TIFF 2016 Exclusive: Costume Designer Sharen Davis Talks The Magnificent SevenPosted by Wilson Morales
September 10, 2016
Opening up the 2016 Toronto Film Festival is the remake of the classic western, The Magnificent Seven, directed by Antoine Fuqua and starring Denzel Washington. It is a reboot of the 1960 western film of the same name, which in turn was a remake of the 1954 Japanese film Seven Samurai.
With the town of Rose Creek under the deadly control of industrialist Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard), the desperate townspeople, led by Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett), employ protection from seven outlaws, bounty hunters, gamblers and hired guns – Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington), Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt), Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), Billy Rocks (Byung-Hun Lee), Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), and Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier). As they prepare the town for the violent showdown that they know is coming, these seven mercenaries find themselves fighting for more than money.
Designing the fabric and outfits for each of the characters was Sharen Davis, who has worked with Washington on numerous occasions (Devil in a Blue Dress, Antwone Fisher, Out of Time, The Great Debaters, The Book of Eli, and the upcoming Fences). Other film credits include Rush Hour, Ray, Beauty Shop, Dreamgirls, The Pursuit of Happyness, The Help, Looper, Django Unchained, Godzilla and Get On Up. She received Academy Award nominations for her work on Dreamgirls and Ray. Between Davis, Ruth Carter, and Francine Jamison-Tanchuck, these three African America ladies have dressed most of the Black films seen in theaters over the last 20 years.
Blackfilm.com recently spoke with Davis about working on Magnificent Seven and working again with Denzel Washington.
What did you want to do with the costumes that’s different from the original?
Sharen Davis: Well, the other films was based on the Akira Kurosawa film. I started from square one with each of the characters, which was great. I dressed Denzel in all black. Antoine then gave conceptual pages on how he saw everyone else. From that, I had a lot to draw from. I talked to the actors individually and gave illustrations to Antoine until he got close to what he liked.
Did anyone of the actors speak to you about any special requests to their outfits?
Sharen Davis: With this group of guys, they were great. They all had ideas. All wanted something special and it’s actually great for me. It gives me somewhere to take off from. Everyone had a backstory and they wanted certain things with their outfits, such as which side to place the gun holster or where to put the knife. With all that, I had a lot to play with.
Having worked with Denzel on at least 4-5 films, can you talk about the outfits you created for him?
Sharen Davis: Every film is completely different and it’s a different character study. The comfort is knowing that he’s going to do that and knowing whether to start with a clean slate. The comfort is that also I know him. As an idea, I never know what’s going to happen. I never know what his appearance will be. If he’s going to get heavier and if he’s going to go gray.
With each film that you have worked on, was there a thought process before deciding to take each?
Sharen Davis: Every film is fresh and so is the time period. If you do a 1950s film, you’re not creating what people may have seen in other films. I constantly change the subject and the theme. It keeps me more creative I think. From The Looper to The Help, there was a lot of research done as well as to Dreamgirls and Ray. There are all so different. I’m always excited when people hire me.
What’s more challenging, a period drama or something contemporary?
Sharen Davis: Contemporary is really hard since I don’t do as many. Then I would have to shop when I could create it myself. With period dramas, it’s easier to look and expand on it. I can be more creative on that and I’m making it, so it’s not like it’s in the store. I’m not going to be worried about see it on some TV show or movie. I have a big fear on that.
The most stressful thing on a film is the first day of shooting and you don’t really know if the costumes are going to work. If it’s going to fit into the story and if it looks ridiculous. It’s a big fear of mine, but once you see the footage of the first few days, you then start to feel good about the work. The first week of shooting is the most challenging and then you have changes within that first week too.
Had you seen Seven Samurai and the first Magnificent Seven?
Sharen Davis: Yes. I loved Seven Samurai and Magnificent. If it’s a remake, I always see the original. I may want to take something from each because I think it’s a good idea to see the original.
Between you, Ruth Carter and Francine Jamison-Tanchuck, the three of you have cornered the market on Black films. What does it take for someone to follow in your steps and get the work that each of you have received?
Sharen Davis: I think it’s the longevity I have to say. When you know a lot of producers and you have a rapport with a lot of them and you’re working with the cast, they get you in the door to the interview. The director still has to feel comfortable with you. You have to have a relationship with the director on that first interview, but it’s a little easier when you know the production companies and the producers. But for someone coming in, I would say to not be afraid to show all your ideas in your first interview. It could be totally wrong but at least you put out something for the director to think about.
With Fences coming out this year, are we expected to see something similar to what we saw on stage in terms of the costumes?
Sharen Davis: A little. It was perfect on Broadway but now, we’re on a set and we shot on a real location, so things change. Stage is a different dimension from film and the reality of film to me is underplayed whereas on stage, things are overplayed. I had to underplay things from the stage.