The new Netflix project vividly imagines Nurse Mildred Ratched (Sarah Paulson)'s origin story, set in 1947 — 15 years before she terrorized patients (and audiences) in Ken Kesey's novel, "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." Director Miloš Forman brought the horror tale to the big screen in his 1975 movie, which won Louise Fletcher an Oscar playing the healthcare giver-gone-wrong role.
Frequent Murphy collaborators and Emmy winners Guzzi and Eyrich bring the creator-director's ambitious vision for the iconic character reimagining to life through costumes. (Eyrich just received two nods for her period and contemporary work on Murphy's "Hollywood" and "The Politician," respectively, and the two won an Emmy in 2018 for their '90s high fashion and haute terror work in "Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story.") And, true to a Murphy joint, you may find yourself covering your eyes at certain points, but you won't be able to look away from the wardrobe, starting with the striking and primarily cool color palette.
"Green was the predominant symbolic color we used on various characters for various meanings," explains Guzzi. Murphy envisioned the color, in various shades, as signifying "violence, oppression, lust, envy, greed and evil," which Eyrich and Guzzi infused into the costumes at significant moments in the plot.
Meanwhile, certain colors were verboten: "He didn't want red in clothes — other than to see blood at the hospital or lipstick on Mildred," adds Guzzi. Eyrich also points out that the tight but vivid color scheme helps heighten suspense and anticipation throughout the unpredictable storyline.
Despite the impending horrors within, the staffers and patients at the Lucia State Hospital, where Mildred works, look like they walked out of a mid-century Vogue editorial or latest Pantone campaign — unlike the gritty, clinical aesthetic embedded in our consciousness from the Foreman film.
"Ryan, from the first meeting, was very specific in his intention that he didn't want this hospital or the staff to resemble anything like what was featured in 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's nest," explains Guzzi.
Also working off the blues and corals established in the hospital by production designer Judy Becker, Eyrich and Guzzi collaborated tirelessly to land on a bold and very specific blue-green — or "surgical green," as the latter jokes. (Again, paging Pantone.) They designed Mildred's and Nurse Betsy Bucket (Judy Davis)'s head nurse uniforms, in a luxurious silk for a slight sheen, first. (Eyrich credits hair department head Chris Clark's team for creating around the razor-sharp pointed shape of the nurse caps, which were made in matching silk "because Ryan wanted a bit of shine to it.")
Next came silhouette and shade variations for the trainees, in short sleeves and aqua-toned aprons, plus the crisp button-downs and trousers for the orderlies (top) and Dr. Hanover (Jon Jon Briones)'s punchy lab coat. "Everything works together tonally, but there are different shades of blue or blue green," says Guzzi. "So it's not all monochromatic and you do get that texture of color variation."
The blue-heavy tones in the signature "surgical green" also illustrate the idea of what the idyllic-looking Lucia State Hospital is supposed to be. "It's more of a rehabilitation center. There's hot springs outside that patients can lounge in. Patients get to wear their own clothes," explains Guzzi. "There's this idea of humane and progressive treatment of these people, who have been sidelined throughout history and not treated fairly."
The blues also indicate the "coastal feeling" of the picturesque California central coast locale. "There's just a lot of water themes throughout the show, anyway," hints Guzzi. We'll leave it at that, but be forewarned: Hydrotherapy baths will never be the same again.
Mildred does wear one costume thread leading back to the Oscar-winning 1975 movie: her accessories, which Fletcher also wore on her white uniform. Guzzi explains the dark pewter "N"-accented pin on her collar is a U.S. Army Nurse Corps pin, while the one on her bodice is a period accurate "trained nurse" clip; the props department even found a watch similar to Fletcher's in the film.
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During her off-duty hours, Mildred wears varied silhouettes, styles and colors, which feel both erratic, yet intentional — and came directly from the input of executive producer Paulson.
"Sarah was really keen on [Mildred] dressing the part for the particular character or group she's interacting with, manipulating, comforting, consoling, whatever her goal was," explains Guzzi. "That's why she has this variety of looks and silhouettes. Sometimes it's soft, it's feminine, it's separates. Sometimes it's really structural and hard and tailored, like when she goes to have her interview at the hospital with Dr. Hanover [below]."
With mysterious heiress Lenore Osgood (Sharon Stone) — who vamps about in her eclectically extravagant Miss Havisham-chic manse — what you see is what you get. "Ryan said, 'She's always dripping in diamonds,'" says Eyrich about the inspiration for Lenore's silky blouses, wide-leg Greta Garbo trousers and over-the-top accessories. "She's the type to wear full-on diamonds at home and even in her bath. We were just going for that high-end expensive glamour."
Guzzi also points out that they stacked Lenore in all the lavish accoutrements not seen on any other characters in the show: "It was more about looking at what our period embellishments or decorations that would speak to her wealth: sequins and feathers and beads and diamonds," she says.
Lenore's home is actually the historic Dawnridge house, built in 1949 by Old Hollywood costume and set designer Tony Duquette. The Southeast and South Asian art-filled interiors, lush gardens and koi pond feature Duquette's signature turquoise and coral palette, which seamlessly meshes with the show's. (And perhaps also explains Lenore's very uncomfy Asians-as-disposable-servants situation.)
Just as well-dressed is Lenore's trusty sidekick: her beloved capuchin monkey, Miss Petunia, as played by industry pros Pablo and Jaquita. Lenore and Petunia both coordinate "traveling outfits" in greens for a jaunt to Lucia State.
"Neither Lou or I had worked with a monkey before, so that was a bit of a learning curve," says Guzzi. "You're designing not only for look but just what's comfortable for a capuchin monkey to wear for hours."
The costume design process for primates is similar as with humans: working with handlers, holding fittings to take initial measurements, creating muslin samples, then more fittings.
"We were in love with the monkeys," says Eyrich. "They were so fun to be around."
But, the designers also had to account for specific design elements, like monkey-friendly closures, materials that aren't too distractingly "tactile" and extreme variations in length for when Petunia is standing or crouching on Stone's shoulder.
"My favorite moment was, we were doing one of the muslin mockups and the handler was trying to get one of the monkeys to stand, so that we could mark the hem of the dress," says Guzzi. "She picked up the hem of it and just flashed us. It was hysterical."