This Marvel FanGirl had the pleasure of visiting with the cast of “Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” and getting a set tour while in LA for the new Avengers: Age of Ultron press tour last month. Visiting an active set is always a challenge because it’s a busy place! Read the first set tour interview here. We were fortunate enough to chat with Chloe Bennet while they were shooting the season finale and then costume designer Ann Foley.
Costume Designer Ann Foley and the Costume Department Tour
Set tours of TV shows is always fun and you get to see cool items that you don’t always pick up in the show itself but little details that really make the show come to life, such as the replicas in Coulson’s office or the Easter Eggs in the Lab. While were on our tour of the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. set we toured costume storage and design as well as met with an interviewed costumer designer Ann Foley. We toured her main office (including seeing her vision boards), the permanent closets, Ann’s workroom, and the working closets of the entire cast: Coulson, Ward, Fitz, May, and some of the day players.
What is a working closet?
Ann: A closet, the working closet is where I pull their clothes for each episode. So what we do is I have a little closet that I use for all my fittings, for each and every episode. And in my vision board over there, these are ideas that I had at the beginning of last season that I used to show the producers and even the cast of where we were going with each one of them, so that we could create six really strong identifiable characters. And then back here, do you want to, should we head back?
How awesome is it to have a job where you do a vision board as part of your job?
Ann: Yeah. It was really fun. It was really fun, and a lot of this stuff was inspiration for Season One. I have a few things up there for Season Two, and as most of you guys know, there was a big progression in the cast from Season One towards the end and the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D., we went a little darker and everybody grew up. And so Season Two, it was a little darker. It was a little edgier. It was kind of a nice change.
So over here, along this wall, what we have are everybody’s permanent closets, so a lot of this is the clothes from last season and some things from the current season that have already been shot. So here's Mockingbird, her coats from the first time we met her, which was a fabulous, custom-made piece that we did. But there she is. And Hunter is in here as well, his fabulous, his leather jackets that he's been wearing. And then on the other side I have all the stock that we use to dress the background. It's just like a permanent working stock, budget suits for my S.H.I.E.L.D. agents.
What kind of background do you have in a typical episode?
Ann: It depends. We could be shooting somewhere in Europe. Last year we had a really fabulous—probably one of my favorite episodes—was when we were in Russia and we did a little Russian bar. That was amazing, and so that's what we do. We pull from my permanent stock to dress for specific background. We get their sizes and then we pull clothes specifically to them. Any day players that come in, I get their sizes. Everybody comes in for a fitting. Every single person on the show pretty much, whether they have one line or they have a big arc, they come in and I dress them all.
I've got some costumes up on mannequins, if you guys want to see them. And you guys can photograph these as well. This is nothing that hasn't been seen yet. So this is my workroom back here, and this is where we do build a lot of the costumes for the show.
So what I was saying is this is my workshop. This is where we build a lot of the costumes on the show, and I have a few of the costumes up on mannequins that we've made here in-house, one being Raina, the girl in the flower dress. She's probably one of my favorite characters. We actually print that fabric and then we make each one of our dresses. And what we did with her is I really worked with the writers and we sort of went into her head, and depending on where her head was in that episode, we tried to choose that color wisely.
So they're all 100 percent custom made and that's special to our show. Ah then that's Ming's silver sequin dress, which I think you guys remember from earlier in the season, that we made that in-house, too, which was so much fun. It was so much fun putting her in that. And we had about a week to make five of those dresses. Those tiny sequins that you see on there, we were finding those sequins all over studio. They were everywhere.
We made five because Ming was fighting herself, or May was fighting herself in the episode, so we had one beautiful one for May, then we had one that she could fight in, so we sewed stretch panels inside so she could fight and do all of her movements. She had two stunt doubles and then Agent 33 was in one as well. So that was a lot. And then we have Skye's new tactical outfit for this season and the hood piece up there is her custom made.
And then of course Mockingbird, which I think you guys have all seen her. So that's another one of my favorites this season as well. And of course here's some illustrations that we have. My fabulous illustrator, Phillip Boutte, who I've been working with on both seasons and here's the latest and the greatest, which is our friend Deathlok, who you guys saw on Tuesday nights. And I wish I could have put him up, but he is not available to be put up yet.
What percentage of the costumes are custom made?
Ann: Well, that's a good question. Depends on the episode. I don't know, maybe 30 percent, I guess. It could be higher than that, but I'll skew lower. It does feel like we're making a lot of stuff back here, and I love to do that. And even Raina, who is coming up, we've made a lot of stuff for her, and we'll continue to as well. So it just depends on the needs of the character, 'cause sometimes you just can't find it at Bloomingdale's.
In Episode 217, Raina undergoes a a transformation leading to some changes in what she wears, too
Ann: Yes, so what we did was we made this really beautiful hooded piece 'cause she needs a hood for her protection, even if it’s an emotional protection, so to speak. It just felt right. I found this really beautiful lace; it's an Asian-inspired lace and we put a red silk underneath it so that you could see the red coming through the flowers that are in the lace. So she still keeps her flowers. It's very subtle. Hopefully you'll be able to see it, but it's just a character thing.
How many outfits average in an episode?
Ann: Again, that depends on the cast involved. Sometimes we have up to 38 people in the show that we're outfitting. The episode with Ming and the dress, our cast was I think was about 38. And then we're doing the multiples on top of it, so it varies.
For established comic book characters like Mockingbird and Deathlok, how much inspiration comes from the comic book and how much comes from just your own inspiration?
Ann: Well, a bunch. I mean, I always go to the source material, because I think it's important. I mean, these are established characters in the MCU and I want to respect that, but at the same time, it's about bringing them into our world and making it believable for the world of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., so it's always a little bit of a balance.
Have there been any characters that have been especially challenging?
Ann: There’s always gonna be a challenge, even if they're in street clothes, but I never really look at it as a challenge. It's always just another aspect of it. I love building costumes. I love shopping them as well. So I've been very lucky in my assistant designer career. I've worked on some amazing films, that's all we did was build. We were in completely different worlds, and so it just kind of second nature to me.
How much lead time do you get? Actors may not know what coming up until the episode before, but is costuming different?
Ann: There is Mockingbird, I got about 2 months; same with Deathlok. Ming in the silver dress, about 10 days.
What considerations do you have to take for stunt doubles, fighters, and things like that?
Ann: That’s one of the most important things to me in the show, is I always take the actors considerations into account when we're building. They have to be able to do their stunts. They have to be able to fight. They have to be able to move really freely, do high kicks. And I mean with the dress, the challenge was making sure Ming could punch, so she could move so that nothing would pull here, and she could flip over a table. You don't ever want the costume to get in the way.
And even with Deathlok, his costume, the base of it is stretch, like a four-way stretch, very similar to what Mockingbird's is made out of. So it's a four-way stretch, and I print on top of it. It's an ink, so the costume still moves with the actor, and that's super, super, super important.
What kind of system do you have when you need to find a few pieces for each character?
Ann: Well, I have some fabulous shoppers on the show. And also I am a big online shopper. I'm gonna give a big shout out to Shopbop and Net-A-Porter and Mr. Porter.
Talk about the job of shopper.
Ann: To shop all day long. Yeah, and it's great, because we know the characters now, and I think the bigger challenge was at the end of last season and starting this season when we started going darker and edgier was trying to find that idea of all of the characters. For example Elizabeth Simmons, to me is probably one of the more challenging characters to shop for on the show because she is eclectic.
So it will be one piece from this store, one piece from that store, and it's just about styling her and bringing her together without any of them getting, going over the top, 'cause the challenge for me is keeping it believable, keeping it real, and not having it be over the top. And people getting distracted by what the cast is wearing.
Who is the easiest to dress?
Ann: They’re all pretty easy at this point. I know them all so well that none of them are particularly hard. I guess the harder part is maybe finding those pieces that identify each character, because I can be a little, if you ask my shoppers, I can be a little picky. They'd probably be able to answer that question better than me.
Coulson is so identified by his suit and his armor. When he's out of it, you have to decide if he's in an attack vest or something else.
Ann: Yeah, that's true. That's very true. And that’s the fun part, too, because, Coulson is always in a suit, so when, when I get to get him out of the suit, it's funny because Twitter loves it. They love seeing Coulson undercover. I think that's probably one of the most fun things for me, is when I get those episodes and everyone's under cover. I only had a short lead time on that dress, but it's so much fun.
And sometimes it makes me laugh. Last season, when Coulson and May went undercover as Fitzsimmons probably the best fittings I've ever had in my life because Elizabeth has a very specific way of standing in her fittings and Ming did that in the fitting photos for the cast. And you could hear her laughing across the studio. It was wonderful. I was really fun.
Do you have a hard time shopping for yourself?
Ann: Oh, no. If you see my Twitter handle, it says shop-aholic. Yeah.
Do you come home with things for the show when you're shopping for yourself?
Ann: Well, I've been shopping for so long as a costumer and assistant designer, I've always been guilty of like yes, I will go to Barney's and it's like, “Oh, this is for the show. Oh, I need one of those, too.” I try not to do that otherwise I'd be like Carrie Bradshaw from “Sex and the City.” I can't buy my apartment when it goes condo, but I have a fabulous closet.
Chloe Bennet Behind-the-Scenes / Back Stage Interview
We got to chat with Chloe about her role as Daisy Johnson and her new-found powers and how those powers come to life on screen (like when she created the avalanche) while she was getting her special power-suppressing gloves put on. She did tell me how much she loved my awesome DIY Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Cuff bracelet, too. Apparently Chloe loves a Marvel FanGirl just like the next Marvel lover does.
Chloe: That was fun because it felt like right when I lifted my hand up, the wind went “whoosh” like a gust of wind and I felt very dramatic, and so it was kind of fun. Yeah, but using the quake power is very exciting in post [production], once they do all their movie magic, but when you're there, you're just like…[Chloe makes a silly motion where motion happens to indicate how she is powerless in real life].
Or like Luke and I when we're floating, when he makes me float, it's like this, it's like [Chloe showed us how Luke motions but nothing actually happens because it’s all movie magic] It's like this. It just tingles. It's a little awkward.
More Fun Set Visit Photos
Watch Tonight’s Episode 220 “Scars”
WAR TEARS SKYE APART, ON “MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” ON ABC
Skye is torn between her loyalty to S.H.I.E.L.D. and her connection to the Inhumans as tensions rise between the groups–and Coulson reveals a secret he’s been hiding from even those closest to him, on “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” TUESDAY, MAY 5 (9:00–10:01 p.m., ET) on the ABC Television Network. Edward James Olmos Guest Stars as Robert Gonzales