Feature

In the loop with 'Happy Death Day 2U' costume designer Whitney Anne Adams

Determining the perfect wardrobe is always a challenge for filmmakers, but doing so usually doesn’t also require an understanding of temporal mechanics and parallel realities. Luckily for “Happy Death Day 2U,” the production had Whitney Anne Adams on their side who, as she explains in conversation with Moviebill, lives for exactly this sort of unique challenge.

Please be forewarned that the following does contain some minor “Happy Death Day 2U” spoilers.

“I actually was a huge jock my whole life, so costumes were not really in my world,” Adams laughs. “But I always loved movies. I owned hundreds of movies by the time I graduated high school… I was really sick and I was in and out of the hospital a lot. In order to keep from being really depressed about maybe dying, I watched [“Moulin Rouge”] every single day. It distracted me from my real life and I just fell in love with the world and the design. It’s then that I realized that a movie can really change someone’s life. That one really did for me. The colors and shapes and incredible detail really pushed me forward to what I do today.”

Inspired by the dazzling work of costume designer Catherine Martin, Adams found a significant detour in her pre-med college path.

“I took an intro to theater design course,” Adams continues, “thinking that it would just be a fun thing to do. Soon I realized, ‘This is what I have to do with the rest of my life.'”

Jessica Rothe stars as Tree Gelbman in the time travel sequel, "Happy Death Day 2U".Following her newly discovered dream, Adams spent eight years working directly with her hero as a costume design assistant on “The Great Gatsby”.

“I learned so much from them,” she says. “They really inspired me to be the designer I am today.”

So how does someone go from the grandiose spectacle of the roaring 20s to a contemporary slasher-tinged time loop? For Adams, the variety is all part of the fun.

“I absolutely loved the first [‘Happy Death Day’],” she says. “I love all things time travel. ‘Groundhog Day’ is one of my favorite movies, as is “Back to the Future”. When my agent sent me the script for the sequel, I thought it was just incredible and it went in directions that I never thought it was going to go in.”

While it may at first seem like an exceptionally easy task providing costumes for characters that we’ve already seen live out the same day over and over in the first film, there are a lot of logistical challenges even before you add the plot for “Happy Death Day 2U,” which throws a monkey wrench into the mix through the introduction of a parallel reality.

“With Tree, there are only two costumes from the first movie that repeat in the sequel,” Adams explains. “We really get a sense of who Tree is in this alternate dimension because of the little factors that influenced her wardrobe. Everything is stepped up and elevated. It’s about finding interesting bits of character development and seeing how that can be expressed through the clothes… I got all the costumes from the first movie and it was like, ‘We’re seeing these same characters. How do we give them more depth and more dimension than what we’ve seen in the first movie?’ A lot of them have to wear some of the same looks, but maybe styled in a different way.”

One particular challenge was the college quad sequence that repeated over and over in the first “Happy Death Day”.

“We were trying to match all those actors person for person with different backgrounds,” says Adams. “A lot of those extras were wearing their own clothes on the day. It was definitely a challenge to match everything as closely as we possibly could… Like the fraternity guys. Only half of them are actually from the first movie, but we tried to match people really well. There’s a little room because it is an alternate dimension. Those little changes still need to make sense in our world.”

Ryan (Phi Vu) under attack from "Babyface" in "Happy Death Day 2U," written and directed by Christopher Landon.Another major challenge was the fact that certain actors, such as Phi Vu’s Ryan, are featured in significantly larger roles for the sequel.

“With Ryan’s costume, there’s was only one copy because he didn’t have that many scenes in the first movie,” says Adams. “I had the one costume, but I needed multiples for stunts and stunt doubles. Trying to find those exact pieces was very challenging. It was a really fun treasure hunt to try and find out where those pieces were. There’s one shirt I just couldn’t find, so we took a matching white shirt and painted on the black.”

Even after the costumes themselves come together, there’s the tricky question of what outfits go where across  more than dozen different time loops across multiple realities.

“It’s a lot of keeping track of, ‘What day are we in? What dimension are we in?'” says Adams. “I think that the key for us was that Tree was changing every day. We could keep track of continuity based on what Tree was wearing. Everyone else is in the same costumes, depending on what day we keep them in. Dre and Samar are in different clothes on the 18th than they are on the 19th. To help keep track, I had a lot of photoshop boards. I would put in all of our fitting photos with what day and what scene. Especially with Jess [Rothe]. We kept very close track of what she’s wearing on each day and what she’s wearing on each alternate dimension day.”

To make it all make sense, Adams kept track of the loops numerically.

“In my costume room, it’s ‘alt dimension, day one,’ ‘alt dimension, day two,’ etc. In the script, I think it was ‘Repeat day one,’ so ‘R1,’ ‘R2,’ ‘R3’. That’s how we kept track of everything and know what dimension we’re filming on what day. Is this the regular version of the fourth loop or is this the alternate dimension? We really paid attention to details so that everything would be 100 percent continuity correct.”

What’s more, there are more than a few costume-related Easter Eggs that it may take even the most eagle-eyed fans repeat viewings to catch.

“On [Tree’s] Dumpstaphunk T-shirt in the alternate dimension, it actually says different things on it,” Adams reveals. “They’re playing on different date with a different band in a different city… Look for the Dean wearing a little Baby Pin on his sweater vest. One of Danielle’s costumes has hidden babies all over it. It’s very, very turned to 11.”

What’s more, Adams had the chance to celebrate a little bit of her own personal history with the film’s basketball game sequence.

“I played basketball in high school and middle school and I was able to put all the crew names on the back of the basketball jerseys,” she says. “When they filmed it, they were surprised to see their names on the back of all these jerseys. Chris [Landon], our director, got number one. Jason Blum got lucky number 13. The player with my last name is number 22. That was my dad’s number in high school as it was mine in high school. I love those little details that maybe people won’t notice but that are still really special.”

Tree's sweater changes from FML to OMG in the Happy Death Day 2U ads.

There’s an interesting digital alteration that some fans have noticed between the ads and the actual film. In the movie, Tree wears a sweatshirt that reads “FML”. Through a digital alteration, the sweatshirt in the commercials reads “OMG”.

“It was funny because I didn’t know that was happening,” laughs Adams. “But you know, they do that sometimes for ads, toning down the PG-13 and making it a bit more PC for general audiences. It was a funny thing to see when they first released the photos. I thought, ‘I didn’t design that sweatshirt!’ It was a funny little thing and I love that people have noticed the two different versions. We definitely made the FML one in real life…  I’m like, ‘Oh, this is the version of the sweatshirt that some other Whitney wears in some other dimension!'”

“Happy Death Day 2U” is now playing in theaters everywhere.


Silas Lesnick is the Senior Editor of Moviebill. He has been covering entertainment news out of Los Angeles for more than a decade. You can reach him via e-mail or on Twitter.