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Costume Designer Kelly Kwon On The “Humps” She Overcame While Working On Searchlight’s ‘Quasi’ (INTERVIEW)

For over two decades, Disney fans have been clamoring for a live-action Hunchback of Notre Dame movie. This week, they finally got their wish – just not in the way that they would have imagined…

Now, the Walt Disney Company owns Searchlight Pictures, and Searchlight Pictures’ latest release is called Quasi. Created by the popular comedy troupe Broken Lizard, the same minds behind Super Troopers and Beerfest, the film is a very loose adaptation of the Victor Hugo novel which inspired Disney’s animated musical.

We say “loose” because, while it does follow the same original story of a hunchback who yearns for love, it is an R-Rated comedy first. Although it occasionally sacrifices tradition (and logic) for some of the troupe’s signature shenanigans, the film is an enjoyable piece of historical fiction that deserves to go down in history with Monty Python’s Life of Brian and History of the World Part I. Verbal humor aside, it owes a lot of its success to the literal material brought to life by the production and costume designers.

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Kelly Kwon was one of said designers. In an exclusive interview with The DisInsider she shared some of the most rewarding and most bizarre challenges she faced behind the scenes. 

Surprisingly, one of those challenges included finding an era-appropriate costume for Paul Soter’s Pope Cornelius. Kwon said that, despite the film being a fantasy, she “wanted to stay within the realism [of the time].” To nail the look that she felt Soter’s Pope needed, she sought a very specific religious fabric. “I couldn’t just go to Joanne’s or some kind of fabric market to buy it,” she explained. 

Her research led her to a random seller on Etsy of all places. They were based in Ukraine. She notes that this was also months before the current conflict with Russia. Given the time difference between the seller and her in the United States, correspondence took much longer. And right when she was about to place the order, the seller told her they were relocating to Turkey.

Thinking that she might be getting scammed, she asked a friend overseas to do some additional research on the seller. But her friend couldn’t find out anything other than the fact that the seller was the owner of a small store in Ukraine. With time ticking and no other sources available that would match her vision, she took a leap of faith and placed the order. She received no tracking information, so naturally she panicked again – until she received a package at her office. 

The relief she felt in that moment was nothing compared to the joy of knowing she had all the materials she needed to finally bring her vision to life. 

Unfortunately, as production continued, this would go on to be the least stressful experience for Kwon. She explained that once the Pope’s costume was finally clean, she worried about how it would be shot because many of the character’s scene were in low light areas. “He was in a dungeon [and] everything was so dark so I had to make the Queen and the Pope pop,” she said. 

As she revealed in the interview, director Kevin Heffernan just so happens to be her brother-in-law. Through him, she was able to become really good friends with the film’s director of photography. As she puts it, the relationship between the DP and the costume designer is “very important” and constantly overlooked because they ensure that the audience sees all the hard work displayed on the characters. She said, that without that relationship it’s easy to worry, “Is my fabric gonna absorb light, or is it gonna make a reflection that it will pop, or is it going to show all my details and textures?”

Funny enough, the only issue she encountered on set had nothing to do with lighting. Instead, it had to do with arguably the film’s biggest star: Quasimodo’s hump. Kwon went on to explain that the piece they originally used for the hump was so heavy that actor Steve Lemme came to her complaining of neck pain after the first day.

“I didn’t want to kill my actor,” she said. “So overnight, after the second day of shooting, my seamstress and I stayed after to create a different hump.” But it wasn’t like she could just replace the prop with anything. 

After a bit of brainstorming, it hit her. Kwon said that she didn’t know why, but the office where she worked out of during filming always had carrier beanbags. Personally, she loved how comfortable they were. But then she wondered what if she could adapt that comfort to Lemme’s costume. She remembers thinking out loud, “Why don’t we make a beanbag with the strap and put it on him? It’s so much lighter. And it fills in the hub size that we want.”

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Immediately she got work. While it proved to be a much better solution for the actor’s back, it wasn’t perfect. It absorbed a lot of moisture under his clothes,” she said. “And we were shooting in Santa Clarita, which is a desert. It gets really hot during the day; it gets super cold at night.” She thought the balanced climate would ensure that the bean bag never held too much moisture. While the addition of a few rice packs to the costume helped, Kwon still encountered an unforeseen issue: a smell. 

She confirmed that she and her team did wash the newly created hump frequently, but it only helped for so long. “After using that for two days, it started getting stinky,” she said. “We took out the rice and we washed it the next day, we thought it was fine. We’re like oh my god, this thing is amazing. But we didn’t know that when you wash the styrofoam little balls and when they rub together, it makes a squeaky sound.”

This created another issue involving the sound department. She ended up having to create several different humps for Lemme to rotate throughout the shoot. And while it was a somewhat stressful experience at the time, Kwan says she is grateful that it taught her so much more about filmmaking. “I thought becoming a costume designer is more of [me] just having to create a really fun look and I just have to create a character,” she said. “It’s so much more.”

Be sure to listen to the full conversation down to hear some of the other hijinks she experienced on set, as well as what Broken Lizard has in store next!

Quasi is available to stream exclusively on Hulu now.

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