In this exclusive interview for AMCtv.com, Carol Case, costume designer for AMC’s Hell on Wheels, talks about overcoming weather challenges and the art of designing around gunshot wounds.
Q: Who’s more challenging to design for — the men or the women of Hell on Wheels?
A: It’s a little bit of both, really! The ladies are obviously more fun for the girl in me with all those petticoats and silks and all that. Because Hell on Wheels has so many men, it’s interesting and challenging to keep being aware of the character in each outfit. So many of the guys have just pants, shirts, vests, coats, boots, and hats — so to make distinctive choices within that is quite a challenge.
Q: Do you collaborate at all with the hair and makeup team?
A: Yes, we all collaborate and try to get one look together. It would be no good if I designed a beautiful costume and then a character came out with an inappropriate hairdo. Even with the blood and gunshot wounds, we’ll work together to figure out the best place for them to be and how to make it look authentic as possible.
Q: Was there any specific character that you were particularly excited to design for after reading the scripts?
A: I think the one I liked designing for the most was probably The Swede because it allowed a lot of creativity. Chris Heyerdahl is great because he’s lots of fun to work with and he’s collaborative. It was a very rewarding project.
Q: Hannah’s dresses are especially detailed. How do they differ from, say, those of Lily Bell?
A: The thing with Hannah is that she’s come from the East. We wanted to give her that feeling that she’s very much a part of the proper society of the time. She has the money to be able to afford the lovely dresses. Basically, it’s like upscale Chicago and New York clothes that she’s been wearing. Because of who [Lily] is and what she’s been doing, she’s forced to become a bit more pragmatic to be able to work in Hell on Wheels with all that mud and all that it entails.
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Q: How do you differentiate the Sioux costumes of Season 2 from the Cheyenne costumes of Season 1?
A: The cultures are quite different, really. Colors, kinds of beading, and patterns are very specific to each tribe so we try to be as authentic as we can within our constraints.
Q: Does the weather affect your design choices at all?
A: It does, but we are confined by the period so there are limits to what we can do. We do try to make choices within the costume that will allow people to add a jacket or coat if it gets cold. People in the 1860s wore their coats all summer long and they were just hot, I guess. Because we film in Calgary, it’s still cold in the summer time even at night, and we can have huge variations of temperature.
Q: Which was your favorite piece to design and why?
A: There are so many of them, I can’t really tell you one particular one! I quite enjoyed the new look on Eva when we got her in dresses.
Q: Do you get upset when one of your costumes is ruined in the course of shooting the show?
A: Oh, no! Never! We all know that it’s just the way it is.