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BWW Interview: Costume Designer Mitchell Travers Teases IN THE HEIGHTS Looks, Talks Eye-Popping Career & More

See how the costume designer for In the Heights, Hustlers and Ocean's 8 creates some of the most eye-catching looks in film today!

BWW Interview: Costume Designer Mitchell Travers Teases IN THE HEIGHTS Looks, Talks Eye-Popping Career & More

Costume designer Mitchell Travers is responsible for some of the most iconic on-screen looks of recent years in films such as Ocean's 8, Hustlers, Late Night, Eighth Grade and more. His most recent project is none other than the highly-anticipated film adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda's Broadway phenomenon In the Heights, set to be released in theaters and on HBO Max on June 11th.

Directed by Jon M. Chu (Crazy Rich Asians), In the Heights brings magic to the screen and music to the streets as we follow bodega owner Usnavi and the close-knit, vibrant neighborhood of Washington Heights as they live, love, hope, and dream.

The cast of "In The Heights" features Anthony Ramos, Leslie Grace, Corey Hawkins, Melissa Barrera, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Dascha Polanco, Stephanie Beatriz, Gregory Diaz IV, Olga Meridez, and Jimmy Smits.

We spoke with Mitchell Travers about his incredible career, his costume design process, what to expect from In the Heights and more!

What do you look for when you decide to take on a project? How do you decide what you're going to work on?

Well, I always want a new challenge. So, I feel like with what I do, I immerse myself in so much research in getting to know different types of people. My career as a costume designer, it's a little bit of psychology, it's a little bit of costume design, it's a little bit of therapy, so I find that once I've spent a lot of time with a certain group of people-in my career that's been eighth grade students, that's been talk show hosts, that's been the Latinx community, that's been all different types of people- but I always find that once I've done that, the thing I look for next is some new group that I can study, or some different genre that I can immerse myself into and become obsessed with.

What is your process in costume designing a film? Where do typically you start?

I'll read the script once, and I will try my best to not start looking at images. I'm really image-based in pretty much all aspects, so I always try at first to just let my imagination run wild with a script before I start going into the images. But, if I'm being perfectly honest with you, there are just certain projects that come along that I can't help myself, and I start to pull up books or magazines, or go online, and I start to get images together, and that's when I start to realize, "Oh, I really want to do this one." If it's starting for me before I'm on page 30 in the script, then it's like, "Well, take this on, this is the one you want."

How do the actors you work with influence the process of doing the costume design for a film? The people you've worked with are some of the biggest stars in Hollywood, does that influence how you approach a project at all?

BWW Interview: Costume Designer Mitchell Travers Teases IN THE HEIGHTS Looks, Talks Eye-Popping Career & More Yeah, of course! I view it very much as a collaboration because it's one thing for me to choose a fabric, choose a silhouette, choose a shape, but part of the successful costume design process is the embodiment of that character. And so, it's really about an actor and myself meeting in the middle to play with different shapes and ideas. It's one of the greatest joys in my life when you get to watch an actor connect with their character through their costume. It's something you hear frequently with actors, is it comes together for them once they see themselves in the clothes, in the fitting room, in the mirror. That's one of the greatest gifts to get as costume designers, to be instrumental in that process and be a witness to that spark where it starts for a lot of actors.

The way I costume design is very much hand in hand with the actors. I really enjoy getting know what's inspiring them, what they're watching, listening to, reading, all of that stuff that builds their character, I try to get on that same level with them so that we're talking about the same-fictional- but we're talking about the same person. I always feel like the first fitting is the getting to know you phase where we're trying on clothes, we're getting to know one another, we're understanding how the other works, and then the next fitting is really where you get to pile on all those layers that you've found together to create something that feels really authentic and genuine, and hopefully, if you do it right, believable.

You've worked on some incredible films, Hustlers, Ocean's 8, Eight Grade... do you have a film that you worked on where the experience of working on it really stands out to you? Maybe it's a film that exercised a part of your skills you hadn't accessed before, or the cast and crew were particularly wonderful, or your research process tackled something you'd never delved into?

Well, truthfully, In the Heights is that project. It was a real community that was built where dancers inspired the costumes, and the costumes inspired the shots, and things that the director would say would inspire some of the music, or the music would then inspire some of the sets. It was really was this excellent community that was built around the idea of sharing. Sharing ideas, sharing music, sharing moods, sharing all the things that we were creating, it really felt like we were all a part of something big. Obviously, this project comes with a bit of a legacy, it came onto the theater scene in such a huge way, and I think really, not just cracked open a door, but blew open a door, to a community that I don't think Broadway had really seen before this musical hit. So, it carries this energy with it.

I'll share a story with you from the fitting that has always stuck with me. I was doing a fitting with Doreen Montalvo who has sadly since passed, but she was an original member of the In the Heights cast, and she was in our film. We had a number of original cast members in the film, and so I would always love to just talk to them and understand the history of the musical before I was involved. Because of course, it's so much bigger than any of us, and I really was respectful of how much had been done before we started, and all of the work that went into creating the Broadway show. And Doreen said to me, I'll never forget this, she said to me, "It's a really special project, and once it comes into your life it just continues to give." Her words ring true more and more as the film is received by audiences. It really is a special project, it changed the way I think of myself in a community, it changed the way I think of myself as a costume designer. I was able to speak to bigger causes and express different parts of myself as an artist through this musical. It's rare that projects like this come along where there are so many incredible people involved, and everyone has that same giving energy. When you get into the business you dream of projects like this, and to have experienced it so closely firsthand is just such a gift.

Can you tease for us what you're most excited for people to get to see on screen in In the Heights?

I would say it's the scale. It takes me back to movie musicals of the 30s and 40s in Hollywood, that big, massive scale where you just escape into this fantasy. When I was a kid I would stay home from school sick and end up watching movie musicals, and so, watching this takes me to that same sort of place. To tease the audience a bit, I think it's so much bigger than anyone believes. I think the trailers and some of the clips that have been released online hint towards that, but there is just something about sitting and watching this on a big screen, it really feels like a neighborhood is dancing, it's a community of people and the same choreography, and it's so powerful to see.


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