In terms of Oscars won, Sandy Powell may be behind her peer, Colleen Atwood, down 3-4. But with dual nominations today for The Favourite and Mary Poppins Returns, the costume designer takes her career tally to 14, becoming the most-nominated living artist in her field.
With three wins — for The Young Victoria, The Aviator, and Shakespeare in Love — and those 14 nods, Powell moves ever closer to the accomplishments of Edith Head, the most decorated costume designer in the history of cinema. Head set quite a precedent with 8 wins and 35 noms overall — a tough act to follow. Ultimately, Powell isn’t concerned with such things, she’s already on to her next venture. “It’s exciting and thrilling,” Powell says of her achievement today, “but at the same time, I got the news while I was right on set, doing about a thousand things.”
Out in Savannah, Georgia, on the set of Julie Taymor’s The Glorias: A Life on the Road, Powell reflects on her pair of nominations with both pride and astonishment. “It really is amazing because at the time when you’re working on something, you really have no idea. You hope that something’s going to be popular; I guess I had high hopes on Mary Poppins because I thought pretty much that that cannot fail to be popular,” she says. “But The Favourite, I really had no idea at the time of making it, because [Yorgos Lanthimos] is such a specific kind of director.” While Powell loved the Greek auteur’s past works, she knew his tastes to be idiosyncratic — generally pulling in “a sort of niche audience” — making the near-universal acclaim heaped on his first period piece “quite extraordinary” to take in.
On tonal, aesthetic and narrative levels, Rob Marshall’s musical sequel and Lanthimos’ 18th-century chamber drama couldn’t be more different. The former is a wholesome family experience, taking viewers on new adventures while remaining faithful to the 1964 original; the latter, a biting dark comedy only Lanthimos could make, a period piece unlike any seen before. For Powell, what brought together the disparate threads of these two simultaneous endeavors was the idea of taking risks.
On Mary Poppins, the biggest creative swing taken came in painting all the costumes for the pic’s memorable fantasy sequence. “I had the idea in my head, and I had no idea whether it would work. We spent a lot of time doing prototypes and making them, and then it got to the point where, okay, we’re doing it, whether it works or not,” she says. “Because we didn’t know whether it really worked until the animation got on. “ With The Favourite, it was “the decision to eliminate most of the color and stick to a monochromatic palette.”
These two films existed on opposite ends of the budgeting spectrum — with all costumes on The Favourite made from scratch, out of sheer necessity — but in the end, the goal with each was the same, measured in terms of a specific kind of audience response. “I think it’s when people say they haven’t seen something like it before,” Powell reflects. “I think that’s what we all aim to achieve.”
Apart from Powell’s nod, Mary Poppins Returns picked up three nominations today, for Best Original Score, Best Original Song and Best Production Design. The Favourite, meanwhile, scored an astonishing 10 in total, with nods for Original Screenplay, Production Design, Costume Design, Directing, Lead Actress, two Supporting Actress candidates, Cinematography, Editing and Best Picture.
To read Deadline’s interview with Powell from earlier this month, click here.