Nerds and Beyond recently had the pleasure of chatting with costume designer Angelina Kekich (Falling Skies) about her work on CBS All Access’ recent mini-series adaptation of Stephen King’s epic plague saga The Stand. We spoke about the process of making such an iconic work feel modern, developing looks with the actors, and of course, what it was like to get approval from Stephen King himself. Warning: mild spoilers below!
(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Nerds and Beyond: Thanks again for taking the time to chat with me today! First things first, what’s your process like when you’re approaching a new series or film? And specifically for The Stand? Did you read the book and watch the (original) miniseries? Or do you like to go in, with completely fresh eyes?
Angelina Kekich: For us, with this show, I worked closely with Josh Boone from the beginning. And he got me to read the whole novel – which is about 1200 pages. I also read Andy Burns’ book on the making of The Stand. And some of the background – why Stephen King chose some of the things that he did, and looking at artwork that was done from the 70s for the dark man, (which is Flagg). And then I worked with a visual consultant by the name of Alison Klein in Los Angeles. And basically, we took our 10 week prep – and we created more as we went – but we created overall for the whole show 500 visual mood boards.
Basically, we had to get into each of the characters. We look at their emotional, physical and mental states. Stephen King is very explicit in his novels, and with his character descriptions. So it was really important that we had a good understanding of who these characters are. And we talked about who these people were before the pandemic. Who were these people once the pandemic hit? Who are these people once they started to travel, right? And then once they got to Boulder, you know, you have a choice of two leaders, Mother Abagail, and Flagg. So Mother Abagail’s the voice of God, Flagg’s the voice of evil, right? So it was important to watch each person’s journey and how they got there.
Harold is a perfect example. This is a kid who’s never been accepted, rejected his whole life by his own family, his own sister, doesn’t have any friends. He’s trying to be a writer but is continuously rejected. We took a piece from Stephen King, where King used to nail his rejections up on the wall. And of course, we show that in Harold – Episode One he is nailing his rejections. So who is this kid? How would he dress? How does this all reflect who he is? And then the world basically ends. And it’s him and the love of his life left right? And for him, it’s like destiny has hit. So we wanted to show that costume change for him. So we did the light pinks, and we did the Hawaiian shirt with the trouser — showing the awkwardness of him but also showing that he’s trying to impress the woman that he’s in love with. In the novel, King mentions cowboy boots. Owen Teague (Harold) worked really closely with us because he’s a huge Stephen King fan. And he said, “instead of doing cowboy boots, let’s do something different.” And we came up with patent leather boots. And the camera pans up and we see how weird and awkward it is, but Harold feels really good about it because he’s coming to save the day.
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And then we see Harold travel, his confidence starts to grow, he’s spray painting their locations as they go to the CDC, and we start to see him putting himself more together. But also darker. Then we get into Boulder. First time he’s accepted. He gets a job as a part of the body crew. He gets the nickname Hawk. So we start to see that development in his costume. There’s a sense of confidence, him having a job, him starting to create friends, then we start to see him go darker and darker. He’s now realized he gets a relationship with Nadine – who says the dark man wants a connection with him. So we start to see the costume go darker and darker.
Nerds and Beyond: I think Harold is also so interesting for me as a character because it’s like, the more his life comes together, the more he still sees himself still as this bitter, awkward misfit. It’s never enough for him. The whole community respects him, but he still thinks he can’t have friends. That everyone hates him. The town hall meeting where he comes in, in that really awkward, ill-fitting suit, I think that was a really great way to visually demonstrate that.
Angelina Kekich: Oh, thank you. And for us that was taking it back to that Tom Cruise visual and him wanting to have that ability to be the “face man.”
Nerds and Beyond: What was the collaborative process like with the showrunner and with the actors? You mentioned working with Owen a lot, but what was the process like for developing with the costumes for Lloyd? His post-apocalyptic transformation was very funny.
Angelina Kekich: When I started on the project, Josh and Ben had already created all these relationships with the cast. So for example, I believe what he was involved in it for over six years, but Whoopi was supposed to be the original Mother Abagail in the 1994 series. Amber Heard was involved in it for years. Nat Wolff has a really great relationship with Josh and was picked out for this project.
Basically, all of these people came in, but I had probably one of the least amounts of time on this. And a lot of these people have such a great passion for Stephen King and his novel, and being part of this project. And when you look at the cast, it’s amazing that the showrunners got these people together to create this iconic piece of filmmaking.
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We started to work personally with the actors. We showed them our presentations, and then from there, Josh and Ben created it so that I could work closely with the actors. For example, Nat calls me and he’s like, “Angelina, I really want that ‘Raw’ look of Eddie Murphy.” Because it’s scripted that there’s this leather suit that he steals. And when you arrive in Vegas, you can have anything that you want from any store. It’s a way to escape reality. And so we pitched the idea of the “Raw” suit to the showrunners and they’re like, “yes, of course!”
So we put our own touches on it to create Lloyd. And again, showing the difference from him robbing a convenience store, to seeing him in Vegas. And we’re showing such a short little piece of each of these characters so it’s important for us in the costume department to tell his story via his costumes because we can’t tell the whole story. Does that make sense?
Nerds and Beyond: Totally. And that’s a good segue. Because I was so curious about some of the choices, specifically for Vegas. From how Vegas is in the book, to what it became in the show, because it’s like night and day sometimes. And what was the process like, for coming to that decision for this sort of like orgiastic, over the top, den of sin. Which, Vegas is already kind of that, but this is that with like, a murder pit.
Angelina Kekich: For us, Vegas was Flagg’s Cathedral. It’s his church. It’s lust, it’s debauchery. And of course, it’s different from the novel where, you know, drugs and all that are against Flagg’s law, but in this world, you’re allowed to experience that. And one of the things that we talked about is why people go to Vegas – they go to Vegas to escape reality. And that’s what we wanted to create – this place where you could escape but also a world that was real. So we see all these crazy costumes and stuff, but these are real people. These are like lawyers, accountants, a school teacher. These are people that have chosen to follow the dreams of Flagg. So when they get to this world, they’re no longer those people. And they have this opportunity to steal or take or do whatever they want. Does that make sense? They are real people living out this fantasy.
Nerds and Beyond: I’m also very curious about the process behind developing Flagg’s look, because his look in the book is so iconic with the jean jacket and jeans and the boots. But I was really interested in how you guys decided which button or buttons he was going to be wearing.
Angelina Kekich: So that was probably our very first mood and visuals board. Looking at Andy Burns’ book, we looked at probably over 30 years of artwork that’s been created by Stephen King’s people, and artists, looking at what the character of Flagg was. And that was a note that we got from Stephen King – that was one costume we could not change.
You could not change it from the book, you could not change it from the artwork, not change it from the adaptation. And this is probably one of the things that every department was faced with: you’re taking a novel that’s written from the 70s. You’re taking an adaptation that was done in the early 90s. And now it’s your responsibility to modernize it and make it so that it works without people comparing it to the book or to the adaptation.
So, being a Canadian, I’m already wearing all denim, the quote “Canadian tuxedo.” And so again, we looked at all this, but we also know that Flagg is able to control creatures. He’s able to control the raven, the rat, the scorpion, and he’s also able to control the wolf. So we designed a scorpion belt for him. And the scorpion represents fear, and intimidation. But also so that within this denim tuxedo we have a focal point. So I worked with the designer by the name of Andy Poon, who helped design it.
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But as for the denim costume, and we had probably about six rolling racks full of denim for Alex. And it was the one costume that I got told by Josh and Ben, that was going to be approved by Stephen King. So the pressure was on and we basically sourced denims in Los Angeles, New York, and Vancouver. And you just never know, when you go into a costume fitting, how it’s gonna start, but he was really impressed with us and shocked by how much inventory we had for him, and how much of a selection, and it was important that we showed different gradients of denim and color, and aging. And so then he came out, and it was like the gods were out there singing to us. This beautiful man came out and this costume, we just, we knew it was Flagg. We did some simple alterations to slender it down, and then we flipped up the bottom of the cuff just to give it a bit of a rock and roll rockabilly touch to it.
And then, of course, we had a breakdown team, which made probably 30 sets of this costume. Because this is Flagg’s main costume that he wears from stage one of his journey, all the way to episode nine. So it was really important for us to show the aging, the breakdown, the blood levels, of course, when he eats the face of Bobby Terry.
So we ended up using Wrangler. And it was a whole line that was inspired by the vintage era of like the 50s, 60s, and 70s. Right away, they sent a photo to King. And we were all like crossing our fingers waiting to hear. And we got the heads up from Stephen saying, yes, we’ve got our Flagg. And that was the beginning. Him and Mother Abagail are the beginning of the arc, and that helps us create everyone else around them.
The Stand series finale airs this Thursday on CBS All Access.