Q&A: Hunger Games Costume Designer Judianna Makovsky on Peeta, Lenny Kravitz, and 100 Percent Humidity

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This Friday, a little old movie called The Hunger Games (based on the first book from Suzanne Collins's best-selling trilogy) hits theaters. Costume designer Judianna Makovsky had the task of re-creating the looks for the people of Panem, including the outrageous pink getup Elizabeth Banks wears as Effie Trinket, the uniforms worn by tributes as they fight to the death, and Jennifer Lawrence's show-stopping "girl on fire" moment. Makovsky, who hadn't even read the books before director Gary Ross offered her the gig, talks about becoming a fan, her connection to Lenny Kravitz, and whether she's Team Peeta or Team Gale.

Were you a fan of the books when you read them?
Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. Of course, my immediate thought was, “Oh dear, how do I do all that?” That was the absolute terror factor that comes in the minute I read something. But I loved the books. I couldn’t put them down.

Obviously Hunger Games has a huge fan following. Was that a concern?
Yes. I’d done this before — I designed the first Harry Potter — and you don’t want to disappoint the fans. Things change when you do a film, but you try the best — I try the best I can to be respectful of the material and the characters. I mean, it’s mostly about the characters, and even if you can’t do every detail that’s in a book, you want to get the essence of that character across.

What was the hardest part about the costumes?
Well, when you do these costumes, each one is your children, and they all present their own problems and issues. Perhaps the biggest problem — even bigger than dealing with visual effects — was the weather where we were shooting [in North Carolina]. It was 90, more like 100 degrees, and 100 percent humidity.

One of the most exciting costume moments is when Katniss and Peeta are set on fire.
In general, I tried to follow the description in the book and make it more glamorous. In the book, it’s basically black leotards and tights with tall boots. And I wanted it to reflect coal, that these [kids] are going to be superstars; I wanted that aspect in the silhouette and the cut. I also wanted a simplicity to it, just so that you would really see the flame, that there wasn’t going to be a lot of stuff that got in the way.

Would you ever light one of your clients on fire?
I would not. I have in the past, actually — in movies, we have lit people on fire, and that’s another thing you have to deal with. Luckily, this isn’t hot flames. There was fire involved, but you’re dealing with fireproofing and all kinds of fun stuff.

Cinna is the stylist in this book, and you’re going through the same thing.
Exactly right. How do you make it spectacular without making it cheesy? That’s the hard part. I think Cinna is a very elegant character, and I think that’s why we chose to dress him in such simple costumes compared to everybody else in the Capitol. Well, of course, it’s Lenny Kravitz, so you don’t have to do too much. He’s incredibly handsome and charismatic and smart. But we just let his intelligence shine through and step back with the clothes a little bit. Personally, I am a lot like the Cinna character. I dress in simple clothes. 

Is that something you took into account when you chose what they would be wearing, what the actors underneath were like?
We always take the actors’ personalities into account. I mean, I never really design the clothes until I know who the actor is. Of course they have opinions, but you also have to make the actor comfortable on-camera. That’s my job: to make it easy for them to their job, to not think about the costume. Some of these costumes, of course, are not the most comfortable things on earth, especially in that heat. But you have to let the actor’s personality shine through to a certain extent.

Did any of the actors have opinions on what they were wearing?
It’s interesting: A lot of the actors were unavailable for fittings. Thank God for the age of the Internet. We could send research back and forth, ideas back and forth, and talk on the phone, but a lot of the actors — not Jennifer, and definitely not Elizabeth — their clothes were made without them, and they arrived, like, two days before. We were like, “We hope this works.” Because actors are in all sorts of things now and fly all over the world. Jennifer had a lot of fittings, and Josh, and Liam, and Elizabeth definitely had a lot of fittings. We really worked at every detail on her.

Elizabeth Banks looks amazing.
She’s so much fun to work with. She tells people that she was my Barbie doll. But she has a lot of good ideas, she knows how things should fit, and she wanted all her clothes to be very constricting — she has that funny walk [in the movie] because she can’t walk any other way. Her shoes are so outrageously high and uncomfortable, and she wanted that. I’m like, “Are you sure you can do the scene?” And she’s like, “Yes, I’ll do it. I’ll take them off in between shots. It’ll be fine.” She was miserable, but she did it because she felt it was right. In the book, the fashions are so outrageous in the Capitol that they aren’t meant to be actually worn. And that was the point: poking fun at fashion, and how outrageous trends can be. 

How long do you think you would last in the Hunger Games?
Me? Oh, five minutes. I’d be at the Cornucopia, and that’d be it.

Are you Team Peeta or Team Gale?
I’m Team Katniss! I can’t choose between those two boys. They’re so cute! And they’re both so wonderful. No, I’m definitely Team Katniss. I think she’s the one — everyone’s on her side. But I don’t know how you choose between those two boys. No wonder it goes back and forth.