Authentic movie clothing requires lots of shopping

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One day you're posing for Vogue in a Tom Ford gold chain-mail top, skirt with brass feathers and Louis Vuitton clutch. The next, you're wearing clothes from the West Mifflin Salvation Army store.

British actress Emma Watson had not fallen from grace. She simply landed a plum role in "The Perks of Being a Wallflower," set in suburban Pittsburgh and featuring fashions from the late 1980s and early 1990s.

She brought some of her own wardrobe, including one of her grandmother's dresses that would be altered, and found herself in all-American outfits that included plaid shirts, T-shirts, Doc Martens and even a football jacket.

"She's quite eclectic," Ms. Watson said of the taste of her character, Sam, a high school senior. "It's like she has great style, great attitude, great taste."

Some of that is the "Harry Potter" star, some is David Robinson, the New York costume designer who personally favors kilts and prowled thrift stores to clothe main players such as Ms. Watson, Logan Lerman, Ezra Miller, Mae Whitman and Nina Dobrev for the 2012 release.

"I've been to every Salvation Army, Red White & Blue, St. Vincent de Paul, Goodwill from Weirton to Washington," he said in late June from the parking lot of Peters Township High School, doubling as Mill Grove High School.

(Summit Entertainment embargoed the story and use of the first official photos until today.)

Among Mr. Robinson's thrift store finds was a garment he recut into a strapless baby-doll homecoming dress with a skirt that will flutter in the wind as Ms. Watson "flies" through the Fort Pitt Tunnel.

The clothes are supposed to look authentic but not cartoonishly distracting. That was a particular challenge considering that on one day alone, a dozen principal actors might have had eight changes each -- not counting the hundreds of extras.

"We had homecoming dance, prom, Sadie Hawkins, 'Rocky Horror,' pep rally ... it's like one tsunami after another of clothes," said Mr. Johnson, clutching scissors, a tool of his trade.

Stars and extras were shuffling onto and off a school bus, and it wasn't until you looked closely that you noticed the girls' jeans were high-waisted, the boys clad in outdated sweaters or flannel shirts, and no one had their thumbs glued to iPhones.

The cars yards away were authentic to the era, down to the old navy and yellow Pennsylvania license plates.

A few hours later, graduates in white and black caps and gowns were marching toward the stadium, decorated with red and white balloons and a fringe of matching crepe paper fluttering in the breeze along the upper bleachers.

Ms. Watson, Ezra Miller and Nina Dobrev were all in caps and gowns, with Mr. Lerman, Dylan McDermott and Kate Walsh trailing and cameras rolling. On screen, the "grads" posed for pictures and off screen, writer-director Stephen Chbosky spun the clock back to 1992.


Logan Lerman can play D'Artagnan in "The Three Musketeers," Poseidon's son in "Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief" or young George Hamilton in "My One and Only," but he cannot cry on command. That's unfortunate because his teenage character, Charlie, breaks into tears periodically in the Chbosky book and movie.

"It takes me a long time to get into that mindset. It's a lot of preparation," he said, making for miserable days of shooting when he had to stay morose for scenes where he's mourning a suicidal friend, overwhelmed by a steamrolling girl or visiting a relative's grave.

When brought over to a handful of writers in the high school cafeteria, where cast and crew had just eaten lunch, Mr. Lerman did something very Charlie-esque and politely said, "It's nice to meet you" and shook hands with each person at the round table.

Even if you've never seen him on screen, you might have spotted him at the Carmike 10 at South Hills Village where he saw "The Green Lantern" and "Super 8," the latter sharing many crew with "Perks."

The 19-year-old, who has striking blue eyes and dark hair and was costumed this day in khakis, blue shirt, striped tie and loafers, could relate to Charlie's awkwardness and attempts to socialize, fit in and figure life out. He wasn't quite as naive as Charlie, though, he said.

Like his character, he loves books such as "The Great Gatsby" and "The Catcher in the Rye" along with music from the time period such as "Asleep" from the Smiths' "The World Won't Listen" album.

"What Steve did, which was really nice, he gave us a CD of all of the songs in order of where they're placed in the movie, just to get pretty much the arc of the movie ... so we're able to tune in to what the tone is at certain times in the story and understand the feeling he was trying to convey on screen."

In an 11-minute interview that hopscotched around, he said it is exciting to see Ms. Watson "outside of the [Potter] series and what she's able to do. She's not only pulling it off but she's blowing people away with her performance."


Two days before being found with reported marijuana during a traffic stop, it was all good for Ezra Miller.

And it may still be all good, given his outsize personality, talent and love for his profession. As it turned out, he pleaded guilty to two summary offenses of disorderly conduct and paid fines and court costs of $762; a misdemeanor criminal charge of possession of a small amount of marijuana was dismissed.

The 18-year-old from Hoboken, N.J., was weeks removed from the Cannes Film Festival's embrace of "We Need to Talk About Kevin," in which he plays a teen who commits a school massacre. In a look at up-and-comers, the New York Daily News had called Mr. Miller, who played Andy Garcia's teenage son in "City Island," the most promising of all.

So, is he overwhelmed?

"I am very whelmed. Superwhelmed. I wouldn't say overwhelmed at all. This has been really like a fantastic, privileged journey, and it's exactly what I wanted to do and what I've wanted to do since I was, like, 8 years old. ... There's no curse to it yet. It's all very gift-like."

In "Perks," he plays Patrick, stepbrother to Ms. Watson's character and a gay high school senior who falls for a closeted football player.

"I like how vivacious and unapologetic and proud he is, and I like more than anything that he is a real sympathetic individual and that despite the fact that the character is gay, that plays really no part in the formation of the human being." Patrick is not, as often happens, the token gay friend.

Rather than viewing enthusiasts of the book as a sword or crushing rock about to drop, he sees "Perks" readers as "a happy flame beneath us." It's the fans of another series, "Harry Potter," who may be in for a surprise once Ms. Watson sheds the skin of Hermione Granger.

"I personally look forward to watching an entire population of Harry Potter fans get their minds twisted into small, pretzelish knots over what this girl can do," he said, sheepishly acknowledging that he devoured the books as if they were Scripture.

"When I was a kid, I had a ritual -- which in hindsight makes me look like an unhealthy, unattended kid -- which was I must have listened to the Jim Dale voice recordings of the Harry Potter books maybe like a couple of hundred times each. That means putting in the hours every day; it was what I did after school, just like listen to those books on repeat."


Mae Whitman, now on TV as Amber Holt in "Parenthood" and with a list of credits that include "Independence Day," "One Fine Day" and "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World," takes her tourism seriously.

Before she arrives in a new city, she does extensive research. "I don't want a local to tell me something I don't know."

She immediately rented a car in Pittsburgh and, with musician-boyfriend Landon Pigg, started exploring restaurants and tourist attractions. Her favorite eatery was Salt of the Earth in Garfield -- "amazing food, loved it, loved it" -- and the couple went to Fallingwater in late June and hiked in Bear Run Nature Reserve.

In "Perks," she plays the talkative Mary Elizabeth who starts a fanzine called "Punk Rocky" devoted to punk rock and "The Rocky Horror Picture Show."

On this day, Ms. Whitman was in Mary Elizabeth mode with a striped, belted sleeveless dress, fishnet stockings, lace-up boots adding five or so inches to her height, and closely shorn hair on one side and streaks on the other.

In addition to having the coolest wardrobe and makeup, she has a wild character arc.

"She's so extreme, she has so many extremes, I think she really is able to find balance through going through a relationship with Charlie and then being so hurt and having to come into being OK with who she is on her own and finding someone who actually cares about her and not just letting her floodgates open onto somebody who's not into her."

"Perks" is as unpredictable as "Parenthood" is regimented. On the movie, her call time might have been 9 p.m., while she rarely works that late for the TV series where everything from her wardrobe to her parking space is arranged.

"The inconvenience of it actually makes it fun and special. It really feels like an experience that you're all going through together when it's 4 in the morning and you're slogging through, and the only people you have to help you are the rest of the cast. ... It's a meaningful bonding experience."

If the 23-year-old were doing a "fanzine" today, she might focus on the two things she loves the most: Harry Potter books and food.

"I read every book, got them at midnight when they came out and dressed up. It was definitely a big deal. I slowly release little tidbits to her about how excited I am working with her. I don't want to let it all come at once. I think she'd get a restraining order," she joked about Ms. Watson.


Nina Dobrev's friends read "Perks" but were puzzled about who she was playing. "Who are you? Candace isn't in it." She is, but in the novel, Charlie's sister has no name. She gains one for the movie and that's Candace.

"When you give someone a name, it's almost easier to judge them, if that makes sense. I think that's part of why Stephen, in the book, wrote mom, dad, sister, brother. He wanted it to be left open for interpretation. He didn't want judgment, and he wanted a real opinion that was genuine and honest."

The first week of shooting focused on the actors filling those five roles, including Zane Holtz as the Penn State football-playing older brother. "All those scenes are kind of serious and familial, so it's a very different vibe, but we went out for dinners and all hung out and tried to bond as much as we could."

Playing Elena on the CW's "The Vampire Diaries" may have been good preparation for Ms. Dobrev when it comes to dealing with fans of a book with a cult following.

"The fact that I wasn't blond and blue-eyed, that was intimidating, people were crazy about that," because the brown-eyed brunette didn't match the description in the L.J. Smith novels of a blonde "with eyes of lapis lazuli."

"This, I'm not intimidated by it because the thing that unites everyone is their love for the book and the message. Stephen really can't go wrong, it's Stephen's story and it's Stephen's book and it's Stephen screenplay. It's his vision, so if anyone is going to do it right, he's going to do it right."

Candace is an overachiever and middle child with an abusive boyfriend who is caught between an older brother who's a star athlete and a younger one who's emotionally fragile. Still wearing her white graduation gown with white flats, she described Candace's high-waisted skirts, golf T-shirts and Keds or flats as very "Katie Holmes in Dawson's Creek."

Ms. Dobrev, also known to TV regulars as a teen mom on "Degrassi: The Next Generation," did a little exploring and treating herself while in Pittsburgh. "The Andy Warhol Museum was out of this world," and so was The Milk Shake Factory on the South Side.

"Red velvet ice cream, I highly recommend it. Highly, highly recommend it."


Everything on the set is new or surprising to Erin Wilhelmi, a New York stage actress making her movie debut as Alice, part of the gang of friends. "I didn't know I was going to have a trailer, and I've been taking pictures and texting them to my mom," who is in Louisville.

The blue-eyed blonde nailed her role of Alice, a girl who dreams of moving to New York and going to film school, by auditioning on Skype. Like the other actors, Ms. Wilhelmi was a bit starstruck at meeting the Harry Potter star.

"I remember the first time I met her at the hotel and she introduced herself, and I was like, 'I know.' She's so sweet and supportive, I thought it would be weird, she came off 10 years of working on feature films and I'm just starting, but if I get nervous or feel like I did a bad take, she's actually the first person I go to 'cause she's got a way of making me feel better."


"Perks" readers often wonder where Charlie and the gang would be now. Sitting in the library of the high school that would double as a set the next day, Mr. Chbosky said, "You'll have to read the sequel."

A small jolt went through the interviewers. Really?

"I have some plans, then again, I'd have to love it as much as I love the first one. Just like I knew, with the movie, I would have to love the movie as much as I would love the book in order to do it, so I'm not 100 percent sure but yeah, I certainly have some ideas."

As for how a movie set two decades ago will appeal to today's audience, the Upper St. Clair native pointed to the core elements: "A love story, a story about a family of friends and families that are relatable to them, not these fictitious families where parents are complete idiots, which, let's face it, really isn't true.

"I think what will bring them in is recognizing themselves and their friends."


Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632. Read her Mad About the Movies blog at www.post-gazette.com/movies .


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