I am totally engrossed in the world of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. So it goes without saying that I was ecstatic when I got to spend an afternoon on the set of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. during my recent press trip to Los Angeles as part of the #AvengersEvent | #AgentsOfSHIELD | #ABCTVevent. Travel and accommodations were covered, but all thoughts are my own.
I remember when I was little, I would read books and watch TV shows or movies and imagine myself visiting the places described in the stories. I’ve always been one to become emotionally invested in the stories I read and watch.
It’s hard to describe how cool it was to walk through the set of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – one of my favorite TV series. The characters are alive for me. The places real. To be there, walking among the sets and the costumes, talking with the actors and the crew involved in putting it all together? Incredible!
Buckling up on the Quinjet? Done that.
Hanging out in the S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ? Totally.
Walking down the halls of the old S.S.R. (Strategic Scientific Reserve) headquarters? Been there.
Walking up to Chloe Bennet (“Skye/Daisy Johnson”) in the hall while she was getting the finishing touches put on her costume for the season finale…and having her reach out and hold me hand while she talked to me? Yes, that happened, too. After chatting casually with Chloe and Luke Mitchell (“Lincoln”), we even got to see them film one of the scenes from the season finale. Mind blown!
Now I can be the geek who watches each new episode and says, “Hey! I remember when I was there! I walked through that lab! I talked with her! Oh, look! Those couches are SO soft! Coulson’s office? Oh, yeah. I totally sat at his desk…”
This is the stuff that geeky dreams are made of.
After we had interviewed the cast and then toured the set, we had the chance to meet with Ann Foley, costume designer for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Meeting with Ann Foley, costume designer for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
She started us off in her main office, the walls of which were covered with vision boards. I could see the styles of each of the characters I had come to know so well through both seasons of the show reflected in her vision boards. Ann said that the vision boards were created before they began filming the first season to show the producers and the cast where she envisioned going with each of the characters. Her goal was to create six really strong, identifiable characters.
Ann mentioned, “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. So Season Two, it was a little darker. It was a little edgier. And, it was actually fun, it was kind of a nice change.”
Ahead of us there were racks and racks full of clothes, sectioned off according to characters: the regulars and the day players. Ann told us that the Working Closet is where she pulls clothes for each episode. There is also a Permanent Closet, which houses the clothes from last season and some items from the current season that have already been shot. We saw Bobbi/Mockingbird’s custom-made jacket from the first time we met her on the show as well as Hunter’s fabulous leather jackets and a host of other clothing items for every character, big or small.
Every actor comes through Costuming
The main cast members probably spend quite a bit of time in and out of costuming, especially when they go off the usual set. Ann mentioned one of her favorite episodes…. “was when we were in Russia and we did a little Russian bar. That was amazing.”
She obviously has measurements for each of the main actors, but even the day players must come in for a fitting. Ann said, “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.”
Ann then showed us her workshop, where a lot of the custom costumes are made. Ann told us, “This is where we build a lot of the costumes on the show… Raina, the girl in the flower dress, is probably one of my favorite characters. We actually print (her) fabric and then we make each one of our dresses. What I 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.”
We wondered if any of the costumes presented an extra challenge for her team. Ann remarked, “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 all we did was build. We were in completely different worlds. And so it’s just kind of second nature to me.”
Why Agent May needed five custom-made silver dresses
Ann then pointed out Agent May’s silver sequin dress from earlier in Season Two. Ann explained, “We made that in-house, too, which was so much fun. It was so much fun putting her in that. 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 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 movement. She had two stunt doubles and then Agent 33 was in one as well.”
After seeing May’s custom-made silver dress and Mockingbird’s custom suit, we asked what percentage of the costumes are custom made. Ann said that it varies a lot by episode, but she guessed around 30% or less. “It does feel like we’re making a lot of stuff back here, and I love to do that. It just depends on the needs of the character, ’cause sometimes you just can’t find it at Bloomingdale’s.”
How does costuming accommodate for stunts and doubles?
Ann said that because there is a lot of action on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. that making sure that the costumes are stunt-friendly is a huge consideration. She said, “That’s one of the most important things to me for the show. 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 (silver) 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’s costume, the base of it is 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.”
Ann talked briefly about her system for finding pieces for each character. She said, “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. It’s great, because, we know the characters now, and I think the bigger challenge was at the end of last season and starting, and 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 going over the top, ’cause the challenge for me, I guess, going back to your original question is keeping it believable, keeping it real, and not having it be over the top. And (you never want) people getting distracted by what the cast is wearing.”
Who is the easiest cast member to dress?
Ann said that she has gotten to know the cast members so well at this point that none of them are very hard to dress. She said, “I guess the harder part is maybe finding those pieces that identify each character, because, if you ask my shoppers, I can be a little picky. They’d probably be able to answer that question better than me.”
Then, speaking about dressing Coulson, Ann said, “I mean, and that’s the fun part, because, you know, Coulson is always in a suit, so 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.
And, sometimes it makes me laugh. Last season, when Coulson and May went undercover as Fitzsimmons, (that was) 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.”
Now that I’ve spent time in costuming, I am much more aware of what the characters are wearing each episode. How would you like a job to shop all day and dress actors?? Pretty amazing, if you ask me!
**Tune in for the latest Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., “Scars!”**
NEW EPISODE: “Scars” – May 5
WAR TEARS SKYE APART, ON “MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” ON ABC
ABOUT THE EPISODE: “Scars” – 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.
“Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” stars Clark Gregg as Director Phil Coulson, Ming-Na Wen as Agent Melinda May, Brett Dalton as Grant Ward, Chloe Bennet as Agent Skye, Iain De Caestecker as Agent Leo Fitz, Elizabeth Henstridge as Agent Jemma Simmons, Nick Blood as Lance Hunter and Adrianne Palicki as Bobbi Morse.
Guest starring are Henry Simmons as Alphonso “Mack” Mackenzie, Ruth Negga as Raina, Patton Oswalt as Sam/Billy Koenig, Kyle Maclachlan as Cal, Edward James Olmos as Robert Gonzales, Jamie Harris as Gordon, Christine Adams as Agent Weaver, Mark Allan Stewart as Agent Oliver, Maya Stojan as Kara/Agent 33, Dichen Lachman as Jiaying, Luke Mitchell as Lincoln Campbell, Alicia Vela-Bailey as Alisha, David Douglas as Michael and Crystal Coney as scientist.
“Scars” was written by Rafe Judkins & Lauren LeFranc and directed by Bobby Roth.
Be sure to read my interview with Iain De Caestecker (“Leo Fitz”), Elizabeth Henstridge (“Jemma Simmons”), Brett Dalton (“Grant Ward”), Henry Simmons (“Alphonso ‘Mack’ Mackenzie”) and Adrianne Palicki (“Bobbi Morse”) and stay tuned next week (May 12) for my exclusive interview with Clark Gregg (“Phil Coulson”), Ming-Na Wen (“Melinda May”)!
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