PRO-PORTRAIT: Hollywood Costume Design is a Good Fit for Daniel Orlandi

Daniel Orlandi gets to time-travel as a psychologist and anthropoligist—to the Alamo, the Depression, and to the Doris Day and Rock Hudson world of the 1960’s. He gets to "Meet the Parents," discover "The Blind Side;" and examine the "Da Vinci Code." He sets his sights on the travails of Richard Nixon, and the proclivities of Sarah Palin. 

Daniel is one of the most sought-after costume designers in Hollywood.

"Down with Love" 2003

“You get to go into a different world with every film.”

When costuming the Ron Howard film “Angels and Demons,” Daniel had to re-create the Vatican. He dressed 200 Cardinals, uniforms of the Swiss Guard, and the Vatican gendarme. For John Lee Hancock's "The Alamo," he had to make 2,000 Mexican Army uniforms, from their clothes, to their armor to their boots, “The armor was made in India, the embroidery was were made in Pakistan, the uniforms were made in Mexico and the fabric came from England.”

"The Alamo" 2004

Through costumes, actors are transformed into characters. “I dress a character, and how they fit in it, and how they fit with other characters in the same scene. You want to give each person a little character.”

“I think that I am sometimes more like a psychologist. We’re trying to figure out where a character might buy their clothes—are they sloppy? How much would they spend on their clothes? How well do the clothes fit?” 

“I find it very rewarding.”

With a career spanning over twenty years, Daniel has worked in television, and on the stage, but is currently in love with making movies. He works with a handful of A-List directors—from Ron Howard, Joel Schumacher, John Lee Hancock, and Jay Roach to help bring characters to the silver screen through what they wear, and how they look. 

“With every film you learn something new”

I did a movie with Robert De Niro in New York, where he plays a man who’s had a stroke. He made me come to the rehabilitation hospital with him. He said, I think you should come and see these people. I went with him nine times, and spend hours there, just talking to people—and it was just fascinating. You know, they like shoes with Velcro, because they can’t tie their shoelaces—little things like that that help you.”

For Sandra Bullock in "The Blind Site," Daniel met with the real life character Leigh Anne Tuohy. He and Bullock wanted her character to be as exact as possible. But sometimes literal interpretation of a character does not work. “In the first fitting, we tried on these clothes that were very close to what the real woman wore. But we found that on Sandy, they looked a little vulgar. And we didn’t want her to look vulgar. So we took all of the color out of her clothes, so she only wears navy, white, neutral and a gray blue, and it really made the character work. It made her character, and I think helped her character a lot.”

“I love the job of being a costume designer. I find that it was a really good fit for me.”

Daniel knew he loved costume and set design from a very early age. He’d watch movies, or see theater in New York. “I loved looking at the sets, I loved how they moved, and I loved looking at the costumes. I would design little sets, and floor plans when I was a kid.”

He went to the prestigious Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburg, which happens to have one of the few undergraduate programs in theater design in the country. The program was set design, lighting design, and costume design. The program was intimate—“When I started, there were 7 of us, and when we graduated there were just four. I was very lucky to find it.”

Luck followed Daniel after school as well. “The minute you get out of college you can learn a lot more. You learn about fabric and draping. You learn about being on the set …the protocol of being on the set and how to do everything.”

Following a stint in New York, and with public television, Daniel headed to Los Angeles where by a fluke—or was it serendipity, happenstance or luck once again? he got a job working in Bob Mackie’s studio. “I was hired for two days, and so it happened that Bob Mackie was looking for a new assistant for a film he was doing, and he hired me. I had no film experience, especially in costume. It was a very, very lucky break for me. I was young, and happy to work. I would have done anything.  It was a great opportunity, and I was a big admirer of Bob Mackie. I learned a lot.”

Daniel stayed with Bob Mackie for eight years.

Once he went out on his own, his career continued to grow. On his first solo project—a television special for the magician David Copperfield, he won an Emmy.

Daniel worked, and worked, and would get recommended to directors by other designers who were unavailable to take on a project.

“I did this movie for Tribeca Films, which is Robert De Niro’s company. It was a mini-series about Sammy the Bull. Nobody wanted to do it because it wasn’t very much money and it was really big. But I said yes, of course.”

The folks at Tribeca introduced Daniel to Jay Roach and they worked on “Meet the Parents” together. Eleven years later, Daniel worked with Jay Roach again on HBO’s bio picture of Sarah Palin called "Game Change." Immediately after that project, Daniel jumped on another Jay Roach feature film which he has just finished shooting in New Orleans for the last five-and-a-half months. 

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