USA – In “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga,” amateur singer-songwriter Lars Erickssong (played by professional man-child Will Ferrell) costume designs the stage outfits for himself and his singing partner since childhood, Sigrit Ericksdottir (Rachel McAdams). But, in real life, that title goes to triple-Academy Award nominee Anna B. Sheppard, who greatly enjoyed her first-time costume designing for stage performances in Ferrell’s love letter to the juggernaut singing competition.
“This is my second favourite movie [to design], after Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Inglourious Basterds,'” says London-based Sheppard, who’s received her Oscar nods for “Schindler’s List,” “The Pianist” and “Maleficent.” The spectacular, wild and at-times earnestly kitschy performance costumes are an integral part of the Eurovision experience, watched by over 180 million fans across 40-plus countries. (Just not the U.S. until soon, since Netflix bought the rights to stream Eurovision Stateside.)
The movie begins with a wintry music video fantasy sequence, with Lars playing keyboard in fur-caped armour, while Nordic Queen Sigrit harmonizes in a flowing crystal-embellished gown, layered under rocker-cool jackets.
Sheppard created a few sketches for Lars to present to Ferrell and director David Dobkin before the trio landed on his commanding and “heavy” to wear “Thor“-reminiscent look, complete with a winged helmet, chunky boots and gauntlets.
“Will loved it. So that was important, and we were joking because he said, ‘Oh, I look like somebody from a Marvel movie!’ And I said, ‘Because you have a Marvel costume designer, that’s why,” laughs Sheppard, who designed “Captain America: The First Avenger” and all the Tom Holland-starring “Spider-Man” instalments (including the upcoming untitled sequel, which was in prep before the Covid-19 shutdowns).
As for Sigrit’s ice princess look, Sheppard built two dresses but wasn’t satisfied. “So I asked my daughter and to lend me her wedding dress,” she says. “It’s an £8,000 designer wedding dress and I really had to beg her — on my knees.” Sheppard’s daughter reluctantly agreed, thinking that her gown would be immortalized on a massive Hollywood billboard and posters at the glitzy Rotterdam premiere, which would have coincided with the real 2020 Eurovision contest kick-off. Unfortunately, all were thwarted by the pandemic. “We are watching it tomorrow [at home on Netflix], so maybe she won’t be cross with me, hopefully,” Sheppard says.
Fire Saga initially makes it to the Eurovision feeder competition, the Icelandic Song Contest — thanks, perhaps, to offerings that Sigrit left the mountain elves — so Lars finally gets to debut his DIY performance costumes for their original bop “Double Trouble” (which, in actuality was co-written by Savan Kotecha, who also penned The Weeknd’s “Can’t Feel My Face.”) The pair’s matching ice angel outfits took a lot more effort in real life, starting with multiple presentations by Sheppard for sign-off from Ferrell, who is “very precise about how he wants to look.”
“He said, ‘I want a white leotard.’ But doing it for the stage is rather difficult. I [made it out of] white neoprene, so it was thick enough to look good,” explains Sheppard, about his above look. “Then I had an idea, ‘I will make a dress out of the same fabric for her,’ so it’s like homemade costumes.”
Considering the title, you know where Fire Saga is headed, so their stage outfits evolve into showier, sparklier looks, reflecting the idea that stylists and glam teams are assisting Lars in his design efforts.
An experimental rendition of “Double Trouble” involves Lars spinning in a large hamster wheel, which unsurprisingly does not go smoothly (above). To coordinate with his life-size prop, Lars wears a silver puffer vest — sans shirt — with leather trousers and jacket set, which are all contemporary by Ralph Lauren. “That was Ralph. On sale,” says Sheppard.
Sigrit gets literally dragged into the physical comedy that ensues, so her silvery-blue “Frozen“-like look increasingly distresses along the way. Sheppard made “at least five of everything,” for her, along with a “rainbow dress,” with colourful tiers of ruffles for Sigrit to angrily rip off. She also wears a plethora of super-chic platform heels — possibly because Ferrell stands at 6′ 3,” to her 5′ 4″ — including glittery sandals, which receive a worthy close-up during the hamster wheel debacle.
“They just fitted beautifully with the idea of the costumes,” says Sheppard, who shopped Miu Miu, Jimmy Choo, Saint Laurent and Gucci for her wardrobe. “I didn’t have to make the shoes, because fashion just went my way. It was convenient.”
Lars’s and Sigrit’s off-duty wardrobes are just as vibrant and intentionally wacky — full of Nordic embroideries, zig-zag prints and a mix of super bright hues. “[McAdams] really wanted rainbow colours because Will wears a lot of colours and quite outrageous pieces. She didn’t want to be left behind,” says Sheppard. The costume designer scoured vintage shops in London and online to fill their closets with pieces from the ’80s and ’90s.
Sigrit’s rainbow stripes evolve into an oversize paillette-covered minidress (below), which she wears to a Eurovision party. “It’s very Paco Rabanne, really. But it’s a cheap copy of it,” says Sheppard. “I love the fact that it’s not metallic, but it’s colourful. It was Sigrit, really.”
Lars’s wardrobe is also a mix of bonkers vintage prints and silhouettes, including his Pendleton-esque striped wool coal, a racing-striped moto jacket (which he wears when he heads to the semi-finals) and some really stellar tracksuits, including a bright green one by Palm Angels and another by DSquared2.
“Iceland is an incredibly isolated place,” says Sheppard, about their small hometown of Húsavík (population: 2,037). “They should love vintage stuff because [family members] probably had that in their wardrobes somewhere and that was the idea.”
Let’s just say there are some cameos, including Demi Lovato as Iceland’s top Eurovision contender, Katiana, who competes at the Icelandic Song Contest in a shimmering metallic batwing gown, which Sheppard custom-built.
“It wasn’t an easy dress, and [Lovato] was wearing enormous heels underneath. She’s professional,” says Sheppard, who made the gown just before Lovato arrived to shoot. “I bought different fabrics and we made a dress and I didn’t like it because it wasn’t weighty enough. Two days before Demi arrived, I found the fabric, which is like liquid gold. We remade the dress overnight and she really loved it.”
Speaking of competition: Alexander Lemtov (Dan Stevens) may stand in the way of Lars realizing his Eurovision dreams and his repressed feelings for Sigrit, who people keep assuming is his sister.
According to the production notes, the character is “a Russian tribute to George Michael,” and based on past contestants from Russia, including 1995 finalist Philipp Kirkorov. Like Diplo in “The High Note,” Lemkov — who also seems to be an oligarch — isn’t into wearing shirts. Hence some notable shirt-free outfit moments, including a jaunty red Gucci suit, a black and gold brocade three-piece Dolce & Gabbana tux and a crystal-embellished Alexander McQueen zip-up cardigan. (Appropriately, Lemtov also wears Versace gold lion head emblem loafers.)
For his performance of rock opera banger “Lion of Love” Sheppard custom-built Lemtov’s gold brocade Cossack ringmaster ensemble — complete with a requisite rip-away gold lamé shirt panels (above).
“I was astounded how fantastic he fell into that role, because I always see him in classic English ‘Downton Abbey’ kind of films and, suddenly, I saw him coming alive on that stage, ripping the costumes and moving beautifully,” says Sheppard. It shouldn’t be a surprise that an Oscar-nominated and frequent Marvel costume designer would master the perfect rip-away costume. But the theatricality and delightful absurdness at that moment required multiple viewings from me.
“It’s the kind of movie we need now. Something that is pure joy and comedy and everybody is happy by the end,” says Sheppard.