For production designer Mark Ricker and costume designer Daniel Orlandi, working on HBO movie “All the Way” (which is earning raves) was all about transforming Bryan Cranston as Lyndon Johnson and setting the time and place for the battle to pass the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964.
“The Johnson Oval Office was well documented and photographed,” said Ricker, who with Orlandi collaborated with director Jay Roach and Cranston on the acclaimed “Trumbo” biopic. “For me, it was knowing what Bryan was going to bring to that performance and the challenge was to nail it right because people remember it.”
Atmospherically, you couldn’t find a better contrast between JFK and LBJ than the design of their Oval Offices. Johnson’s was simple and sparse— a blank canvas that did not detract from his mission to pass meaningful civil rights legislation.
In fact, while watching a rehearsal of LBJ’s entrance into the Kennedy Oval, Ricker said he was transfixed: For a fleeting moment it was like witnessing history.
“Kennedy’s Oval had a lot more personality in it, with seafaring paintings and nauticals, and a lot of family photos and mementos,” Ricker said. “And Johnson stripped it bare. So we tried to embrace that and let the Oval white walls be just that, with portraits of Andrew Jackson, George Washington and FDR serving as beacons.”
At the time of Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas, pale curtains and a new red rug were installed, which Johnson kept until he replaced it with Truman’s blue-green rug because it was a better fit with Johnson’s green-leather-topped Senate desk.
Ricker’s biggest coup, though, was replicating the Revolutionary mural in Johnson’s White House dining room after tracking down the company that made it. “We became White House geeks,” Ricker said.
And Orlandi became a sartorial geek in helping transform Cranston into LBJ. The costume designer became fascinated with Johnson’s psychology and how he wielded power as both charmer and bully. And his suits were used to reflect his mood.
“He had his sad suits, his angry suits and his power suits,” said Orlandi. “And then we had him at home at the ranch when he was most comfortable in jeans, cowboy boots and Stetson hat. He wore gray for his important speeches—they’re a little slicker and shinier and newer. And when he’s downtrodden and really upset, his suits are little bit more beat up, a little darker, a little less polished. It’s interesting: politicians don’t wear brown much anymore but he did.”
However, given the fact that Johnson was nearly half a foot taller than Cranston, they slightly raised the actor’s shoulders to shorten his neck and make him seem broader. “He cared about being comfortable,” Orlandi emphasized.
For dressing Martin Luther King (Anthony Mackie), the director requested that he wear a jacket more than he probably did, to enhance his stature and lend gravitas. “Also, just to help with Anthony’s physique. He also wears early ’60s white shirts and dark, skinny ties.”
Notably, Frank Langella suggested bowties for his portrayal of segregationist Georgia Senator Richard Russell, whose friendship with LBJ was fractured as a result of his opposition to passing the Civil Rights Bill. “We kept bowties away from other people to give him that distinctive, genteel, Southern personality,” Orlandi said. “Jay’s thing was: Just make it look right…. I’m proud to say they’re just clothes and you don’t notice what anybody’s wearing.”