival in Massachusetts to its transfer to Broadway.
“Bradley is an amazing artist,” says Ramos. “He’s a very meticulous actor and he is probably one of the most collaborative actors I know. He and I really worked closely together on his costumes.”
“He is one of the producers, but I never really had to deal with that because my direct interactions with him were purely artistic. I never felt his ‘celebrity-ness’ at any point in the process. He is just a devoted actor willing to do anything for his character.
“Because of Bradley, we get a ton of celebrities coming to see the show every night. The most memorable for me was when Barbra Streisand came backstage and gushed over the gowns I designed for Patricia Clarkson’s character. That was special.”
Unlike other productions that have used prosthetics to portray the lead character’s physical disfigurement, this production tasks Cooper to contort his body instead.
“That’s the most ironic and profound facet of the whole enterprise: we see all of Victorian society enthralled, mesmerized and obsessed with this man and his severe deformity as they themselves were deforming their bodies through fashion with corsets, top hats, bustles, etc.”
Ramos did in-depth research, down to the underwear design.
“The design for the clothes is really based on real clothes of the period. We started with extant research on Joseph Merrick. There is a photo of him in Victorian underwear as he was photographed for medical curiosity. The underwear Bradley wears in the show is based on that photo.
“We started with a standard symmetrical garment. When we had our fittings with Bradley, I asked him to hold the pose and we adjusted the garment to accommodate his contortion and I added some age and creases to it. The underwear he wears is made of pure Italian linen, and we had to line it because it was too sheer to use on stage.
“I really just wanted to be loyal to the period. It’s a great show to feature costumes of 1880s England because the characters run the gamut of social class; we have servants to royalties to carnies, etc.
“There are tons of Victorian illustrated sources and real garments that are available for us to use as references. The cast wears clothes that real people would have worn during that time.
“I did, however, control the color palette to reflect that thick, brooding, dark air of Victorian/Edwardian England. The colors are dark, mostly blacks and grays and when we do have ‘colors’ they are deep and rich.”
Ramos also designed the costumes for the musical “Here Lies Love,” a musical about Imelda Marcos, which recently ended its London run with Mark Bautista in the role of Ferdinand Marcos. (Bautista will play Nico in Viva Communications and Resorts World Manila’s upcoming stage adaptation of comic-turned-movie-turned-TV series “Bituing Walang Ningning.”)