"Taika Waititi is a turmoil of ideas and you're figuring it out as he goes — and just grabbing everything you can," exclaims costume designer Mayes C. Rubeo. "His orders are super tall and if you can't keep it up, don't even try to work with Taika. Because he knows about costumes and he knows what he's doing. And even though you might think he might be asking for something impossible, he knows it's not impossible if you do it."
Rubeo first worked with Waititi on Team Thor, a short film released by Marvel in 2016, and would go on to serve as the costume designer on Thor: Ragnarok. The two collaborated once again on 2019's World War II–set Jojo Rabbit, for which he won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay and she earned a nomination for Best Costume Design. Rubeo became the first Latin woman to ever be nominated in the category. (She's also an Emmy winner for her costume work on the Marvel streaming series, WandaVision.)
Their latest project together is Thor: Love and Thunder, which sees Chris Hemsworth's wayward God of Thunder on a journey of self-discovery. That quest inward is interrupted by a god-butchering supervillain named Gorr (Christian Bale), and so, Thor must team up with King Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), Korg (Waititi) and his estranged ex-girlfriend, Dr. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), for an intergalactic, adrenaline-fueled romantic comedy space adventure.
"They're all fun costumes. Come on! I mean, a new Valkyrie, insecure Thor, Mighty Thor, and Gorr, and all of Omnipotence City" — the MCU's version of Olympus — "there were so many costumes to figure out. I needed an incredible, talented, and huge crew. And we had to divide and conquer, but always under my supervision. I'm a little bit of a control freak when it comes to my costumes," Rubeo explains. "I can tell you every day was a wonderful day to go to work."
In conversation with A.frame, Rubeo breaks down her costume design process on Love and Thunder.
Behind the Seams of Mighty Thor
Natalie Portman's last appearance in the MCU was in 2013's 'Thor: The Dark World.' She returns as Jane Foster and — much to Thor's surprise — inexplicably wields his magical hammer as the Mighty Thor. With her electrifying new powers comes an Asgardian transformation, complete with flowing blonde locks and a space Viking suit of armor, a look adapted straight from the comic book source material.
A.frame: This is your first time costuming Natalie Portman as Jane Foster. What does the collaborative process look like with Natalie? Did she come with ideas of how she wanted to reintroduce Jane?
Rubeo: Yes, absolutely. We had conversations way before she started the movie and we had it throughout all the different drafts. She's an actor that knows exactly how the character is going to work. She's not an actor that needs to be bedazzled — she doesn't need that. She's not demanding of brands. The only thing is that she's completely vegan. So, all the materials had to be from responsible sources and plant-based. They couldn't come from animals. But that was a wonderful challenge. We even worked with recycled bottles! But she liked very much what we pulled for her and what we made for her. She is also so agile, because she's a dancer, and she can do any kind of wirework. So, she came through as an action actor.
Do you remember the fitting where she got dressed in the Mighty Thor outfit for the first time?
Rubeo: She was really, really excited. Her children were there and they were in such awe. Like, suddenly their mom is a super cool superhero. She loved it. And she really kicks ass in that Mighty Thor costume. She really owned it.
Behind the Seams of Gorr the God Butcher
Christian Bale is no stranger to superhero movies, having played Batman in Christopher Nolan's 'The Dark Knight Trilogy.' In his MCU debut, he plays the Necrosword-wielding supervillain Gorr, who vows to slay all gods. The Gorr of the comic books appears nearly nude, save for a black hood, necessitating a new interpretation of his costume for the big screen.
When you have a costume like Gorr's, that could seem as simple as a draped tunic, how do you make it dynamic and hold its own against these super-suits with all of their bells and whistles?
Rubeo: Our villain is in white, and that's something that Taika was very adamant that we should do. He wanted to do something different. The tunic is full of drapes, and all these drapes are inspired by ancient figures from museums and marble sculptures. It was a complicated costume, because it had to be lightweight and it had to be very statuesque in terms of the draping. My cutter, Gloria Chan, was brilliant, because she understood exactly what had to happen. It took like two weeks to figure out how that was going to work, what with the wirework and all of the logistics.
At times, [the costume] has a train, but then we have to have another costume that didn't have the train. And then, also another one that had a hood. It looks like it was only one costume, but we really had to do a lot — a lot — for that costume. To the point that we have to weigh the costume! The costume shouldn't be heavy, because Christian created this choreography for his character, this sinister kind of walk that you don't see it coming. Almost like a snake. And he is holding a lot of pain in his life. He projected all of that through his costume.
And Christian is so involved. He's a method artist. It required immediate and undivided attention when we had to do his fittings, because there were so many things that we needed to nip and tuck into the costume to make it more dynamic and more iconic — and not lose that kind of statuesque draping that we intended for him. I think it's very iconic.
Behind the Seams of The Volume
Industrial Light & Magic's StageCraft allows filmmakers to shoot photorealistic footage in the camera using a 3D stage with a massive curved LED screen projecting a virtual backdrop. Better known as The Volume, the technology was pioneered for 'The Mandalorian' and is now being used for Marvel films such as 'Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania,' 'Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3' and 'Thor: Love and Thunder.'
This is the first Marvel movie to be shot using The Volume. Is that something that affects your costumes or your approach to costuming?
Rubeo: You'd be surprised. Most of the time, I have a lot of trouble with metallics, because it's not good if the director of photography reflects in the helmet of the action hero. But this time, it was different. With The Volume, somehow, reflections are not a problem. Actually, the more metallic that it was, the more cool that it looked. That made my life a lot easier, because most of the costumes for Thor and Mighty Thor were very shiny. Shiny like a car. In fact, they were painted with automotive paint, and you can't dull those things unless you use dulling spray or beeswax or these kinds of costume tricks. But in this, no. The colors were true.
I learned a lot. It was good for me to have this experience, and I am very eager to know new technology. I like to be constantly challenged. That's why I thrive working in costumes, because it's a new thing every day. And for me, it was nothing but a great experience working with The Volume. I haven't seen the [final] movie, though. So, I don't know how it looks! I'm in Italy, and they are only going to show to here in Italian. And I refuse! I refuse to go see it in Italian. I don't want to hear Korg's voice or Gorr's voice or Jane Foster's voice in Italian!
By John Boone