Interview with costume designer Chrisi Karvonides-Dushenko
Recently, I had the great pleasure of speaking with Chrisi Karvonides-Dushenko, Disney+ season 2 costumer The Mysterious Benedict Society. You can find our interview on The cosmic cafe below, on SpotifyWhere most places where podcasts are hosted.
We chatted about his career – from live theater to episodic TV, and what it was like to step into the second season of a hit show. We also talked about what it was like to work and collaborate with the actor Tony Hale. Karvonides-Dushenko even shared some of his work for the show.
About Chrisi Karvonides-Dushenko and The Mysterious Benedict Society
Karvonides-Dushenko had an incredibly impressive career, and you’ve probably seen some of his carefully crafted work. She won an Emmy for her work on American dreams in 2003. She was nominated to work on Carnival, From the Earth to the moon, and American Horror Story – suffice to say she is mega-talented. She is also a professor at UCLA, teaching in the costume design program. And as if that weren’t enough, Karvonides-Dushenko is also involved in theater and opera, designing shows all over the world.
The Mysterious Benedict Society, now in its second season, is based on the author’s children’s adventure books Trenton Lee Stewart. They follow four gifted children working with the mysterious and sometimes strange Nicholas Benedict as he tries to protect the world from his evil twin brother, Ledroptha Curtain. There are thrilling henchmen, adventures, and stakes in the series, as well as a retro-ish period. It’s not hard to see how the books have been so successful.
While the show is inspired by the books, each book does not precisely align with each aired season. That means there’s plenty of storytelling freedom for creatives while exploring the characters and their journeys that fans love in the novels. There hasn’t been any official word on a third season yet, but there are certainly plenty of stories left to explore in the series.
The stars of the show Tony Hale as Benedict and his infamous twin, LD Curtain. It also features children – mystical inspiration, Seth Carr, Emmy De Oliveiraand Marta Kesler. In addition, Kristen Schal is number two, and Gia Sandhu is Mrs. Perumal.
Check out some highlights from our interview below, including gorgeous renders of the show’s costumes, or skip straight to the podcast and listen.
On the foundation established in The Mysterious Benedict Society season 1
When we talk about the foundation laid by the first season, Karvonides-Dushenko had a lot of praise for its predecessor Cate Adair.
“The first season was designed by Cate Adair. And what’s amazing is that it’s set the tone for a very high level of sophistication, where it has this beautiful color palette. It’s a kind of augmented reality. Kind of like a whimsical, nostalgic nod to the 60s and 70s. But that’s what my students call schmeriod, you know, it’s kind of a mash-up… you can’t tell what period something thing is happening.
Karvonides-Dushenko also credited the show’s writers and creative team, including the director Craig Zisk to bring the show to life.
On the differences between season 1 and season 2
Costumes help build the world of the story, and in Season 2, Karvonides-Douchenk and his team used the design to bring Europe to Los Angeles.
“There has been a big change. The first season was filmed beautifully in Vancouver, and it’s foggy, and it’s foggy, and then all of your exteriors have kind of this gray tone, and then they saturated the buildings in the characters. Whereas overall… the cinematography is totally different because season two we shot in LA, which was awesome.
“The story changes…the first season they were in a school, and now the story is they’re going to get on a boat to cross the Atlantic. So you’re not supposed to know we’re in Los Angeles And then you cross the ship, and then we’re in Europe.
On her real-life travel experience inspiring the show’s costumes
Karvonides-Douchenk described to me how his time in Portugal inspired some of the costumes.
“And fortunately, I had spent quite a bit of time in Portugal because I conceived an opera there. So when they were talking about this port and coming in, I knew exactly what they were talking about, it’s kind of wonderful, and it’s like, oh, and the police uniforms are so different! And then we created all the different uniforms for customs brokers, farmers and local police. But Craig Zisk and the rest of the writers were like, but don’t make it menacing. So you know, we soften the tone of the authorities when you arrive in Portugal.
On the design for by Kristen Schaal Number two
The costume designer told me about the inspiration for Number Two, a character played by Kristen Schalof its FX series What we do in the shadows. She said it all started with a very specific color.
“But we had one given that Kristen Schaal’s character, Number Two, got her name because of her composing with kids, but it also referenced the Number Two pencil.”
“So all of his clothes are tinted yellow and a very specific yellow from a number two pencil. And then the accents are the color of the eraser…that kind of burnt orange. And then the green lettering on the number two old-school classics we’ve also infused into her costume.
On the Titanic inspiration for the costumes on the Short cut
The suits of Titanicfeaturing Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winsletinspired some of the costumes of The Mysterious Benedict Society. And Karvonides-Dushenko I could see the real Titanic costumes in preparation for The Mysterious Benedict Society.
“Because we spent so much time on the Short cut boat. We created all these uniforms for the Short cut. And we went back, and we had access to the real movie uniforms of Titanic.“
“We were constantly on the lookout for the most nostalgic take on each of these types of uniforms and characters. That’s why we returned to them…as the finest ship uniforms the public will somehow know or will know subliminally, this is how Deborah Scott designed these costumes for the Titanic.”
On Tony Hale transform into his characters
Tony Hale plays the twin brothers in the series, Mr. Benedict and Mr. Curtain. The two have very distinct looks and mannerisms. Karvonides-Dushenko shared how it came to life, even in costume fittings.
“But it’s amazing. In the dressing room, Tony, you watch him transform into Benedict, where he slumps, and he sort of rears his face. And he twists his neck a little. It’s incredible. And then it goes, and he’s like Tony Hale. And then five minutes later, he’s in the curtain, and his shoulders are straight, and his head is straight, and he’s trying to get some height on his neck. It’s incredible. Just amazing to watch this.
On the photo-realistic renderings of the costumes
Karvonides-Dushenko shared some of his designs for the costumes of The Mysterious Benedict Society. Ruoxuan Li, his co-creator for the renders, helped bring them to life before the first stitch was even sewn with pre-concept photo realism artwork. The illustrations were so realistic that the show’s writers thought the costumes were already done.
“I normally do all my drawings. But the show was so fast. And we needed so many renders that I worked with Ruoxuan Li. And what it was was that most of the drawings are, it looks like they are photographs. They were all created before the costumes were made for our writers/producers to approve the look of the show.
“…but it’s really amazing when you see them. They look like photographs. We even had moments where some of the producers were like, well, we have to move this scene forward. And you already have those coats ready, don’t you? And we’re like, oh, no, we haven’t even finished the fabric.
How to watch over The Mysterious Benedict Society
Chrisi Karvonides-Dushenko was a real pleasure to talk about his work in the series. You can listen to the full interview on The Cosmic Cafe, available however you listen to your media. For more The Mysterious Benedict Society interviews, check out our conversation with the production designer Cynthia Charette.
You can watch new episodes of The Mysterious Benedict Society every Wednesday until the season finale on November 30. And if you’ve already watched the show or the books, share your thoughts. Join the conversation with us on our Discord or Twitter @MyCosmicCircus.