This Christmas, the film adaptation of the Victor Hugo novel and acclaimed Broadway show, Les Miserables, will make its way to the big screen. The epic taking place during the French Revolution stars Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Russell Crowe, and Amanda Seyfried in the iconic roles of Jean Valjean, Fantine, Javert, and Cosette, respectively.
In 19th-century France, Jean Valjean (Jackman), hunted down for decades by the persistent policeman (Crowe) after breaking parole, comes across a woman named Fantine (Hathaway), beaten down by unfortunate circumstances. He agrees to care for her young daughter, Cosette (Seyfried), and in doing so changes both of their lives forever.
The story unfolds over several decades in the 1800s, a time period filmmakers had to delve into heavy research to perfect onscreen. Paco Delgado, the costume designer, talks about the trips to Paris and going back to the Victor Hugo novel itself for inspiration.
AG: Can you explain to the readers a little bit about what you do on set?
PD: Basically, my job is to try to create a kind of laborious work about how people dressed and how the characters will get dressed to tell a story. One of the first things we do is a little research about the time period. Once we’ve done all the research, we start talking to the actors and the director and start designing and drawing on paper all the ideas. Then we start creating all the dresses and suits and all that.
AG: You mentioned to The Hollywood Reporter that you began designing costumes on theater sets. What was the first film you designed for?
PD: The first show I designed in theater was a play by an Austrian playwright named Arthur Schnitzler called “La Ronde.” That was years and years ago. I think it was ’85 or something like that. I carried on designing mainly sets, but then as I explained, I started working in production. They didn’t have enough money to pay two people to design, one person to design the sets and another person to design the costumes. Little by little, I started getting involved in doing the costume design as well. My interest at the moment was designing sets, so I found designing costumes easy to do. I suppose because of that, my costumes were sort of better than I thought they were. People started thinking of me more as a costume designer than a set designer.
AG: In this film, you’re dressing characters for several different decades in the 1800s. What kind of research did you do in order to capture these evolving styles?
PD: [Director] Tom Hooper was really interested in going back to the concept of the story, so one of the first things we did was come back to the book written by Victor Hugo and reading it very thoroughly. It’s full of references on how people dressed, what sort of environments they lived in, and all these sorts of things. Once we read the book and had a lot of impressions made just by the powerful writing of Victor Hugo, we started looking at paintings. One of the first things we did was go to Paris and go to The Louvre just to look at paintings. We took a lot from painters like De la Croix. We also obviously looked at museums of fashion. Vienna Victoria is an outlet in London, and a fashion museum in Paris. They had a lot of authentic pieces from this period. We tried to look at how they were made and what fabrics they used. That was one of the most exciting parts of my job.
AG: How long does it take to get all these costumes ready before filming?
PD: We had a preparation of five months. We worked really hard, all the time, every day of the week. When we started filming, we did it in order. We shot the beginning of the movie at the beginning of the filming and continued in progress. We carried on creating new costumes throughout the filming of the movie. It took us 14 weeks to shoot. It was like a never-ending process, really.
AG: Which character was your favorite to dress in this film, and why?
PD: It’s very hard to say, because I love all of them. I loved to dress Jean Valjean, the character played by Hugh Jackman. He goes through a huge character development, from the very beginning as a convict living in poverty to the end of the movie when he becomes a very affluent person of the social class. That was very challenging, as well as transforming the actresses as well, like Anne Hathaway. She’s a beautiful woman, and her character, Fantine, is a very nice girl who’s displaced because she becomes a single mother. She ends up being at the bottom of society as a prostitute. That was a very interesting thing to do as well. Amanda Seyfried’s character, Cosette, is a lovely girl who flowers into life and knows love. She carries on the whole romantic story in this movie. I also thought it was very interesting to make the costumes for Helena Bonham Carter and Sascha Baron Cohen who play the Thenardiers. They play these two con artists, and they were comedic characters. It was a lot of fun to work with them and make their costumes.
AG: What would your dream costume project be? A movie that’s already come out that you wish you had designed for or some other idea you have that you think would be fun to design the costumes for?
PD: There are so many things I would love to do. For example, I would love to make a movie about Don Quixote, because it’s a very universal and Spanish story. My dream is just to carry on working and carry on working on productions that really fulfill me where I can produce interesting costumes. I also want to continue to use costumes as a vehicle for telling stories and helping actors to become the characters they want to be. Don Quixote would be a fantastic story to design for, though. I would love that.