Designing Costumes for The ‘Bullet Train’: An Interview With Costume Designer Sarah Evelyn

Bad Bunny and Brad Pitt in Bullet Train

Earlier this month, I was given the great opportunity to see the new film, Bullet Train, featuring Brad Pitt. Bullet Train is a beautiful harmony of perfect casting, striking visuals, fierce action scenes, and most of all, top-tier costumes. The Bullet Train costumes designed by Sarah Evelyn were captivating, keeping me on the edge of my seat as I anxiously awaited to see what each new character would be wearing. Meeting Bullet Train costume designer Sarah Evelyn was a real treat, as we had a excellent conversation talking through each of the unique characters of this film and their costumes.

Before diving into each of the characters of this film, I first asked Sarah Evelyn about her starting inspirations and the challenges she faced in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

I started with a copy of the book (2010 novel Maria Beetle by Kōtarō Isakathat) that was transcribed into English, and I feel like that was a really big starting point for me. We started early with a Japanese costume consultant and a Japanese cultural consultant. While the film is very global, I still wanted to get the help in the beginning to understand where the book might have started. The next step was starting to really talk to the production designer about the world that was being created and the references that we were going to. Then as the casting started to come in, we started to have this bigger picture. We had to decide on our overall aesthetic language and what touchstones we were resonating between. 

It was really amazing to be able to work in Los Angeles because LA is made for the movies. There are so many amazing artisans and resources. I had incredible costume supervisors and a really amazing crew! But, it was crazy because stores were closed or had decreased hours. There wasn’t the same amount of stuff on the shelves and shipping wasn’t coming as quickly, fabric stores were closed, or we ran into supply chain issues. 

One thing we decided to do was really make a lot of clothing. We knew we were going to need tons of multiples. We couldn’t wait on the supply chain issues, so we made most of the costumes. 

Sarah EvelynBullet Train Costume Designer
The Twins - Bullet Train Costume Design
Bryan Tyree Henry and Aaron Taylor-Johnson star in Bullet Train. Photo by Scott Garfield – 2022 CTMG. All Rights Reserved.

The Bullet Train film stars the one and only Brad Pitt. I can not get over how much I love Brad’s look. He wears a pedestrian-like disguise with a matching bucket hat. That bucket hat is easily one of the best pieces in the film. Brad just wears it so well!

This costume was incredibly collaborative. Brad definitely came with this idea that he would look like maybe he had been fishing at the docks. Maybe he would be wearing a bucket hat, and I was all about it! If anyone could pull it off, it was him. We started trying on different silhouettes. We’re talking about workwear, and we’re talking about things that might be a bit nautical or fishing related, like the peacoat and the bucket hat. Then we started looking really hard at color, fabric, and texture. Brad is an incredible filmmaker with a wealth of knowledge. He was really generous in sharing all of his thoughts and ideas while having that willingness to take these risks, which I feel only makes the movie more awesome. We took a long time with Brad to figure out the color. We were between a blue, a green, and a yellow, trying to figure out what would work best for the character in this very tight world of the Bullet Train. We landed on the green, which I’m all about!

Sarah EvelynBullet Train Costume Designer
Brad Pitt and Lemon - Bullet Train Costume Design
Brad Pitt stars in Bullet Train. Photo by Scott Garfield – 2022 CTMG. All Rights Reserved.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson is a star in Bullet Train. Very funny and just masterful acting. I loved the costume he wore as Tangerine, that very sophisticated suit. Tangerine sees himself as quite the businessman, yet he isn’t afraid to get dirty when he has to.

I think we always knew Tangerine was gonna wear a suit. We had his casting pretty early on, and I think the idea was that he wears a suit to contain the beast. He would’ve grown up probably in South London with his eye on Savile Row, with interest in gangster vibes! That’s where we got this idea of both the pinstripes and the banker’s collar, with the gold jewelry elements.

Sarah EvelynBullet Train Costume Designer
Lemon - Bullet Train Costume Design
Aaron Taylor-Johnson stars in Bullet Train. Photo by Scott Garfield – 2022 CTMG. All Rights Reserved.

Lemon! Lemon was by far a favorite character. Brian Tyree Henry plays Lemon, one of the twins. Lemon is a hilarious character in which he has a fun obsession with Thomas the Tank Engine. Funny enough, this plot point obsession carries on into Lemon’s Bullet Train costume.

Lemon’s casting came after Tangerine, and we already sort of knew what Tangerine’s costume was. We wanted to play a little bit on the idea of twins, but they weren’t twins! They were so different. So we liked the idea of pairing the blue and this suiting idea with the top and bottom matching. Lemon has more of a nod to a conductor. He’s wearing red suspenders that make something more youthful, more playful, more workwear conductor.

Sarah EvelynBullet Train Costume Designer
Tangerine - Bullet Train Costume Design
Brian Tyree Henry stars in Bullet Train. Photo by Scott Garfield – 2022 CTMG. All Rights Reserved.

Wow! I will be honest, I was most excited to see this film for Benito A Martínez Ocasio, AKA Bad Bunny! I am a big Bad Bunny fan, so seeing him get into a knife fight with Brad Pitt was a real treat. I don’t know if I am just biased, but the costume for The Wolf was my favorite costume of the film. I had to ask Sarah all about this suit.

I am a huge Bad Bunny fan too! He just does not disappoint. I felt like this was a situation where he walked into this costume, and he just brought it alive. I really loved his whole sequence and this costume we really made head to toe. We made everything from the bolo tie to the belt and the overall suit. We made the suit, and we had it embroidered. Also, we made the shirt. The boots we bought, but the boot tips we did make. He killed it! Literally. 

Sarah EvelynBullet Train Costume Designer
The Wolf Bad Bunny - Bullet Train Costume Design
Bad Bunny stars in Bullet Train. Photo by Scott Garfield – 2022 CTMG. All Rights Reserved.

The Prince was played by Joey King. Joey King killed this role and her costume rocked right alongside her. The Prince is an interesting character who switches back and forth in disguise from a young girl to a full-on badass crime lord, making this Bullet Train costume one of the most complex.

She was such a joy to work with. A great collaborator too! This whole cast was really fantastic and amazing. For Joey, we were playing with school girl chic but also the idea of good and bad. We gave her that little pleated skirt. But then the costume became very sexy and strong with a high heel loafer. With this costume, we played with feminine strength. It’s a bit of a school-girl uniform, but it’s a bit of a power suit.

Sarah EvelynBullet Train Costume Designer
The Prince - Bullet Train Costume Design
Joey King stars in Bullet Train. Photo by Scott Garfield – 2022 CTMG. All Rights Reserved.

Who doesn’t love Hiroyuki Sanada? Hiroyuki Sanada brings such a presence to any project he is a part of, and the Bullet Train is no different. As The Elder, Hiroyuki Sanada wears a more traditional costume that shows Sarah Evelyn’s dedication to understanding the story and research.

Hiroyuki Sanada is amazing and has had such an amazing career. I was so excited to work with him. This felt like a moment where we could try and integrate some garments that would be a nod to the more traditional. We really collaborated! We worked a lot on his coat, which is somewhat of a nod to the traditional haori coat. We worked a lot on his fabrics and wanted to make them a bit heritage with some speckle, but also very gentlemanly.

Sarah EvelynBullet Train Costume Designer
The Elder - Bullet Train Costume Design
Hiroyuki Sanada stars in Bullet Train. Photo by Scott Garfield – 2022 CTMG. All Rights Reserved.

The Hornet played by Zazie Beetz was a master of poisonous disguise. The Hornet blends in on the train and even slips into one of the adorable Momomon mascot costumes. How dangerously adorable!

We had already developed the uniform by the time Zazie was cast. So we sort of knew what this would look like on her. We essentially took the train logo, and we spread it out across the top of the uniform, and that’s what makes the striping across the top of the chest.  I love these hats. These hats are what some Japanese train conductors wear. But fitting her in the Momomon was super fun. She had a fun time walking around in that suit. Our fittings definitely made everybody laugh. 

Sarah EvelynBullet Train Costume Designer
The Hornet - Bullet Train Costume Design
Zazie Beetz stars in Bullet Train. Photo by Scott Garfield – 2022 CTMG. All Rights Reserved.

Speaking of the Momomon, I had to ask about how this adorable costume came to be. Making costumes of this mascot classification are no easy feat!

This was actually designed by the production designer, David Scheunemann. This was his genius idea and the whole Momomon car. I feel it actually really helped create our world and rounded it out. We did end up making it because my costume supervisor Jim Tyson, is a legend when it comes to building and knows a lot about building things like this. Really he knows a lot about building everything. It does take a lot to make, and then it takes it even more to make in a way that it can be used practically because the Momomon did stunts. So you have to think about how your stuntperson gets in there, how they see, how they breathes, how they don’t die of heat!

Sarah EvelynBullet Train Costume Designer
Momomon - Bullet Train Costume Design
Momomon in Bullet Train. Photo by Scott Garfield – 2022 CTMG. All Rights Reserved.

Aside from all of these unique characters, this train was full of background characters. But with a set as fixed as a train, a lot of these characters don’t have the freedom to change, which led to a special circumstance where background characters were really featured as characters.

It was awesome. Actually, many of the background characters came back day after day because they would’ve been in the same train car. We were filming these same cars. That was cool, especially during COVID when it was such a weird time, and it was a joy to get to see people regularly. We were a bit of a community. 

Sarah EvelynBullet Train Costume Designer
Tangerine and Brad Pitt - Bullet Train Costume Design
Bryan Tyree Henry and Brad Pitt star in Bullet Train. Photo by Scott Garfield – 2022 CTMG. All Rights Reserved.

Now we come to the final character of the film, the mysterious White Death. The White Death was horrifying, and his costume was deeply unsettling, thanks to the genius costume design of Sarah Evelyn. This character reminded me of a more retro anime villain and I had to see what Sarah thought about him.

The White Death had to be this major character. I would say that it’s one of those situations where the costume doesn’t make the character. It’s like the actor can wear the costume and make the character. Michael Shannon did an amazing job. We wanted a guy that looked like he’d been very wealthy and then maybe hadn’t changed since his wife died. So we came up with the idea of this old-school smoking jacket. It had a retro vibe. You could tell there was a backstory to this character based on the costume. 

Sarah EvelynBullet Train Costume Designer
The White Death - Bullet Train Costume Design
Michael Shannon stars in Bullet Train. Photo by Scott Garfield – 2022 CTMG. All Rights Reserved.

I deeply enjoyed Bullet Train. I laughed, cried, and most of all, screamed over how much I loved the costumes. Well, the costumes and Bad Bunny of course. Thank you to costume designer Sarah Evelyn for speaking with me about this film!

Bullet Train is in theaters Now

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