The hidden meaning behind the clothes in Nope
No detail has gone unnoticed when it comes to the costumes of NopeJordan Peele hit sci-fi horror movie which focuses on a motley group – OJ siblings (Daniel Kaluuya) and Emerald (Keke Palmer), former child actor Ricky “Skirt” Park (steven yeun) and retail worker Angel (Brandon Perea), frightened by a UFO in the sky above their California desert town. We caught up with the film’s costume designer, Alex Bovaird (recently nominated for an Emmy for her work in The White Lotus) for the thoughts behind the discussions.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Anyone who watches a Jordan Pele film knows that there are no accidents, everything is intentional. I’m sure there was a lot of talk about what each character was going to wear. What was Jordan’s contribution and what was your collaboration in terms of costumes?
COSTUME ALEX BOVAIRD: Jordan was very collaborative – probably one of the most thorough directors I’ve worked with. Every detail is thought out in collaboration. And certainly with costumes, [there was] lots of back and forth. It wasn’t like Wes Anderson, which offers all the ideas, basically. It was more like, I have ideas, and it was a constant conversation. And until the camera rolled, there might still be things to think about. So it was very exhilarating. Every suit means a lot, sometimes just to Jordan.
Universal images Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer and Brandon Perea in “No”
There is such a shroud of secrecy about his films. How well did you know to get into it and how was it while you were finding the cabinets?
I knew everything. I was sent a script to make a pitch to join him in the adventure. These days, you actually have to find a lot of stuff in the upkeep stage. So I had a fairly comprehensive design concept for each world.
There’s a scene where OJ, Emerald, and Angel are all wearing different graphic t-shirts. What was the meaning of the T-shirts and how did you find them?
So the idea was that they run away from the house, from the ranch, in the middle of a thunderstorm. And it’s a bit nebulous how much time passes. In the final cut, it doesn’t seem too long, but at one point there might have been a bit more time hanging around Angel’s apartment. And if I remember correctly, originally there was maybe a line where they talk [and] Keke and Daniel put on Angel’s clothes. I think Jordan likes to leave things up to interpretation and imagination, to get you thinking.
These are Angel’s band t-shirts. And the methodology was that he now wears his favorite band’s t-shirts, but those are things he was listening to a few years ago. His band t-shirts are either post-punk or proto-grunge. And again, there’s some personal stuff going on there, because Jordan and [producer] Ian [Cooper]…they make a movie they want to see, and so sometimes it shows up in the costumes. As well as Angel is the kind of character who likes obscure groups.
Universal images Keke Palmer in Nope
As The Jesus Lizard.
Certainly like The Jesus Lizard and Wipers and Rage. I mean, these are all bands from Jordan’s teens. So I think it works on many levels for Jordan. It was something that appealed to Angel, but also meant something to him, and me too. I’m the exact same age as Jordan, so I ran with some of these groups. I found this one from Jesus Lizard on eBay, and I think it was an indulgence I treated myself to as well. Because I always look at, like, Insecticide t-shirts and they’re $800, and I’m like, “Well, I can’t afford that.” I think the Jesus Lizard was a thousand dollars. But it was also such a beautiful and vibrant image. It goes with some of the other images. Jordan saw it and said, ‘It gives me life.’
Well speaking of Angel, what was the philosophy behind his clothes?
He was a dark, brooding and cynical character. We started with more vibrant colors on him because we wanted a kind of pop color theme for all the costumes. But we quickly realized, because Brandon is so naturally optimistic, that it would help to downplay his character in his clothes and a bit more dark energy. He’s going through a breakup and he’s been through it all, so he wears cuts and he loves music.
Universal images Steven Yeun as Ricky “Skirt” Park in “No”
Let’s go to Ricky (steven yeun). Were there UFOs on that red costume he wears in his final scene?
Yes, we embroidered UFOs and also alien heads on [the suit]. The shape of the alien heads of the children’s costume is a specific shape. And so these alien heads and the spaceship are on the wrists and on the back. I created it with a company from Texas that specializes in this kind of nudie costume. He has always been big in the country music world. They have the best chain stitches. It’s a dying art with these special machines that render the embroidery in a beautiful chunky way. It was a tailor-made suit for Steven.
What was the idea behind her character’s look?
The inspiration was slightly Willy Wonka, because you don’t spend a lot of time in Jupiter’s Claim. But we lent ourselves to this idea that he’s this Willy Wonka character that takes you into his world, that he’s always trying to be the star of his own world, because he was this failed child star. We tried to play around with the idea of this Americana arc, but hijacked it, because it’s not a white one. And then also tried to do strong visuals when he’s in the red suit. We were going in a totally different direction for a long time, and I pushed for something crazy.
What was the other direction?
Well, there was just a different way around it, where he’s not in the suit and he’s not trying on, and he’s not showing up and it was kind of a repeat, and maybe when he is at Jupiter’s Claim, he does not dress. There was a whole other direction, which was contrary to what we were doing. I’m glad we came back to do something a little crazy.
It also gives a glimpse of his character yearning for that Hollywood career he used to have.
Exactly. Attention. I mean, it’s flashy. We just played on the edge of it looking a little silly. Steven really wanted to go the way of putting on the armor and being the star of his own show. He’s very caring, but really reacted when adjusting to that kind of Willy Wonka aspect.
Universal images Daniel Kaluuya in “No”
What about OJ’s clothes?
There is a kind of Compton Cowboys look where it’s all hip-hop swag sitting on horses, and ranchers usually wear cowboy hats, jeans, and big belt buckles. So we landed a bit in the middle. We tried to mix the more modern urban aesthetic with a more traditional rancher look. So he wears cowboy boots, he wears Wranglers, but he also wears hoodies and he wears an Air Jordan t-shirt. We didn’t want to go one way or the other because we wanted to be a little more realistic, because you have to be practical when you’re tending a ranch.
We did a lot of hyper-specific swag. We try to keep up with the times. So T-shirts with your local pizzeria or whatever is very cool to do now. So we mixed in a bit of that too. And the idea that he just ended up with these T-shirts. So he gets a hoodie from a trucking company and he wears a Mario’s Catering t-shirt. He wears his trademark ranch hat, Haywood Hollywood Horses. We did a lot of branding. There was a lot to be said about corporations and money, capitalization and the commodification of it all. It was therefore important to mark it.
Where did you find his Malcolm X hat?
It’s from a costume designer I know, who has a son who has his own clothing line, and it’s called David and Goliath. There is therefore a small biblical echo, but very, very subtle. I don’t know who is necessarily going to notice, but it’s just a cool hat.
Did Daniel contribute to this?
Not that much, because he’s quite Method, so I had the impression, like in all the fittings, that he was already OJ. He doesn’t stay in character all the time, but he stays in a mode. I remember meeting him thinking he was going to be really cheeky and funny, and he was very OJ. He was very calm and a bit bullish. So I think while he probably had more to say about the costumes, he, as OJ, was like, “You know, whatever.” In fact, it was difficult to get her to try on. Just because I think OJ doesn’t like trying on clothes.
Universal images Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer in Jordan Peele’s “Nope”
Finally, can we talk about Emerald’s look?
There’s not so much of her backstory in the movie as it is I think, but she does have a pretty big backstory in that she’s sort of homeless, which doesn’t is not so explicit in the film. And she ends up staying at the ranch for a while, and that’s why she’s in this trailer. And there’s this idea we had with Keke that everything she has is borrowed from Daniel, or stolen from someone she slept with the night before. The Prince t-shirt is meant to be something from his childhood. Or she’s wearing a leather western vest that belongs to her mother. And then, just small shiny objects. She’s got little shiny earrings and rings on, like she’s a magpie, just taking things and having things. Yeah, so that was the general idea. Random, accidentally cool.
And she also wears cowboy boots under her jeans, a nod to her family job.
Exactly. We wanted to make sure we didn’t lose sight of the fact that they grew up on a ranch, because if you’re going to a ranching country, everyone wears cowboy boots.
Where are his jeans from?
These are men’s jeans from Ripndip. Oh, they’re great. That’s what stoner teens wear. So the idea is that these are old jeans from Angel. But yes, the cut and the way we styled it is also very trendy.
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