Costume designer Justine Seymour spoke to The Natural Aristocrat about researching migrants for Apple TV+ series The Mosquito Coast, dressing leads Justin Theroux & Melissa George, Logan Polish’s Backstreet Boys shirt, and doing wardrobe alterations in the pandemic era!
This interview contains spoilers for Apple TV+’s The Mosquito Coast.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT [NIR REGEV]: All the scenes in the desert with Juan & Chuy where you later see the migrants moving North, what did you use as a guide for their outfits? Did you look at particular photos?
JUSTINE SEYMOUR: I always do a lot of research and unfortunately, I did have to look at a lot of migrants crossing that expansive desert… Which is extremely dangerous to do. I saw quite harrowing pictures but what I mostly noticed was that even crossing the desert, they were reasonably colorfully dressed with loads of layers and layers.
Of course it is very, very cold at night and very, very hot in the day. So when I was doing my cast, I wanted to make sure they had lots of layers that they could take off and wrap around them during the day.
Then at night, they’d put all their clothes back on to try and keep warm. With the migrants passing through that sort of Death Valley part, I did them as best I could, to make everyone look really dusty, windswept, and sunburnt. Basically, bombarded by the elements because it’s a three or four day walk.
It was a tough one to do research on because it’s sad.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: Did you dress up those mummified-looking bodies in the burial site as well?
JUSTINE SEYMOUR: Those bodies were of course all fake and the art department had procured them and it’s my department to dress them. So we went to the markets… This was before the COVID situation.
I had quite a few buyers who were Mexican and lived in Mexico City, and they went out to all the secondhand markets to really, really poor areas. Cause I already wanted the clothes to look as old as possible because they were supposed to be lying in the desert for 20 years.
Then once we got them all, we aged them again and we made them dirty, Holy, Sandy, dusty, de-saturated, sun bleached and did all that. And then some of my crew went and spent the day dressing them.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: Did you personally pick up Dina’s Backstreet Boys shirt?
JUSTINE SEYMOUR: Absolutely, I personally picked out everything! (laughs)
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: So, the Backstreet Boys shirt wasn’t in the script?
JUSTINE SEYMOUR: It was! They had a Backstreet Boys shirt written in there, and I went through all of the shirts that I could find that had their logo on it. That was the one I liked the most and thought it represented Dana really quite well.
Then of course, we had to send it through their legal department, get it cleared, and make sure the Backstreet Boys were happy for that to be represented in our show and everything.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: When The Mosquito Coast begins, Allie Fox has this kind of slumpy, underclass look, working-man’s clothes. As if he’s perpetually working at the junkyard even during after-hours. Meanwhile, his wife Margot is a writer and has this contrasting sophisticated, elegant style. What was your inspirations for the Fox family’s overall look?
JUSTINE SEYMOUR: Well, when the story starts we don’t know that the Fox family are going to have to go on this crazy trip. And, so the basic story of the Fox family is that Allie is a huge ‘greeny’ and thinks that America is just greedy, wasteful, unthoughtful and throws everything out.
And he of course just wants to recycle everything, take natural energy from the sun, and use the wind. Allie’s got all those things set up in his garden to energize the house and he’s making his own petrol out of the oil from the local chicken fry place.
We realize they’re quite poor when we see what Allie earns when he’s at the tomato farm. Allie literally walks home with $38 in his pocket. I wanted to introduce all of those ideas into the wardrobe.
I thought everything would be secondhand, probably dressing from Goodwill or The Salvation Army. Allie’s very practical, so he would just have a very minimal wardrobe. And of course what he did have, he has to look after, hence the very old overalls that he always wears.
With Margo, I wanted her to feel like she chose secondhand clothing but it was vintage and it had sort of tailoring leftover from say the ’60s or ’70s. That little corduroy jacket that she wears when she goes to work in the library, is like a little ’60s jacket.
Then she’s got ’70s jeans on and everything is actually vintage and old, but something that you could very easily pick up from Goodwill or Salvos and make it look a bit cooler. She’s an East Coast girl, you know, she’s got a bit of style. So I wanted to keep that in her world.
Whereas the kids that didn’t matter, Dina was really trying to be groovy and fit into a world that she felt that she would never fit into. And that was her teenage angst issue.
While Charlie was just like the cute little boy who put on whatever was given to him. So he always just looked like a mishmash of what he found on his bedroom floor.
That’s how I started the show. When they go into Mexico, it becomes much more colorful and they get given clothes at the Hacienda and when they go down to Mexico city, I had to introduce more lively things.
But Logan Polish was very into wearing her Backstreet Boys t-shirt for as long as she could! She just thought that was fantastic and really great for her character. So she wore it for quite a long time.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: The parts in The Mosquito Coast that were more like Ozark to me were around the middle of the series when the lead villain [Ofelia Medina] arrives for dinner. Everything looks upscale in that mansion, like a game of Clue. Melissa George (Margo Fox) especially looked gorgeous in that red dress.
JUSTINE SEYMOUR: Yeah, she’s a beautiful woman. She’s a really beautiful woman but she still looks real! Which is lovely. All of the Fox family’s clothes for that dinner were given by the household narratively, and I wanted all of those clothes to look like they had come from somewhere.
I wanted that red dress to feel like it had been something that maybe the matriarch, the aunty, had worn in the ’90s or something. And it had just been lying around so she gave it to Margot.
That’s why I chose that dress. So that it could look like it had a history and sort of a Hispanic touch to its style.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: I thought there was something stitched into Allie’s dress shirt as well? Before he put the jacket on, I noticed this patterned design on it.
JUSTINE SEYMOUR: That’s a guayabera shirt, that’s a very classic Mexican shirt. A lot of the older generations wear them and it was also very popular in the ’50s. So again, I wanted to have something that had you know, a historical reference to it and a connection to the Mexican world.
I really tried to separate the worlds of when the Fox family were in Stockton and when they went down to Mexico using these classic old pieces.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: The outfit that most stood out to me in The Mosquito Coast was actually Hugos with the yellow jacket. He had a young Leonardo DiCaprio and John Connor from Terminator 2 kind of look. It added to this cool rebellious style.
JUSTINE SEYMOUR: He was supposed to be the rich kid brat, which he did so well! (laughs) I just wanted him to be like more trendy and funky than anything else, in the show. So I’m glad he stood out for you.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: The hitman played by Ian Hart seemed to be modeled after an undertaker to me with that hat. Was that the vibe you were going for?
JUSTINE SEYMOUR: That’s an interesting take on it! Neil Cross who’s the showrunner and the writer is an English guy and the same age as me. We grew up in England at the same time, so we followed the same musicians like Madness and we were all goths basically.
And I think he was sort of inspired by a late ’50s look, almost ’60s look, and then, um, it just sort of mutated into a combination. An undertaker certainly was never… I mean, I think that’s great! But we never really thought about it like that.
We thought about it almost like a rockabilly that had just become sophisticated.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: Did the hat have inspiration from A Clockwork Orange then?
JUSTINE SEYMOUR: I had never associated it with A Clockwork Orange either, but I guess it has the undertones of that sort of chaotic brutal mind!
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: Allie Fox is dressed in kind of festive wear in the later episodes. Plus, there’s that classic song from The Beach Boys “Kokomo” that plays in the background everybody always associates with vacations. I’m curious what your inspiration was for that laid back Hawaiian style shirt?
JUSTINE SEYMOUR: In the original Mosquito Coast film starring Harrison Ford in it, he wears a yellow Hawaiian shirt almost the whole way through. So when Allie goes arrives at the Hacienda, the sort of halfway house where they think they’re going to be okay, but who knows what happens?
He gets given a yellow Hawaiian shirt and that is my homage to Harrison Ford and to the original costume designer & the original look of the show.
I just wanted to make sure that there was something that carried through into the series. Marrying the two worlds basically. And that shirt was the piece. So, that’s my homage to the original film that came out in 1986.
Justin Theroux is very involved with what he wears. He’s got a fantastic figure. I mean, he’s a very fine actor and he knows what looks good on him and what looks good on him in camera. So he had a lot to do with the way his character was developed as did Melissa.
Melissa George is very specific about what she will wear as well. So they were very tight collaborations, whereas the kids weren’t so much.
The bad guy Ian Hart, he was very much involved but he really liked his suits. The first suit I gave him was like this deep blood red, like really deep burgundy and then a black one.
That’s all he wore all the whole way through until he goes out to the beach. I think he still had the black suit on but I gave him a lighter shirt. Otherwise he was styled very dark all the way through. And I gave him a beach hat when he went out to the beach as well, made out of straw.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT [NIR REGEV]: Is it harder to be specific during the pandemic with alterations? Or was everybody on set tested and considered okay to be in close proximity constantly? Particularly, for quick adjustments.
JUSTINE SEYMOUR: That’s a really good question. We started the show the year before last in October. I started my pre-production and then we started shooting in November and by December we had to go down to Mexico to start shooting there and do all the desert scenes.
Then we went down to Mexico city and we got shut down on March the 16th. So everything was completely fine. I had set up a lot of the show by that point.
We were going to do eight episodes or maybe even nine… But because we got shut down and everyone was sent home and then it took seven months for us to get back up again. Going back was very difficult.
Everything changed, I wasn’t really allowed to touch the actors. I certainly wasn’t allowed to be in close proximity with them. I wasn’t allowed to go shopping anymore.
So we had to divide the department. The people out doing the shopping in the world would drop everything at the front door. Then we’d have it sterilized to bring it into the studio and sterilized before it got fit.
It was a whole complicated scenario that we had to work around.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: The lead villain played by actress Ofelia Medina had an exceptionally sophisticated look. It definitely appeared to be modeled after something because for me it was like she just arrived from the funeral home looking classy. Funeral chic!
JUSTINE SEYMOUR: (laughs) So the idea behind her is that she’s running this huge cartel, she’s very, very rich and that beautiful house that they’re all in the Hacienda I keep calling it, is the family home.
It’s incredibly grand and she’s got this very Hispanic, beautiful styling to her. And she’s old, you know, she’s an older lady, but incredibly elegant!
That’s what I tried to marry her in with this from times when I was in Spain as a young person and seeing how beautifully presented the older women were. They dress really nicely! And then going to Mexico and seeing how the older women in the richer areas dress down there.
That’s from all my life experiences and actually the Mexican designers & some Spanish designers went into her wardrobe.
But it’s all just sophisticated clothing put together in a subtle manner. Then she did the rest, the way she held herself as well, she moves like a dancer. She’s a fantastic actress!
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: That metal scissor to the tongue scene was quite messed up!
JUSTINE SEYMOUR: (laughs) Yeah, well you know, her character is a bit cruel! But she was really lots of fun to work with. There’s more to come from her as well, of course.
– News: Costume designer Justine Seymour is currently working on an upcoming ABC project on Emmett Till.
See more of Justine Seymour’s Costume Design Work:
– Be sure to read our Unorthodox interview with Justine Seymour on her Primetime Emmy nominated costume design work on the Netflix series.
– Apple TV+ subscribers, check out our interview with Niv Sultan and Shervin Alenabi on original series Tehran!
– Visit The Natural Aristocrat Interviews section for more in-depth discussion with top talent in the entertainment industry!