Tai Freligh chats with Severance costume designer Sarah Edwards…
Costume designer Sarah Edwards has collaborated with some of the most talented actors, directors and craftsmen in the industry. She’s worked on everything from small independent films to Oscar winners to big budget action flicks. Some of her most notable credits include Ocean’s 8, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Salt, and The Devil’s Advocate. Sarah’s most recent work can be seen on the Apple TV+ series, Severance. I chatted with her about the first season of Severance as well as trying to tease some hints about what we can expect in the second season. What follows is a lightly edited version of her video interview comments (for grammar and time considerations).
The conceit behind the show Severance is that employees of the company Lumen have voluntarily agreed to sever the two sides of their brain so that the two sides of their lives, work and home, are not aware of each other. I asked Sarah about the idea behind how these characters dress at work (also known as their ‘innies’) and how they dress at home (their ‘outies’) because they don’t know the other person at all.
“No, they don’t. I mean, they are the same person. They’re just a severed person. So that the people on the inside, the Innies, are the severed people of the outside people. And they are almost childlike in that they, you know, they sort of wake up in this new reality, this kind of new consciousness, whereas the Outies are sort of more of the character’s true selves. They’re the person they’ve always been, they have just chosen to undergo this procedure and turn off this part of their consciousness for now. So you see a lot more of their personality in the home life.”
The world of the show is a very sterile and monotone look, especially at the office. Lots of whites and greys and blacks, especially in the way they dress for the office. White dress shirts and black slacks and shoes for some. I was curious as to how color played into the look of the show, noting some characters wearing orange or yellow in some episodes and asked Sarah how she worked within this color palette.
“I guess it was a choice to have the sets be really spare and minimal. It was like almost working within a sort of Kubrick world. They were really beautiful and elegant. We had a green carpet down there and white walls, which dictated a lot. And because it was a kind of canned fluorescent lighting, you know, it was difficult to get colors to read true on film. So we did a lot of color tests ahead of time. And so we were looking at how different colors look down there and which colors look the best and which colors would serve the characters the best. We also kind of had a lot of control over what the characters were wearing on the severed floor. Like everything else, at Lumen, and especially in that inner sanctum there, everything is very controlled. And we imagined they had a dress code handbook, which specified that they had to wear certain kind of office attire. So you know, keeping for men, we were keeping it, you know, suits and shirts and ties and shoes. And for the women, it was a skirts and tops or dresses and practical shoes. The colors were fairly neutral throughout, except for Helly (Britt Lower) who I felt like was a real sort of focal character. And we wanted to focus some of the attention on her, being the only woman in the group. And also because we find out later (spoiler alert!), you know that she is Helena Egan, that maybe she was given a little bit more leeway, just little things, you know, we’ve kind of snuck in there.”
We see a lot of the main character, Mark S. (Adam Scott) and his daily routine to go to work and back home. He takes off his watch and badge and puts on another watch and his work badge before getting on the elevator and going to the severed floor where he’ll have no memory of what happens until he steps back out of the elevator at the end of the day. I asked Edwards about the watch and why he had to put a different one on.
“It’s like rules, you know, they’re only certain things you can take down to the severed floor. And because of the code detector in the elevator, the watches couldn’t have logos on them. Okay, or writing of any kind. So they had to have these Lumen issued watches. They also didn’t want them to have smart watches or anything where they might be able to somehow communicate with the outside or so the watches were company issue, plain face, no logo, so that it could go down through the code detector and back up. So basically, they leave all of their real true selves at the door, you know, his coat comes off, he changes from his boots into his company shoes, he puts on his company ID badge, you know, anything that is personal to that outside person gets left in those lockers. And they go down, fully attired in the kind of dress code handbook rule outfit.”
Another character that I thought was very interesting was Ms. Cobel (Patricia Arquette). Spoiler alert again, I had my suspicions that she was Mark S.’s neighbor, Miss Selvig, and was rewarded by the reveal that she was, in fact, his neighbor. I asked Sarah about how different her character looked at work (cold and business-like) versus at home (warm and fuzzy) and what the reasoning was behind the costumes.
“Like, yeah, it works. She’s Cobel and she is the boss down there of the severed floor. She’s also unsevered, so she’s aware of what’s happening inside and out. And when she’s Mrs. Selvig, who is Mark’s next door neighbor, she’s not Miss Cobell anymore. It’s like an act. She’s putting on this kind of warm, kind woman who owns a candle store who lives next door who’s, you know, doing macrame? And, you know, Mark doesn’t recognize her because he doesn’t remember her from the severed floor. But she’s really like, she’s the same. She’s putting on an act. I mean, that whole Miss Selvig is a put on, to kind of get to Mark to trust her. And, you know, feel like she’s harmless. And is somewhat of a motherly figure, kind neighbor.”
Much of the time spent inside Lumen is in Mark S.’s department, Macro Data Refinement, but eventually we see a second department, Optics and Design, and a brief glimpse of a third department. I was curious about how the dress code applied to costuming the people in the different departments.
“Everyone who reports to work at Lumen as a severed employee follows the dress code in the handbook. So they come to work in office attire. Once they go down. They may work in different departments right now. We’re only seeing two departments down there, but maybe there’s other departments they don’t know about. But once you’re assigned to a department, depending on what the task you do there is, for example, Optics and Design, O&D, they do a lot of printing and art handling. So I gave them smocks to wear over their office attire that say “O&D”, but they can’t wear those on the outside. Because, you know, in the same way that the Innies don’t really know what’s happening on the outside, the people on the outside really don’t know what’s happening down there, or what they do down there. And then we have a brief moment with the goats where the handler with the goats and he’s also in the suit, but he has a work apron on over. And he’s holding the goats because he’s down there in the in the goat pen, you know. So the idea was just that no one can really know what they do. So all the pieces that they get down there, they had to be things that could go over what they’ve come in.”
Apple TV+ has already announced a second season of Severance is coming, so I asked Edwards if she could give me any hints about what we might see coming up.
“You know, I just will say that there’s gonna be a lot more. It’s gonna be very exciting. We’ll see more of both the inside world and the outside world.”
Sarah Edwards can be found on IMDb.
You can watch the entire eighteen minute interview HERE on my YouTube Channel. Subscribe for other exclusive interviews and coverage from SDCC and Wonder Con.
PHOTOS: Courtesy Apple TV+