Every Documentary Now! episode on IFC begins with Helen Mirren’s dead-serious introduction about the educational film you are about to see–and then embarks on a bait-and-switch journey into mockumentary that is consistently weird and hilarious. This is the funny new show you should watch this fall, the brainchild of SNL alumni Fred Armisen, Bill Hader and producer Seth Meyers.
Attention to detail is crucial in this form of comedy, and a good chunk of the program’s perfect pitch comes from costume designer Marylou Lim.
We talked to Lim about dressing Armisen and Hader as they used their fake-documentary style to rip into Grey Gardens, the Vice media network, soft rock icons the Eagles–and other subjects that wouldn’t have occurred to anyone else, like a fictional parade in Iceland dedicated to an exotic notion of Al Capone.
We’re looking forward to more of this inspired joking and more outfits from Lim. Documentary Now! just got picked up for two more seasons on IFC.
What are the big-picture things you consider when putting together looks for the show?
Marylou Lim: Well, the first thing you need to do is watch the documentaries that we are reenacting. Some are a looser interpretation. But they’re all important to watch. Like for our episode “Gentle & Soft: The Story of the Blue Jean Committee” it was based on the Eagles’ documentary, which was awesome. Watching that, you get a feel for the 1970s and just the overall vibe. I pull from costume houses that are not too expensive, because our budget isn’t the biggest. You have to be careful not to overpull, because it’s too expensive, so it helps to know the actors’ sizes ahead of time. Working with Bill and Fred is amazing because they come from SNL. They come from that mindset of quick changes, just put something on and go.
What was your direction for dressing the Blue Jean Committee?
Basically, it’s this band that’s very California-style. First they’re bluesy, then they become a soft rock band. So we played on very light colors and lots of denim. I sourced everything from costume houses and did some thrifting here and there. The bell-bottoms, cowboy boots, ankle boots, gauzy shirts, denim shirts. A little edge, since these guys are in a rock & roll band. These are guys who, when they walk down the street, you turn and look. They’re too cool.
What about in the episode when they’re older and looking back on their music careers?
For Bill, he was the one who sold out to the corporation. He made more money. He became the guy who lives in Malibu and has an expensive home. He’s still with the California look. Linen pants, linen shirt. You know: I’m rich. That was his look. And Fred, he was like, I’m always a rocker from Chicago–I’ll keep that look. So it’s a leather jacket. And he’s a White Sox fan, so he’s wearing the T-shirt. They’re still holding on to the rock & roll, in their ways.
That episode is hilarious. Especially when that unnaturally high voice comes out of Bill.
Oh my god, that was my favorite part. It’s amazing how both of those guys, Bill and Fred, can transform so easily. Bill with that mustache and long hair, oh my god. Hot!
OK, what about “A Town, A Gangster, A Festival”?
They shot that in Iceland. I pulled as many suits, fedoras and flapper dresses as I could find and stuffed everything in two huge suitcases. It was guerrilla shooting, fast-paced, no time for setups. Shoot this and then on to the next thing. In terms of the clothes, it’s the funny sense of this town parading this Americanized Al Capone gangster, and they adored him, and the whole thing made no sense at all. I’m sure half the people in the episode didn’t even know who Al Capone was.
So were you trying to think about the visual stereotypes of that Chicago gangster world through European/Scandinavian eyes?
Oh yeah. It’s their version of what they think an American gangster would be. So it’s a little off. They tried to get a few pieces to indicate that they knew what they were dressing up as. A fedora, a little dress, a fake Tommy gun, the double-breasted suit and tie. But nothing extremely perfect. And the whole sense of the parade is off, so every point of it is going to be weird.
What was it based on? Was there a documentary that was the genesis of that episode?
No, that was completely original. They just went with the idea of who Al Capone is, the gangster of all American gangsters.
Let’s talk about the Grey Gardens spoof. That looked really faithfully re-created, except the sweatpants around the head worn as a hat. So hilarious.
That was a piece that Seth Meyers added. He was like, You know what? She always has something on her head. Let’s just put sweatpants on there. The documentary on its own is really disturbing but funny at the same time. So when we re-created it, it just all made sense. Bill Hader was so funny in it. When he put the fur coat on his character just came to life. His wife was there; he just had a baby, and they took photos with the baby because it was just so funny. They had so many costume changes in that episode. It was exhausting, but so, so fun. We tried to be close to the documentary in terms of what Edie wore. It was difficult because we were dressing men, and women’s clothes aren’t that big usually. But luckily I have honed the process of thrift shopping since I was in the fifth grade. A lot of the clothes were thrifted. Fred’s floral hat, that was a brilliant thrift find.
What about the Vice parody, “Dronez”? I imagine they told you to dress the characters as insufferable hipsters?
Yeah, that was the whole point. It’s young guys who come into international countries, and go there thinking, We’re these cool reporters. That was the whole play on them. They’re cool hipsters, reporting. Normally reporters dress blandly. And as a reporter you want to be incognito. But these guys want to stand out and let people know that they’re there, because they’re clueless. So that’s why they’re wearing loud colors, because they’re into themselves and ignorant to the fact that they should be flying under the radar.