Q&Amp;A: The Matrix Look

You know you're working on a seriously big movie when filming goes on long enough for one of the crew members to give birth twice.

Between the start of preliminary work on the "Matrix" sequels in early 2000 and the completion of principle photography in August 2002, costume designer Kym Barrett delivered two children--as well as several hundred outfits for use in "Reloaded" and "Revolutions." Her chosen style for the films--sleek, elegant, timeless--has become one of fans' most cherished aspects of the "Matrix" universe. It has also sparked scores of imitators. You think "Alias's" Jennifer Garner would be kicking butt in vinyl pants if Barrett hadn't paved the way? The Australian costume designer sat down in Los Angeles for an exclusive interview with NEWSWEEK's Devin Gordon.

NEWSWEEK: How would you describe the "Matrix" look?

Kym Barrett: I'm not a fashion person. I don't go to catwalk shows. And I don't go through fashion magazines because I don't want to be influenced one way or another. So when people say there's a "Matrix" look, I think you also have to look at the production design and the special effects and the color palette. If you stripped all that away, I'm not sure what the "Matrix" look, in terms of the costumes, really is. It's just part of the look of the film. What the characters wear are projections of themselves from their own minds. When they jack into the Matrix, they see themselves a particular way and then that's what their clothes are. They don't go to their closet.

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What I love is how you've managed to blend a sci-fi look with recognizable styles. Most sci-fi films appear to be set during a time of dreadful fashion sense.

So much of the time, you'll be watching a science-fiction movie and you'll say, "Ha ha, look at that funny hat!" You know, it looks like it's made of tin foil. Someone spent hours and hours not making it out of tin foil, but it still has that corny sci-fi look. One of our big things was to make costumes that the audience could relate to.

You mentioned how the costumes are meant to express character. Can you talk about a few of the characters and how their costumes underline who they are?

Well, let's begin with Trinity. In "Reloaded," Carrie-Anne [Moss, who plays Trinity] becomes more confident with herself. Instead of being just an army lieutenant, she becomes fully aware as a woman. She falls in love. And Carrie-Anne as a person is a very curvy, voluptuous woman. She's very richly a woman. In the first movie, that was much more downplayed. She was more of a man in that movie. So in this movie, I've made her more womanly. The light reflects off her body in a more rounded, warmer way.

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Laurence [Fishburne, who plays Morpheus] is a king among men. He said to me this time, "Can I wear my suit in more ways?" So I gave him a three-piece and a longer coat. He loves to wear clothes. He has majesty. In the new movie, he actually takes hold of that royalty. You actually see him addressing the population of Zion.

Keanu's character has grown up a lot and taken hold of his talent. But he's not arrogant. He's grown into himself. So his clothing is very serene. It's kind of monklike. It has an element of Chinese Zen. He's on a crusade. And Monica [Bellucci, who plays a temptress named Persephone] is in rubber. It's white, pearlescent rubber. The idea was, we wanted her skin and her clothes to blend together.

When the brothers asked me about costumes for The Twins [the new, silver-clad villains in "Reloaded"], I told them I thought they should look like a cross between Jon Bon Jovi and those old preachers from the American South. They wear white suits and they're bigger than life and they have a slightly sinister edge. They're very evil.

Where did the idea first come from to say, "characters in action movies usually dress like this, but we're gonna have ours dress like this?"

You know, we never discussed it that way--because we never saw it as an action movie. In our culture, especially in this country, we're encouraged to dress down. Relaxed. Dress for the weather. No one gets dressed up anymore. But then why do people love Halloween? People love to get dressed up. People love to look great. But our culture is not going in that direction. When you see it on film in "The Matrix," you're one of them.

Why so little color in your costumes?

Actually, there's a lot more color in the second movie. One of our decisions was to pump up the color a little bit.


Just to move the story up a notch. We had a lot more people this time. And when you put black on black on black, you tend to lose people. They blend together. In "Reloaded," we used a lot of deep burgundy and deep green.

Did any of the actors really enjoy playing dress-up?

Laurence, most of all. Laurence is a Leo. And I'm a Leo. And Carrie-Anne's a Leo. They both have a regal nature to them. They love to be adorned. They love to wear clothes. Their hearts are very sensitive. Keanu's a Virgo so he's meticulous and unforgiving of himself. He drives himself.

Tell me about the brothers?

They're very different. And they're very similar. They're two coins, you know? They're not two sides of one coin. They're two coins. They're the exact same coin, but their sides are different. You know? They're both got the president's head on one side, and on the other side ... what's on the other side? A building? No, animals, right? [Laughs] That made no sense. Larry and Andy are everyman. They don't dress up. They wear jeans and flannel shirts and T shirts and baseball caps. But at the same time, they're not everyman. They're special.

Q&Amp;A: The Matrix Look | News