From ‘Chicago’ to ‘Wednesday’: Catherine Zeta-Jones Details Longtime Collaboration With Costume Designer Colleen Atwood

The year was 2001. Catherine Zeta-Jones had yet to do the table read for Rob Marshall’s “Chicago” or even meet co-star Renée Zellweger. But she recalls being in Toronto, walking down a long hallway and entering costume designer Colleen Atwood’s fitting space: “There was an explosion of costumes and fishnet tights.”

And thus an enduring collaboration between thespian and costume designer was born. Both would go on to win Oscars for their work on the film. Zeta-Jones would call on Atwood to design her outfit for the 2002 Academy Awards when the actor was days away from giving birth.

It would be two decades before they officially reunited for Netflix’s “Wednesday.”

For this collaboration, Atwood had to bring back the iconic Addams Family, first made famous by cartoonist Charles Addams. Since then, there have been countless iterations of the creepy, kooky family. Atwood, whose credits include Tim Burton’s “Sleepy Hollow” and “Alice in Wonderland,” knew she had to pay homage to the IP while finding ways to modernize the family’s outfits, whether it was giving Wednesday (played by Jenna Ortega) modern platform shoes or opening up matriarch Morticia’s
neckline — with Zeta-Jones in mind.

Here, the two discuss their creative collaboration and finding the modern in Morticia.

Tell us about your first meeting.

Catherine Zeta-Jones: I must start first, my darling Colleen. I distinctly remember going into this warehouse during rehearsals, walking down this corridor, and finding Colleen and this explosion of costumes and fishnet tights hanging from every hook. I was seeing her vision come to life and thinking, “Wow.” I just had this instant respect and admiration for her craft.

Colleen Atwood: “Chicago” isn’t just about Catherine and the team coming in to learn the music or the dance, it’s the only job I’ve ever worked on that had been rehearsed at that level of every placement for where things were going to be. But by being in those rehearsals and being on set, I could troubleshoot the costumes for what they had to do, and we didn’t need to take them apart 25 times to make them work for certain things.

Such as?

Atwood: The shoes! Those were the hidden secret. It was an endless process of taking a shoe and figuring out all the things that didn’t work until we got each shoe working because those really had to be right.

Zeta-Jones: Colleen was there when we were giving birth to the dance moves and working through those moments. She knew from the choreography how that costume needed to move. It wasn’t just a bunch of beads on a dress. It was about the iridescence of the beads and where they were on the hip as we moved. With “Chicago,” that jacket or robe could come off and take that costume from the real world into a burlesque one. There were no cutaways, it was about what was underneath, and the costumes were sculpted in a way that the reveal was always a surprise.

Cut to last year, in Romania when we were shooting “Wednesday,” she knows the way I move and the way that Morticia would be gliding. She knew how to take an iconic look, how to modernize it and transform it into this new part of Morticia’s life and age. That outfit moved. When I sashayed, so did that dress.

But it’s not until I put the outfit on, especially the shoes, apropos of what Colleen said, is when the character comes alive.

What discussions did you have about how Morticia would look?

Zeta-Jones: Colleen said to me, “Where do we want to take this?” I said, “I see Tish and silhouette.” I think anybody else who closes their eyes and imagines Morticia sees something similar.

Atwood: Catherine was in L.A., so we didn’t get a fitting until Romania, and I felt blessed in the sense that I knew Catherine from all these years of working with her because when you’re in the middle of Romania, you don’t want to be starting over.

The hair, the vision that Catherine had, the vision that Tim had, we all had the same idea and that helped it all come together.

It is tricky to revisit classics because you do have to acknowledge what’s come before… if it’s good. With Morticia, we reinvented her look with this silver fabric on the side, which was bonded to the black, twisted and sewn over. The dress had a more contemporary shape to it. I think we honored the previous versions of Morticia that had come before.

We also opened the door for more of her in the next season. Hopefully, she’ll have more than one dress.

She had one dress?

Atwood: Yes, she did.

What fabric was the dress made from?

Atwood: It was rayon jersey. That fabric was popular in the’60s and into the ‘70s. It drapes really beautifully.

I initially made the dress in leather and got excited about that for a second. It was cool, but it was a lot. I made it in a silk crepe, in a slightly more refined fabric, but I realized less was more. With rayon, it holds the shape of the body really well and it’s not too thick. It doesn’t have a mind of its own. It molds with your skin in a way that I really liked for that dress.

What about her shoes?

Zeta-Jones: I had a bit of a platform heel which I love because of the comfort level. It’s this stable heel that is good for sashaying over the cobblestones in Romania.

What’s your secret to making black pop?

Atwood: Texture and juxtaposition. I like to use blacks that have a shine to them because it doesn’t go as flat as opaque, especially if somebody isn’t spending a lot of time lighting.

Or I’ll play around with it, and I’ll overlay reflective material over it to give it a kick.

There’s a lot of technical things you can do to help.

Zeta-Jones: In designing the neckline, Colleen also opened up my chest without taking away from that silhouette and image, and that gives that waist proportion and enhances that slinky bottom. I thought it was great for me because black under my chin does not work for me in life, nor on film.

That neckline and the open chest is vulnerable because when they get into a close-up, it wasn’t so intense. It retains the look of Morticia, but you don’t look like death warmed up and looks completely organic.

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