Lindy Hemming is the Oscar © winning costume designer for Die Another Day. As well as working on Pierce Brosnan's three previous 007 outings, she has also designed for My Beautiful Launderette (1985), Little Voice (2000) and Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994).
Mark Campbell: How did you get involved with designing costumes? Was it something you wanted to do since childhood?
Lindy Hemming: No, I wanted to go to art school but I wasn't allowed to. We were a family that used to make our own clothes, because we lived very remotely in the countryside. My mother could dress-make and draw, so I suppose if you look back on it you realize where it came from. But actually I didn't ever think about costume design, I didn't watch any films, and we didn't really go to the theatre because we were in a very remote part of Wales. So I guess it started when I went to be a nurse. I ended up putting on entertainments for the patients, and eventually somebody suggested I should go to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA). I went there as a stage manager and when I saw what went on, I knew straightaway what I wanted to do.
How did your association with Mike Leigh come about?
Well, after I'd come to London and I'd been to drama school, I started to pursue doing costumes. By great good fortune I was asked to go and work in a Hampstead theatre company and to cut a long story short, one of the people I worked with there was Mike Leigh, and we did Abigail's Party. As well as the stage play I also did the television version, which was the same people in the same costumes, just that they built a TV set for it. I worked a lot for Mike Leigh there, and once he started to make films I worked with them on those - I'd already done a film with Richard Eyre by then too. Once you work with Mike Leigh and you enter into the system, as it were, you can't really change - you're committed to character. Even if you're doing a Bond film or Tomb Raider, you're approaching everything through the medium of character. What would the character do? Where do they come from? How much money have they got? That's how I work.
How much of costume design is a conscious decision?
Everything we do on Bond is absolutely conscious. You try to examine the character and say, “What colour would I make them wear?”. For instance, take Sophie Marceau [from The World is Not Enough] - you'd say, “What colour would this dress be? Is it blue, is it gold, is it red?” And it will come to be the colour that the actor, the director and yourself feel is right for the scene. Often that is a cliché, often it is something obvious…because people know what that means.
They become archetypes.
Bond is an archetype. All these action films are archetypes, aren't they? I mean you strive all the time to make things different, you strive to have a baddie who doesn't look like every other baddie, but in the end what does a baddie wear? Does he look like Jonathan Price? What?
He's usually disfigured in some way…
Yes, but that's in the writing, before I get to it.
Do you have any input as to the way scenes develop?
Oh yes, if they let you. In a Mike Leigh film you are part of the whole process. And because Barbara and Michael are how they are, because they usually choose directors who are collaborative, I'd say most of the time - not in every one of the films, but in most of them - we all sit together, the production designer, the costume designer, the writers, and we do have meetings where we discuss the way it's going and what we think it should be like. Obviously some people are more interested in what people wear, and others less. But Barbara Broccoli is certainly tremendously interested in what the actors are doing and what they look like.
Are blokes less interested?
No, because [Die Another Day director]Lee Tamahori is absolutely into it all. I think it's a personality thing. Some blokes are really, really interested, and some of them are not. I don't think it's anything to do with sex.
Are there particular differences in working on a Bond film compared with others you've done?
The reason I've elected to work on Bond films is because it is a collaborative experience, like you get in the theatre. It's something where everyone talks to each other about everything every day, and I wouldn't have stayed doing them if they weren't like that.
It's fun, but it's also about the worth that they give to what they're doing. With a lot of those films, the people who are making them are doing it just for money and they don't give them any kind of extra dimension. But on Bond every day they give everything, it's the full dimension and we're all doing it.
Is it a high-pressured job?
Yes, though not as high-pressured as other films like it. Because with Bond, the people are all accessible. It sounds like a fairy story, but anyone you talk to who works on them will tell you that's how it is. There are awful, awful moments - but always you can go into the office and you can talk to the people who can change it for you.
The result being that all the various design aspects on the finished product appear fully integrated.
Yes, everything should be like that. It's only the folly of the people who make the films - or endeavours of any kind - that they don't collaborate. Because the process which you spend a year of your life on is so much more interesting and enjoyable if you can all work together.
Was Topsy-Turvy a bigger challenge than most Mike Leigh films?
Yes. A bigger challenge because there was much more research and much more diversity, and many more characters. You had to give every character their worth, even what would in another film be called an extra or a chorus member - you had to give them some time, get feedback off them. And it was worthwhile because if you look at somebody and spend time talking to them, you can get an idea, whereas if you don't meet them and they turn up on the day and you give them their costume, you don't get the same idea. I had a fantastic experience on Topsy-Turvy, which people don't get many times in their life. I don't know if it's any better or any worse, costume-wise, than any other film, but the process was brilliant.
Were the Mikado costumes bought off the peg?
Oh no! Everything in Topsy-Turvy was designed. Almost the only things that were hired were the costumes of what I call the chorus in their ordinary day wear. For all the principles, everything was made; all of the Mikado costumes were made; most of the other two operettas were made…principles were made, a couple of things were hired and the basic underneaths were hired, the corsets, and then you made things to go over. We had a long, long time to do it. Not much money, but a long, long time.
You won a much deserved Oscar for that.
Whether any Oscar is deserved by anyone, I don't know. But if we were putting an effort into anything, we were putting it into that.
You could have Oscar-sharing.
Yes, but I don't know whether Oscars are fair anyway, or any award for that matter. But I'm happy I got one. (Laughs)
What was the greatest challenge with Die Another Day?
The greatest challenge for me always is to try and develop a character and keep it so that you believe in the person, whoever it is. With Pierce [Brosnan], it's always a challenge to 'do' him and get it sorted and the logistics of how many things he has to have. But the real challenge is always to try and make it real somehow, while at the same time making a Bond film.
Which Bond film are you most happy with?
I like individual bits.
Which individual bits?
I don't know. I like Sophie Marceau [The World is Not Enough], I like Onatopp, you know, Famke Janssen [GoldenEye]. I really like doing the women, I suppose because you can give them an extra dimension to what is written on paper.
For Die Another Day, did you design all the uniforms?
We made all those. I could give you a seminar…
It's not interesting doing uniforms, is it?
Oh it is, because for North Korea there was no clear visual evidence of what their troops looked like in the given circumstances of this film. We managed to find some very shadowy, over-the-shoulder photographs and then I drew a camouflage pattern with the colours I thought it was. I got the fabric all printed and then managed to find some pictures of old Korean uniforms, which we tried to modernise.
So no leeway for error?
Well, the leeway is if you don't care to get it right. But we were trying to get what we thought would be right. No-one, no expert we could find by searching all over the world and buying all the books, could tell us the exact camouflage or the exact uniform details.
Have you since heard whether you were correct or not?
No-one's said a word! (Laughs)
Will you be working on the next Bond?
Yes, I would always like to work with them as long as they want me, as long as I can do other smaller, or more interesting, things inbetween.
Looking back, which of your films have you been most proud of?
I like the Mike Leigh films I've done. Particularly I thought Naked was very well designed and we did make it well. It was a very difficult, hard film for people but design-wise I like it. I like the small films to be honest. There is a lot of scope in the smaller film and I like working with eccentric directors like Peter Chelsom. I was very happy with his film, Hear My Song - little films like that are good.
When you're watching films, do you find yourself being distracted by the costumes?
Yes, unfortunately. Unless the film or play is really good, in which case you don't care what they've got on. The thing about costume design is it's an adjunct. It's a pleasure to have the job of costume designer, but actually if the piece is written fantastically and acted fantastically, then no-one ever cares really what they're wearing. That's what I believe.
What are you working on next?
Nothing. Working on my holiday!